When Kanye West and Vincent Desiderio Meet: Some Thoughts on the Recycling and Repurposing of Images

I think of painter Vincent Desiderio as a living master and one hell of a hard worker. His epic 24 foot wide canvas, Sleep, which depicts a dozen fitfully sleeping nudes in rumpled sheets, is a haunting, hard-won painting that reflects the many insomniac months that Desiderio spent laying in bed while being treated for cancer. It’s a ambitious, monumental image that you wouldn’t normally expect to see cropping up in altered form in a popular context. 
But it just did. 

Last Saturday I looked at my Facebook and the news was everywhere: Hip-hop artist Kanye West had just premiered his new video Famous at the Forum, and it had been directly inspired by Desiderio’s Sleep. With some changes of course: the original figures in the painting had been replaced by Kanye, his wife Kim Kardashian, Ray J, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Amber Rose, Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, Anna Wintour, George Bush, Bill Cosby, and Caitlyn Jenner. In other words, Desiderio’s image and it’s very personal meanings had been recycled, re-peopled and projected on a 100 foot screen. 
Among other things, a setting and scenario that Desiderio painted with personal and metaphorical intentions, has been magnetized with celebrity images and erotic connotations. And yes, Kim Kardashian’s naked ass is there: “product placement,” as one of my friends commented...
As the story and the imagery spread out on social media, West’s re-do of Desiderio was called many things: “genius click-bait,” and “disgusting” were just two of the wildly divergent points of view that I came across on Twitter. Of course, what I really wanted to hear was what Vincent Desiderio thought, and a reply he made on my personal Facebook status made his feelings more than clear:
“Artists quote other artists. That is what keeps the ball in constant motion. Kanye deserves his due for producing a beautiful and compelling video. You all might be surprised, but Kanye West is a consummate artist.” 
- Vincent Desiderio
It’s a very generous statement on Desiderio’s part and it also reflects what more and more—but certainly not all—visual artists are doing these days: quoting, borrowing from and/or repurposing images. Of course, this has been going on a long time, and many Modernists made their careers doing it. One notable was Pablo Picasso who once said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
One of Picasso’s great “thefts,” his set of some 15 variations on the Women of Algiers by Delacroix, has paid a huge rate of interest over time. The Picasso painting on the right—Picasso’s Femmes D’Algiers, Variation O—was sold in May of 2015 for $179 million, becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold. So much for the current art market having any reservations about the recycling and revising of images, right? 
And to be fair, when Picasso stole, he subjected what he borrowed to his brilliant powers of transformation and revision, making it in many senses, completely new. There was real effort involved and skill with paint and brushes was required. In recent times, the quoting and re-configuring of visual images has become easier and more prevalent, to say the least. Many of these images live outside the museum, easily shared and easily reproduced. 
A photo recently shared by Madonna on Instagram to support Gay Pride celebrations in New York is based on an historic and instantly recognizable image: Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the flag being raised after the battle of Iwo Jima.  In a media society where famous images are themselves “celebrities” their drawing power makes shifts in imagery especially noticeable. Any image that becomes famous is going to appear in all kinds of contexts and mediums, endlessly cloned and re-purposed.
Sometimes the reconfiguring/re-purposing will be done with skill and taste—even brilliance—and sometimes not. It might be used for personal or political agendas that the individual who created the image had no interest in. The painter Mark Rothko once said that sending his paintings out into the world was “risky” and that was long before the internet put any image posted on at artist’s site “at risk.” 
Are you wondering, why isn’t copyright more of an issue when recent works of art or other images are re-purposed? The answer is that fair use copyright law, which governs the use of recent, copyrighted materials, is helpfully broad: 
In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.
Practically speaking, if you get rich using and transforming the images of others, you might be sued, but there is a fair amount of latitude. In the case of Kanye West’s Famous video, it remains to be seen where he will face lawsuits for violating what is called the “Right of Privacy or Publicity” that protects public figures from the use of their recognizable likenesses in works of art. Clearly, Vincent Desiderio is supportive of the fact that Sleep was an inspiration for the video, but Taylor Swift may not be quite so happy to see herself—or at least a 3-D image of herself—in the rumpled sheets of the imagery. 
When thinking about just how complicated situations involving art and copyrighted art can be, consider the painting by Suzy Smith seen above. It is an original painting of a nude model which uses another painting as its background. The “painting” is of course a photo-based silkscreen image made by the late Andy Warhol, which includes an altered image of Mickey Mouse, who is technically still under copyright. Anyone want to take that one to court? I hope not...
I have been making digital mashups myself this past year, posting them on Instagram and even on t-shirts. The image above combines an 1863 photo of Lincoln taken by Alexander Gardner with a recent news photo of Barack Obama. The internet is a tsunami of photoshopped images: mashups, appropriations, plagiarized images, morphs, homages and memes and my images have joined the flood. It takes the power of a celebrity like Kanye West to “boost” an image or set of images into the public discourse where it will compete for attention with everything else including the news. 
The English writer and cleric Charles Caleb Colton once famously said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In the field of visual art, where all kinds of imitation, copying and cloning is happening in every medium, the imitations aren’t always sincere, but I think Vincent Desiderio has the right attitude: be flattered, participate and be open. There are certainly powerful arguments to be made that the purposes of  “art” are being diluted by the prevalence of altered digital imagery being widely shared, but I’ll save those for another discussion. 
If Kanye West or Madonna or any other celebrity “shares” what you do in the form of an Instagram post or any other type of image, whether its a hard-won painting that took years to create or a quick “mashup” that took 20 minutes to make in Photoshop, you are going to find yourself and what you do “liked.” 
If you are a visual artist today, that is part of your reality, for better and for worse. 

#Repost @arcmanoro with @repostapp ・・・ Great article by @johnalbertseed @huffingtonpost Artist & repurposing images @vincent_desiderio @theofficalkanyewest


Bo Bartlett: The Intermediary

Bo Bartlett in his Maine studio
In early 1991, art critic Roberta Smith looked over Bo Bartlett’s painting God—a sweeping image of a black man, poised in front of a sweeping coastal horizon, wrapped in a quilt—and came slightly unglued. In her New York Times review of the exhibition she later wrote of the piece: “As consciousness raising, this is fairly simple-minded. As history painting, it’s idiotic.”
In the same column, Smith also dinged Bartlett for his “conservative” artistic style (realism), and dismissed his paintings as being “more trendy than timeless.” Smith’s comments, which generated a domino effect of subsequent negative reviews—by Peter Schjeldahl, Michael Kimmelman and others—re-shaped the arc of Bartlett’s career.
Bo Bartlett, God, 1990, Oil on Linen, 120 x 168
“The review was devastating for me,” Bartlett reflects: “Some sales dropped away: two reviews and an article in a major art magazine strangely evaporated. I withdrew into myself more and painted exactly what I wanted to paint more and essentially said: ‘F-all y’all.’”
In the years that followed, his close friendship with Andrew Wyeth— a mentor figure that encouraged Bartlett to persevere—and his personal commitment to authenticity helped form the “thicker skin” that protected him as he re-booted his career. Over the long haul, Smith’s three paragraphs had the effect of turning Bartlett further inward, something he has come to value.
“In some ways I’m grateful to Roberta Smith for the review,” Bartlett says now, twenty-five years later. “I had the opportunity to mention this to Roberta a couple of summers ago when we met in Maine. I don’t think she even remembered writing the review, and when I reminded her of its contents—i.e. ‘idiotic’—she said, ‘that’s a horrible thing to say.’” It was, but as Bartlett well understands: “We believe what we read in the New York Times.”
Bartlett isn’t the only notable realist painter to be treated like a fly and swatted off the coffee table book of ART by east coast critics in the past few decades, but it was still a pretty lonely situation. Fortunately, the more atomized art world of 2016 supports and celebrates a broader range of tastes. Traditional critics and downsized newspapers now hold less influence and the fast-evolving blogosphere supports affinity groups for every kind of art. In the now thriving circle of Contemporary Realism (a necessarily vague title for a set of approaches too varied to name) Bartlett looks more and more prescient: a model of commitment who took some knocks, kept his head down and stayed true to his inner vision.
Bo Bartlett, Lifeboat, 1998, Oil on Linen, 80 x 100
“I was in the thrall of Bo Bartlett the first time I saw his work at the New York Academy of Art,” says artist Graydon Parrish. “From then on, when I need a sabbatical from the machinations of the Art World, I seek out Bartlett’s world to reset my soul.” What Bartlett’s early detractors likely missed—and still often miss—is that his work functions without the slightest trace of fashionable irony: he and his art are of one piece. Bartlett is earnest—sometimes painfully so—and that has created its share of misunderstandings, possibly including Roberta Smith’s sharp reaction to his work.
Being earnest—a lingering art world taboo—is part of what makes Bartlett “different,” especially because the content of his work deals with American culture, which he sees as suitable for mythologizing, straight-up, including its deeply embedded optimism. Like his mentor Andrew Wyeth, Bartlett is a realist-savant, a kind of medium who let’s his material come through into paintings that look real, but which are in some respects waking dreams.
Yes, Bartlett has been influenced by American realists—including Eakins, Wyeth and Homer—but his work also shares hints of the dreamlike solemnity found in the works of the European masters Balthus and Dali. Bartlett’s best paintings are trapdoors that lead from perceived experience into the mystical, the mythological and the enigmatic. He is an artist-as-intermediary who serves as a guide and then walks away to let you feel the magic—if you can—to the point that you can be present enough to enter and empathize with his characters and their situations.
Bo Bartlett, Young Life, 1994, Oil on Linen, 78 x 108
For example, Bartlett’s Heartland series includes a painting of a gun-toting young hunter and his love leaning on a Chevy pickup, which displays a newly shot deer on its roof. In the foreground a boy holds a stick that aspires to be a rifle. Just how does Bartlett feel about this trio and how does he want you to feel? If he has opened the scene up enough so that you can “enter” it without judgment, you are on the right track. Bartlett’s canvases are vignettes from an ever-evolving quilt of America and American-ness. His life project is to be an agent of positive change; to try and keep the American fabric whole by making its realities evanesce and coalesce into fresh myths.
A politically progressive painter born and raised in a conservative southern state (Georgia), Bartlett has always believed in the power of art to ameliorate differences and unify opposing ideas. To see it otherwise is to feign sophistication as a cover for cynicism: 
I believe in the power of Art to transform lives. My hope is to find connective tissue between opposing ideas to try to help find common ground, to show that we are all in this together. If we can move beyond the cynicism, the dualistic thinking, all the rhetoric and posturing, if we can listen to others, reach out and find the things we have in common with others we’ll start to resolve some of these conflicts that appear irreconcilable. I’ve seen Republicans and Democrats, the wealthy and the homeless, people of all races and genders, standing shoulder-to-shoulder appreciating the wonder of a work of Art.
Bo Bartlett, The American, 2016, Oil on linen, 82 x 100 inches
This personal interest in bridging gaps—of being an intermediary—is the main motivation behind Bartlett’s recent Lacunae Series, which will be on view at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe Gallery between July 7th and August 12th. The paintings in this group address the lacunae (gaps) between established religions and modern, secular worlds. Their imagery, which Bartlett describes as “mashed-up,” was inspired by both historical contexts and religious traditions.
I recently interviewed Bo Bartlett and asked him about some of the themes, ideas and images in his recent work. 
John Seed Interviews Bo Bartlett

Bo Bartlett working on a study for Oligarchy
JS: What are the Lacunae paintings about? 
BB: The Lacunae address pertinent issues of importance in the culture wars. The other paintings with similarly paired themes are GalileeThe SamaritansChristmasThe AmericanHalloweenThe Promised Land and Oligarchy
Bo Bartlett, Galilee, 2014,  Oil on Linen, 88 x 120
JS: Can you walk me through one of the paintings? Tell me about Easter...
BB: In Easter (also titled Easter Egg Hunt in the Cemetery of the Confederate Dead), the Christian story of the resurrection is mashed-up with the Southern phrase “We will rise again.” Living in the South, both of these points of view are still alive and well. Healthy fodder should come from our surroundings. The Cemetery of the Confederate Dead is beside my studio. A Dixie flag flies over the rows of white grave markers. 
Bo Bartlett, Easter,  2015,  Oil on Linen, 88 x 120
BB: The painting unfolded during the ongoing battle about Southern State Houses flying the Confederate flag. Sen.Alfred Iverson is famous for his memorable post-war cry “We Will Rise Again.” Iverson is buried in the cemetery.  His son was a debonaire General who was largely responsible for Southern troops losing the battles of Antietum, Gettysburg and he was in charge of troops when Sherman drove through Georgia to the sea. 
JS: Tell me about Oligarchy
BB: Oligarchy started with the subtitle The Sadducces. The Sadducees and Pharisees were the ruling elite in Palestine in the 1st Century BC and AD. They were often the ire of Jesus’ teachings. The Sadducees were in charge of political and religious affairs. They maintained relations with Rome and were in charge of military affairs. 
Bo Bartlett, Oligarchy, 2015, Oil on linen, 120 x 88 inches
JS: Was there an individual or incident that inspired this painting? 
BB: One time, in the early 1990’s when I was painting a portrait of Ambassador Walter Annenberg (I used to paint a lot of portraits in Pennsylvania when I was younger), I was painting him in his office, a red phone behind his desk rang and he informed me that he had to stop posing for a minute and take this call. He spoke in hushed tones, saying, “No, don’t do that” and “Yes, do that.”
Hanging up the phone and turning back around he informed me that he was advising the President. I asked him about his politics, did he support Republicans or Democrats, he quickly waved his hand back and forth saying “Republicans Democrats apples oranges, that’s not where the power is!” And I realized in moment that there is a “They” and that I was in the presence of one. 
JS: So the painting is about a very specific group of individuals...
BB: The Oligarchy today is the corporate elite.. Those who profit at the expense of others.. The one percent.. 
The painting took a couple of years of planning and another year to complete. I did drawings and paintings and studies of the primary characters. My friend, a doctor from my hometown of Columbus Georgia agreed to pose for the King. Students from Columbus State University College of the Arts posed for the crowd of figures below. I want it to feel like we aren’t certain if they are holding him up saying “long live the King” or if they are carrying him over the ridge chanting “Off with his head” to throw him off the cliff. 
Oligarchy (detail)
JS: Is there more context? What about the figures who surround the Oligarch?
BB: Ferguson erupted while I was working on the painting. The Black Lives Mattermovement informed the mood, but I didn’t want the painting to represent one particular revolt. The struggles are eternal. The power struggle is eternal.
There are right and wrong sides of history. When we realize that protecting our status can hold us back and create a kind of dead document of our lives then we will live not just for ourselves but also for the well-being of others, the other, those who we share this planet with. We live in a holistic system, everything effects everything else. What I do affects you, what you do effects me. Race, class, gender, these are issues of the day.
The haves and the have-nots, the 1% and the 99%. I’m not moralizing. The work isn’t didactic. It’s not “history painting” in that sort of way. It is just presenting the situation. The protagonists share the stage. 
Bo Bartlett, Halloween, 2016, Oil on linen, 82 x 100 inches
JS: Is it fair to say that there is a new “darkness” in this work: a new sense of complaint? 
BB: I’m not “anti” and I’m not a “stick it to the man” complainer. I believe in working with what’s there, not tearing it all down. Perhaps you can see that in the choices in my Art.
I use convention. I welcome cliche as readily as I welcome original thought. Low and high. Populist and esoteric. It’s all good. I want to build upon what’s come before, history is a cornerstone, our foundation. Evolution is incremental, not biological evolution, but psychological evolution. The only way to evolve is through understanding the big picture. Understanding the other. Through Empathy. Art engenders empathy. It can transform us. Art is freedom, real freedom. 
Bo Bartlett, The Samaritans, 2014, Oil on linen, 88 x 120 inches
JS: What motivates you as an artist? 
BB: Since reading Suzi Gablik’s The Re-Enchantment of Art in the early 90’s I have grappled with how to meld the challenges she put forth with a sustained artistic practice. I have continued to paint. But my practice has expanded to include teaching school children, working with the homeless, teaching them to paint to express themselves, to tell their stories. Joseph Campbell said “the artists are the prophets”, if that is true, we all have to work harder to be agents of change; to make the world a better place. 
7 July - 12 August 2016 
Opening Reception: Thursday 7 July, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
525 W 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

#Repost @arcadiagallery with @repostapp ・・・ Happy first day of summer! A little inspiration to help L.A. through this record breaking heatwave: "Floating", 20" x 30", oil and acrylic on canvas, by Johannes Wessmark. Part of "Water, Water... Everywhere". #arcadiacontemporary #waterwatereverywhere #johanneswessmark #santamonica #laheatwave


#Obama #Lincoln


Sarah McKenzie 'White Walls' at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art

Door to the River (Whitney Museum with Willem de Kooning, 2015), 2016
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48" x 72", courtesy of the artist and David B. Smith Gallery

Painter Sarah McKenzie, whose current exhibition in Indianapolis features 11 new paintings and 2 recent prints, has an interest in the architecture and ambience of exhibition spaces. In her clear, thoughtfully structured compositions, works of art and mundane elements work in concert within their carefully constructed settings to generate aesthetic conversations. The works depict exhibition spaces as serene, contemplative spaces where thoughts and objects meet. I recently interviewed Sarah to learn more about her ideas and themes.

John Seed Interviews Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie

How did you become interested in painting exhibition spaces? 

I've been painting architecture for about twenty-five years now, and I've always been interested in exploring the ways that buildings change with time. Over the years, this has led me to paint abandoned homes and vacant factories, as well as construction sites and brand new subdivisions. Around 2011, I started thinking more about architectural spaces that are designed to be transitional and accommodate the temporary. Initially, I was thinking about parking garages and hotel rooms... but by 2013, I started looking more at exhibition spaces. I traveled to London for the Frieze Art Fair in October of 2013, and while I was there, I shot a number of the source photographs that led to the first paintings in this series.

During the mid-20th century, the art world essentially perfected the minimalist, white-walled cube that has become the international standard for art exhibitions today; I am fascinated by the contradictions of that Modernist gallery space. That a room can be stripped bare but remain pregnant with cultural meaning is truly fascinating to me. When I enter a blue-chip gallery or world-class museum, it's as if all my senses other than sight recede. The space itself (along with the expectations I bring to it) sets up a hyper-visual experience that feels transcendent at times. Even the exit signs, fire extinguishers, and window coverings take on an aesthetic weight that they wouldn't have in any other type of space.

Landscape 1 (Danese Corey with Dozier Bell, 2014), 2015
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48", collection of Charlie and Linda Hamlin

Many of your paintings have paintings in them: are these choices homages, or do they reflect something else? 

I imagine that I typically depict gallery spaces that feature paintings primarily because I am a painter. I spend a lot of time considering the relationship between the space within the frame (pictorial space) and the space beyond it (real space). This body of work brings that relationship front-and-center, particularly in works like Door to the River (Whitney Museum with Willem de Kooning, 2015), 2016 and Landscape 1 (Danese Corey with Dozier Bell, 2014), 2015. I don't really think of these paintings as homages, though I generally like the work of the artists that appear in my paintings. My decision to paint a particular scene is inspired by the relationship of the art work to the surrounding gallery environment, rather than by a particular interest in a specific artist or artwork.

What do you say to the idea that you are implying human presences without including figures?

I think that's true! I want the viewer of my paintings to stand in for the implied viewer in the gallery spaces that I am presenting. In that sense, I am asking you to engage in a double-act of looking.

Exit/Sign (Roberts & Tilton with James Hayward, 2015), 2016
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 24" x 32", courtesy of the artist and David B. Smith Gallery

What kinds of ideas and emotions are you trying to embody in this series? 

On the most basic level, I'm hoping to capture the almost spiritual quality of exhibition space, while also pushing the viewer to consider how highly-coded, constructed, and controlled these spaces actually are. I think that idea translates into very specific material terms in my work. When you see my paintings in reproduction, or from across a large room, they appear almost photo-realistic at first, and the illusion of light and space is fairly convincing. As you approach a canvas more closely, however, that illusion breaks down. Many areas of my paintings are treated in a highly simplified, almost abstract manner, in contrast to more detailed and painterly sections. I work with both oil and acrylic paint, so any one canvas will contain a variety of surface textures and stylistic approaches. I am presenting a highly constructed image of a highly constructed space. Nothing is accidental.

Entry (Mitchell-Innes & Nash), 2016
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 36" x 36", courtesy of the artist and David B. Smith Gallery

What have you learned about museums by painting them? 

I think I've come to appreciate just how much good curators think about the gallery space as a kind of blank canvas when designing a show. I'm certainly not the first person to consider the relationships between architecture and art works that are highlighted in my paintings. Shortly after I started this series of painting, I read Beyond the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, by Brian O'Doherty. It's essentially a series of his essays, written in the mid-1970s, exploring the development of the modernist gallery space. I find it interesting and perhaps a bit surprising that the codes for exhibition space that prevail today have remained essentially unchanged since the 1970s.

Still (Clyfford Still Museum, 2014), 2015
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48" x 72", courtesy of the artist and David B. Smith Gallery

You have a busy life balancing family and career: how do you keep your paintings so serene?

Honestly, these paintings are serene because the spaces I am depicting are serene. When I spend time in a museum or a great gallery, I'm not thinking about the minutiae of my daily life-- I am completely immersed in the visual experience of the art and the space. That's what I'm trying to tap into back in my studio when I make these paintings. When I was painting construction sites eight years ago, that work was much less serene, generally, because the subject demanded a more aggressive and high-intensity approach. I would also note that while I do have a busy life, it's not necessarily any busier than other artists of my generation. I think the key to remaining focused in the studio is to compartmentalize. When I step into the studio to work, I have one job to do.

Gate (White Cube, Bermondsey with Mark Bradford, 2013), 2014
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 42" x 63", courtesy of the artist and David B. Smith Gallery

What are your interests outside of painting? 

Well, since I live in Boulder, Colorado, it won't come as a surprise that I am an avid runner. I consider my daily run to be an essential part of my studio practice, actually. I don't run with music or any kind of audio. I use my workouts as a time to clear my head and think through whatever project is at hand. It is the one time of day when I am reliably "unplugged," and that is so very necessary for any creative person. I also love yoga, XC skiing, reading, debating politics, and watching professional soccer. If I had more time, I would cook and garden more, but those interests are on the back-burner right now. I don't own a television, but I will occasional download an entire season of a show (Girls, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Outlander are favorites) and binge-watch it in just a few days. I can't do that very often, or I would get nothing else done!

Sarah McKenzie: White Walls 
Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art 
Guest Curator: Jeffrey Teuton
iMOCA at the Murphy
1043 Virginia Ave #5
June 3 - July 23, 2016

Want to Boost Museum Attendance? Tell the Public What the Art Is Worth

Real Time Museum Collection Value Clock
(Digital Collage by John Seed)

For all kinds of reasons, including many very good ones, art museums tend to be secretive about the value of the art and objects they have on display. Concerns about theft, insurance and terrorism make the disclosure of art values undesirable, and when museums collect purchase prices are rarely reported or confirmed. Art museums want visitors to enjoy their exhibitions for the right reasons--aesthetic and cultural ones--and information about the cash value of art is naturally seen as more than just a security issue: it is also a potential distraction that detracts from the real considerations of artistic merit and historical significance.

 Still, dollar amounts make the news from time to time, as in the recent reporting of accidental damage done by a visitor to SFMOMA to a Warhol painting valued at $80 million dollars. If the damage had been done to a painting worth less than a million, the incident might not have been so widely reported, a fact that highlights the public's voyeuristic interest in pure cash value. The staggering prices of individual works of art are a source of fascination. Standing in front of a single painting and thinking "It would take me 40 lifetimes to make enough money to buy that..." is a mental exercise that is hard for most of us to resist. The total value of major museum collections is also rarely discussed and the result is broad speculation.

For example, if you want to know the total value of the holdings of New York's Metropolitan Museum of art, all you will find are very, very rough estimates, like this one of $100 to $400 billion dollars. Somewhere, deep in the database of an insurance company, the real figure lurks...

News about the art market is full of dollar amounts especially when spectacular auction results are achieved. In fact, stories about high prices for works of art often dominate the art and culture section of newspapers, crowding out reviews and profiles of artists. Although the barrage of headlines about stratospheric art prices might appear, on the surface, to be a bad thing, at least one prominent museum leader recently pointed out a possible silver lining.

 Novelist Isabella Rothschild, a member of the famed banking family and the first woman to serve as the chair of Britain's National Gallery, recently told The Telegraph that although she was conflicted by the high prices that paintings are bringing at auction, she has also noticed a benefit: "...There's been huge growth in visitors to our national museums...In some ways these big prices and all the stuff written about art is driving people in to look at it."

It makes sense, doesn't it? In idealistic terms, museums want people to visit to improve themselves through the experience of art, but it remains uncomfortably true that part of the reason that museums draw crowds is because they are treasure houses. Part of the experience of works of art is undeniably the chance to be in the presence of things that, for most of us, are unattainable in material terms. In particular, the recent appearance of many new and expanded museums of contemporary art has certainly co-incided with an explosion in values for key works, a more than co-incidental dynamism. 

Perhaps it is time for museum directors and curators, especially those with lagging attendance, to reconsider their traditional views on disclosing and discussing value. Using the tools provided by recent information technology, there are now some new and striking ways that the values of works of art might be transmitted and integrated into the museum experience.

For example:

 - The total cash value of an institution's collection could be displayed over it's entrance electronically. Connected to a database, and updated--via an algorithm--by auction results and other pertinent economic indicators, this figure would be a tremendous source of fascination and discussion.

 - Label each work with its current value and any available information about past value.

- Select works of art could have scan codes on their information tags that could link, via smartphone, to prices histories and databases for the artist. Wouldn't it be interesting, for example, for museum visitors to have access to recent auction values for works by Rembrandt?

- Shows could be curated with themes that open up comparisons of dollar value versus aesthetic value. Some examples might include "The Billion Dollar Warhol Show," or "Eight Canalettos Equals One Gerhard Richter."

 - Traditional museum panels could be supplanted by "The Price is Right" art value guessing programs, broadcast as reality shows. They would have real educational value as they would bring up aesthetic, social and economic issues.

The possibilities are limitless, aren't they?

If some of these ideas seem irreverent, impractical or vulgar, there is something else that should be considered. Perhaps putting the prices of works of art into the spotlight, rather than trying to keep them secret, would cause museums, curators and collectors to deal more publicly with the economic forces swirling around their institutions. Making prices public would certainly boost museum attendance, and it might also force a new kind of healthy self-consciousness for everyone involved.

Tikka Masala gull #trump


You would make a fine captain #berniesanders


#Paris #parisflood #parisfloods #seurat #globalwarming


#Repost @thebobartlett (via @repostapp) ・・・ Repost from @betsyeby Official unveiling ceremony for the portrait of The Honorable Judge Ricardo Urbina in the Ceremonial Courtroom in the US Courthouse Washington DC presided over by former Attorney General Eric Holder and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.


Lorraine Lawson at the Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara

Artist Lorraine Lawson is interested in topophilia: a strong sense of place as connected to culture. Deeply aware of human interconnections across time and place, Lawson is an artist whose work is rich in sensual emanations and symbolic interchanges. I recently interviewed Lorraine to learn more about her art and her background.

John Seed Interviews Lorraine Lawson

Lorraine Lawson
Tell me a bit about your early life and education. 

My father was stationed in Liege, Belgium serving in the US Army at the end of WWII when he met my mother. Travel was a big part of my childhood. I made visits back to Europe including trips to Germany, Holland, Luxemburg, England and France that were full of cultural exposure. The stateside tours of military duty and the many road trips pulling a very small trailer to visit family cross-country exposed my two sisters and me to a variety of lifestyles. We settled in the San Francisco Bay Area which I still call home. After high school, I attended West Valley College to start my art education.

A tumultuous relationship and a few other family factors got me thinking about making changes in my life path. I joined the US Navy. The adventurous side of me weighed heavily on the decision to leave to "see the world" instead of staying in an uncertain family and financial climate. As it turned out, I was stationed in Southern and Northern California. So much for seeing the world! I suppose it was geography that pulled me back to my high school sweetheart and we married at 19. Always desiring to earn at least a BA degree, I kept talking classes to eventually achieve that goal. Juggling my family life with two daughters and my job as a dental technician in the Navy, it was a slow process, but I found education comes in many forms.

Tanren, Mixed Media, 36 x 36 inches
How did the presence of paintings in your home by your great-grandfather (Gustave Flasschoen) influence your development? 

The cultural influences from Belgium and beyond were abundant in our home. My great grandfather was a prolific painter. In addition to his neighboring countries, he traveled to Morocco, the Belgian Congo, Algeria, and other African countries to capture the essence of their culture. Landscapes, figures, still life...all were part of his portfolio of oil paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Not only was I drawn to his technical ability, but his subject matter imparted a sense of adventure in me. His Bohemian spirit fascinated me.

Changes, Mixed Media, 24 x 30 inches
How has your art evolved over time? 

From an early age, I knew I saw things differently. Inspiration came in many forms. All of my senses were tuned into expressing myself in an artistic way. Sights, sounds, smells, textures excited me and inspired my artistic life. While I began in a very traditional way by painting landscapes and still lifes, I was always drawn to textures and forms. I could easily "abstract" what I saw by simplifying their shapes. After trying to conform to the expectations (so I thought) of my audience, I sought my real voice. My desire to capture the essence of a thing is far more fulfilling and has allowed be to develop my own visual language that conveys culture, lifestyle and the beauty in things that time has affected in interesting ways.

How do the themes time and memory influence make themselves present in your art? I can't say enough about how travel has impacted my work. From the various cultural topography to the sounds, smell, tastes and textures of different places around the world, Travel has provided a bounty of inspiration for my work. Walking opens my eyes to the minutia and detail of the impact people have on our urban and rural terrain, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sankofa, Mixed Media, 48 x 36 inches
Can you break down some of the symbols and ideas in one of your recent works? 

One of my more recent pieces was inspired by my experience with mentoring foster youth. I learn a lot from them as they work through their art making. Learning of their backgrounds, many life experiences, most often very challenging have had an impact on me. "Sankofa" is a symbol from the Adinkra tribe in Ghana. The essence of its meaning is that one must return to the past in order to move forward. We must go back and reclaim our past so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today. I witness many of the kids work through this concept as they create. It's quite a powerful experience. Another symbol that I love to use in many of my paintings is the Enso Circle. In Zen Buddhism, the Enso is meant to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. It symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance,the universe, and the void. While I don't profess to be a Zen master, the very presence of the enso circle reminds me to be present.

Cannery Row, Mixed Media, 36 x 36 inches
Where have you traveled and how has travel affected your imagery? 

Always loving the travel I experienced with my parents, I continued to travel with my husband and daughters. My first marriage ended after 20 years, but it hasn't changed my ability to seek my passions. I've since met and married a wonderful man who shares the same adventurous spirit. Before we met, Dan traveled the world on a 40 foot sailboat that he and his father built. It was a match made in heaven as I knew he was creative and had the same thirst for interesting life experiences.

Our travels to Europe have impacted me in similar ways that my mother's stories of her own life in occupied Belgium in the 1940s. The history of each country is fascinating. The languages, the foods, the behavior, the dress, but most impactful are stories that old buildings and other surface can tell. Most recently, our visit to Pompei had a profound affect on my art. We spent hours discovering so much about their culture and tenacity: it was a very moving experience.

A trip to Bali inspired a body of work that represents the beautiful, spiritual people. The essence of the Barong dancers and other cultural influences that we enjoyed are embedded in my mind. The Eastern aesthetic shows up in my work in the form of abstracted fragments of calligraphy. I take a weekly calligraphy class that I find very challenging. I tend to look at the beautiful shapes of the work we're doing, wanting to use the essence of the work, not the literal meanings. I have a collection of practice sheets on delicious paper that I use in my work. Occasionally, I'll blow them up five times their size (or more) and use them as starting points in my compositions.

Wabi Sabi, Mixed Media, 40 x 30 inches
Tell me a bit about your working methods. 

Messy! Ephemera everywhere! I collect books, letters, maps, sheet music, poetry, dirty scraps on a busy street corner. I love it all! Texture mediums, trowels, squeegees, any mark-making implements I can get my hands on end up in my studio. Estate sales provide endless fugitive memorabilia from which to give new life in my paintings. I'm so inspired by the stories that they conjure up.

Is there anything else you would like to mention? 

A big part of my practice is the enjoyment I get from spending time with my fellow artists. Sharing ideas, frustrations, opportunities, and just showing up for each other. As artists, we spend a lot of time isolated from the outside world in our studios and in the business of art. It's important to have that support system to remind us that we're on the right path. That support also comes from my husband who gets me and my absolute need to live the creative life. I'm so grateful! I have a thirst for new ways of creating. Studying art history and the many artists I am inspired by are my favorite reads. It's my current form of continued education.

If Walls Could Talk, Mixed Media, 36 x 24 inches
What are your interests outside of art? 

The time I spend with my husband, Dan is most often creative, inspiring, adventurous and nurturing. Travel! I am a very present grandmother of six, mostly on my terms, which means doing creative things with them. Time with them in my studio, taking them to plays, ballets, their own activities which include sports are a big part of my life. I know when to say I'm unavailable and it's usually for my art career. In fact, I passed up an opportunity to do an art residency in Morocco this past year due to a difficult pregnancy my daughter experienced. I just didn't feel right about being gone. I was so intrigued by this particular residency because Gustave spent time painting there in the early 1900s. I wanted to be where he was to capture that Bohemian spirit and have it inform a new body of work. To be accepted to this residency and to be invited at a later date by Green Olive Arts in Tetouan has made me feel so fortunate!

Lorraine Lawson
The Triton Museum of Art
June 4 - August 21, 2016
Reception: Friday, June 10, 2016, from 6:00-8:00 p.m
1505 Warburton Ave. Santa Clara, CA 95050