Recently in Art Category

[Ed. note -- This is actually a Random Thursday (Monday edition) post, but the author has overridden staff protests in order to use, in his words, "an ever-so-cute" headline.]

First, please feel free to ignore my editor's snarky comment, which stems from an obvious case of envy. Those who can't write, edit.

The Artwork Detective Saga Continues

Alert Gazette readers will recall a couple of previous posts -- here and here -- about Atlantic Richfield's Corporate artwork collection and my minor role in helping to dispose of it following BP's devouring acquisition of ARCO. Even though it all took place more than a decade ago, I still get occasional inquiries about it from various "stakeholders" who have apparently exhausted all legitimate and credible sources of information. A lot of these inquiries originate in California, where ARCO was headquartered, and I'm able to answer almost none of their questions since I only dealt with the artwork in the Midland (Texas) office.

But I received an email last week from someone in Midland asking about a specific piece that they had acquired. They had the artist's last name and an ARCO-assigned serial number and asked if I had any additional information about the piece. I pulled up the old inventory and, sure enough, found the artwork in question (an intaglio print from 1972). The person expressed excitement over the new info, but then asked if I had any information regarding the value of the print.

I did have an appraisal spreadsheet provided by the Corporate department, but when I opened it, there was no value assigned to the piece in question. A review of the spreadsheet showed that only artwork appraised at more than $150 was assigned a value (there were pieces valued at up to $35,000 in our office, by the way), and thus if a piece had no appraisal, it was deemed to be of little value. I conveyed this information to the owner, expecting a response of disappointment. 

Instead, I received this in reply:
Thanks Eric for all of your help! I don't feel as nervous to give it to my grandson for his college dorm room now and he loves it!
I'm now excessively proud of the work I'm doing to decorate dorm rooms. I think I'll add this skill to my LinkedIn profile.

The Armadillo Destruction Continues

Alert Gazette readers will...ah, never mind. I've beat that one senseless. Anyway, despite having trapped four armadillos in the last week (I'm up to 29 in total), they continue to wreak havoc on our newly sodded front lawn. Lest you accuse me of exaggeration (which, admittedly, is almost always a sure bet), here's some photographic proof of the typical damage we find each morning.

Photo - Lawn damaged by armadillos

I don't have a "before" photo for comparison, as I never anticipated needing one, but I assure you that this area was nothing but smooth green turf, pre-armadillo. I confess to a complete loss of patience, and if I didn't think the neighbors would complain, there would be no future live catch-and-release in effect, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Photo - Armadillo Excavator (Excadillo)
An actual unretouched photo of the Excavator sub-species of armadillo (Dasypodidae cavator horribilis)

The Fourth of July Decorating Commences

The city of Horseshoe Bay has an Independence Day parade* every year and it's open to anyone with a vehicle capable of going a couple of miles down city streets. So, last year MLB and I decorated our tandem recumbent bicycle and pedaled along the route, sandwiched between a Seventies-era Mustang convertible and a 1953 Mercury convertible. We hung a few flags from the bike, put some red, white and blue glittery wreaths on the rear rack and wrapped the frame with decorative ribbon, and we felt pretty festive.

We're planning to do it again this year, but obviously need to step it up a bit, so we hit the Michael's in Bee Cave and came away with more ribbon, plus the stuff pictured below. I'm especially excited about the double pinwheel, which I plan on mounting on the front of the bike. My only fear is that I'll be hypnotized by the spinning colors and we'll fall off in front of the throngs lining the street. Wouldn't be the first time, but that's another story for another time. Or never.

Photo - Fourth of July decorations

*They actually have three parades. One takes place on the lake and is for boats (duh), and another is a short jaunt for kids on bikes and trikes. Pretty sure we don't qualify for either of these.
Alert Gazette readers may recall that last year I wrote about ARCO's corporate artwork collection in Midland, and my role in helping dispose of it after BP gutted us acquired the Company. That post served the dual purposes of documenting an interesting period in my career and also providing an enduring (to the extent that anything on the web endures) glimpse at the art via the rudimentary website I built to showcase it.

A couple of months after posting the article, I received an email from someone in Los Angeles who had stumbled across it, and discovered that she'd purchased a copy of one of the works in the collection. Small world, huh?

I've been blogging a long time, and I'm no longer surprised at that sort of serendipitous encounter; Mr. Google has a way of working magic like that. At least, I thought I was immune to surprise. But, I received an email a week or so ago, and I have a new appreciation for the power of the web. Here's how it started:
Wow, just found your fascinating Blog (The Fire Ant Gazette) and had to contact you. I worked directly for Herbert Bayer and Curator Leila Mehle in the Los Angeles office (then Arco Plaza) in downtown LA back in the late 70's.

So it was with great interest that I found and read your Blog and toured your Virtual Gallery! Bravo for creating this!  
The composer of that email is David Halver, and that link that I put on his name will lead you to his IMDb profile. Go ahead and hop over and read about Mr. Halver; I'll wait right here.

David's email went into a great deal of detail about his work with ARCO's art collection, including some great anecdotes about the acclaimed Bauhaus artist Bayer and ARCO's legendary founder and chairman, R.O. (Bob) Anderson, and he has followed up with several additional missives. David was kind enough to grant me permission to share his letters, and I want to do that mainly to add some color and context the documentation of a piece of American corporate history that probably isn't well known.

Rather than copying and pasting David's email in its entirety, I'm taking the liberty of excerpting it and adding my own observations where possible. However, these excerpts are unedited.

On Anderson's artwork collecting habits...
I had the pleasure of meeting and working with [Herbert] Bayer on numerous occasions in Los Angeles as well as at his home outside Santa Barbara. It was Bayer's close friendship with CEO Anderson that got "Bob" interested in collecting; and as Bayer told it, Bob would often go on shopping sprees...hitting contemporary galleries in nearly every city he had business in; buying on impulse anything that he liked (with a then unheard of Platinum American Express card) and had them shipped to his ranch in Roswell, or his homes in NYC or LA or the huge penthouse suites overlooking the marina in Marina Del Rey, CA. 

As he soon tired of seeing them, he quickly replaced them and they all ended up in the offices in LA.  In the meantime, he had commissioned Hebert to select "important" pieces that were hung in the executive's offices, conference rooms, lobbies and waiting rooms. You mentioned 15,000 the time Arco acquired Anaconda and built the Anaconda Tower (near the Brown Palace in Denver) it was closer to 30,000...thus the donation by the Bayer Estate to the Denver Art Museum. 
On the cataloging system used for the collection...

David was able to shed some light on the numbering system employed to keep track of the artwork.
In the process of working and trying to document the quickly growing collection, Mehle and I developed an inventory system of assigning an ID code (on a small aluminum tag) to the frames or pedestals of all artworks in LA offices; where part of the code ID'd the Artist, a "letter" code indicated the medium, and then a group of numbers indicated which specific piece; thus B001 was Bayer, SG stood for serigraph, and as he had several 100s in the collection, there were four (4) spaces for an ID number after that. As I recall, a code similar to L004.PT.0003 would be for a Lichtenstein original Painting and the third one in the collection. These ID numbers were included in the slide library for reference.
Notice the casual reference to Lichtenstein. Original paintings by the pop artist sell for more than $40,000 nowadays. The Midland office wasn't fortunate enough to land a Lichtenstein.

I wasn't alone in my efforts to document the collection via photographs.
I too had the honor to photograph the collection and built a massive slide library housed in the 515 offices (the North Tower). As the collection grew, and I had previous Art Gallery experience (installing and packing) in LA, I became the chief "installer" for the newly acquired pieces that were sent to Denver for the Anaconda Collection.
In subsequent emails, David expressed an intent to locate the slides and digitize them. I hope he's successful in doing so.

Herbert Bayer's 'Double Ascension' sculpture installation at ARCO Plaza in Los Angeles
Herbert Bayer's Double Ascension.
According to David, "Bob [Anderson] loved the original title, Stairway to Nowhere,
but he thought the Board of Directors wouldn't approve!)

On the sometimes amusing reactions by ARCO employees to some of the artwork...
One evening I was changing a framed print in one of the "hidden" xerox work stations (also used as the secretary's lunch area) behind one of the many extraordinarily crafted wood paneled walls...and a gentleman came in to use one of the many xerox machines. While it poured out dozens of collated copies, he asked me if I could help him get rid of that "awful painting" in his office.

He led me to his office and his polished chrome "name-plate" by the side of his door (the walls were covered with a dark beige wool) ID'd him as the VP of Arco's Chemical Division. The previous curator (prior to Mehle) had hung a rather dated and not very appealing framed print above the couch and chairs that his desk faced, and a small abstract watercolor over the built-in credenza behind his desk...not at all fitting for a man in his position. 

He asked about getting a Currier & Ives print or something that related to the outdoors "...anything would be better than that horrendous thing!"

As I had hand-carried the new print for the xerox room and was taking the old print by hand, I couldn't do anything about it at the moment, but promised him that I'd speak with the Curator the next day. The next night I was installing the pieces she had selected and he walked in (it was late as I recall, well after 9PM) and at first he got pissed... "What the hell is that? This is worse! What is that supposed to be?"

It was an extraordinary abstract multi-layered oil painting that had an extraordinary glaze covering it that gave it a brilliant glow. I had been prepared by Mehle in the event that this would happen. "The Curator thought that as you are the head of the Chemical Division that you might enjoy this. It's called "Cold Fusion of Diverse Elements"; the Artist was inspired by photographs taken by an electron microscope."

He stared at it for a while, then noticed an extraordinary B&W Ansel Adams surrounded by a wide cold white matte and framed in an elegant thin welded chrome frame over the credenza. "Now that...I like. But this other one, well, I'll have to think it over. Thanks."

Less than a week later, he sent a Thank You note to Mehle and months later, while I was doing something on the 50th floor, his door was open and I heard him telling someone... "The artist was inspired seeing a chemical reaction in a microscope. I love it!" I had to keep from laughing out loud.

A very similar thing happened with an extraordinary painting (actually, four side-by-side canvases) called "Into Plutonian Depths" ... I did a Google image search and all that comes up is that it was the title of a pulp fiction sci-fi novel back in 1950... sadly no images of the painting. Anyway, the images were extraordinary and lined up side by side (each was around 40" square) it was like looking out the portholes of a space ship at an Alien Landscape. It was on the same executive floor where the VPs of geology had their offices... and was immediately disliked. But once the Curator had a small plaque installed with the title and a brief explanation that it was in fact supposed to be "...the view from the bridge of a Mining Vessel that had just landed on another world to do geological exploration.." Needless to say, it was a big hit.
His accounts ring true, in my experience. The artwork didn't always elicit positive responses from employees, and the closer to oilpatch you got, the less openminded people were about some of the more avant garde or impressionistic works. (And lest you think I'm immune, I never did understand this one. Or this one.) But if you are able to explain the context or make the piece relevant to something in the viewer's experience, you're more likely to get acceptance, if not outright enthusiasm.

David has shared a great deal more about life in general around ARCO's Los Angeles offices, including how the buildings were featured in the 2005 movie, Fun With Dick and Jane, for which he served as location liaison. I'm most appreciative of his willingness to take the time to record his experiences with my longtime employer's art collection, and for his kind permission to share those experiences with you. And if he's successful in locating that slide collection, I'll do my best to talk him into sharing a few of the more important works.

Corrections & Amplifications: 

The original version of this post incorrectly referred to an office covered with "a dark beige wood," when in actuality the walls were covered in wool. On behalf of hard-working sheep everywhere, I apologize for this misstatement.

The original version of this post implied that ARCO had original Roy Lichtenstein paintings in its collection, when in fact it had "only" hand-signed/hand-pulled lithographs and serigraphs. I regret ARCO's cheapness.
Update [10/5/16]: David Halver helped with the management of ARCO artwork collection in Los Angeles and Denver in the late 70s, and he contact me after reading this post. He provides a true insider's look at the collection and gave me permission to share his experiences, which I've done here.

In 2000, BP Amoco PLC acquired Atlantic Richfield Company for $27 billion, thus bringing a temporary end to my oil and gas career after 25 years. One of the things that ARCO was known for was its corporate artwork collection. Under the guidance of its chairman and CEO, the legendary oilman Robert O. Anderson, the company accumulated over 15,000 pieces of original artwork, housed in offices throughout the country. The collection included works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Herbert Bayer (a close friend of Anderson). Whether an oil company had any business investing so heavily in art is a legitimate question, but R.O. Anderson was a persuasive and charismatic guy, and the board and major shareholders didn't seem to mind.

ArtworkThe good stuff was, of course, on display at the corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, but even our office in Midland housed almost 300 pieces. They weren't universally appreciated - some of the more abstract pieces were subjects of ridicule, in fact - and the corporate art department seemed to be a bit tone-deaf when it came to providing regionally appropriate artwork, although they perhaps were simply trying to refine our philistine West Texas preferences.

Anyway, BP (they dropped Amoco in 2001) apparently didn't share ARCO's tastes in art, and so it was that the Midland office was instructed to dispose of its collection. They didn't express any strong opinions as to how we were to do that, and so during a brainstorming session I suggested that we might donate the proceeds from a sale of the artwork to the United Way, an organization that the Midland office had provided significant support for through the years. That idea quickly evolved into putting the pieces up for public auction, thinking that it might be a way to not only raise a tidy sum of money but also generate some good publicity for the United Way. According to a spreadsheet I found in my files, the original cost of the artwork was more than $75,000, and some of the pieces were thought to have appreciated significantly in value.
Update (7/21/15): I received an email today from someone whose sister bought one of these pieces - this one, to be exact - in an estate sale in Los Angeles a couple of days earlier. She found this post while searching for more information about the artwork, and contacted me to see if I could tell her anything more about it. Unfortunately, it seems that even the ARCO art department didn't know anything about it, because the original inventory list didn't list an artist or title. But it was quite interesting to track at least part of the journey of one of these works.
I volunteered to build a website that would showcase the artwork, and also provide a means for bidding. This was essentially my last project as a BP employee, and it was a fun one.

ArtworkThe first thing I had to do was photograph and catalog all 287 pieces. I had never photographed artwork, so everything was trial and error. My camera was a state of the art Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 [PDF] digital camera, which recorded .3 megapixel (640x480 pixels) images onto a 3.5" floppy disk. The pictures were pretty bad by today's standards, but given time and budget constraints, shooting high resolution photos on film just wasn't practical. If nothing else, the Sony provided quick turnaround and web-friendly results. (I still have the camera, but no battery to power it.)

If you've ever tried to photograph artwork, you know that it's not easy, especially if it's behind glass. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop cleaning up the images so they at least remotely resembled the originals.

The website design was also pretty laughable by today's standards, but not bad for the early Oughts. The site was actually designed with the idea that it would be distributed on CD-ROM, in addition to online access. But for some reason I can't recall, I resized the images to even smaller dimensions; most were only 250 pixels tall or wide. I suspect it's because at smaller sizes the images out of the camera didn't look so flawed, but that's just a guess. But keep in mind that at that time, home internet access was generally via dial-up modem and bandwidth was extremely limited. Image size was a big deal.

ArtworkThe end of this story gets really fuzzy for me, because I left the company before the final disposition of the art took place. I vaguely recall that the decision was made to donate all the art to the United Way and let that organization decide how best to dispose of it, and I further think they then found a dealer to purchase the entire collection. I have no idea how much they netted from the sale; I hope it was significant, but it didn't get a lot of publicity so perhaps it wasn't.

This is actually just a long introduction to the real purpose of this post, which is an attempt to preserve a little history that would otherwise fade completely out of sight. I have resurrected the original website that showcases - if you can call it that - the artwork that is now in the hands of unknown people. For all I know, much of it is now gracing garage sales around the country, while some might hang in other corporate HQs. But if you follow this link, you'll get a look at that art, as well as a reminder of what websites looked like fifteen years ago. (If you look carefully, you might find the lightning bolts that indicated clever was that?)

Acquiring Culture in the Hill Country
January 9, 2015 2:40 PM | Posted in: ,

During a recent stay at Horseshoe Bay we made a day trip to Fredericksburg, primarily to eat lunch at the Peach Tree Restaurant, but also to browse through the approximately 800 stores crammed into the three-block downtown shopping area. We didn't anticipate that we would leave far more cultured than we arrived...not that that would be a steep hill to climb.

For the record, an overcast 35° mid-week day in early January is the best time to visit F'burg if crowd avoidance is your goal. The Java Ranch Espresso Bar and Café was doing a brisk coffee business, but most of the other shops were barren of customers.

Most of the clothing shops cater to women (shocking, I know), but I did manage to score some awesome ankle artwork at one store:


My sock drawer is beginning to rival the Louvre, now that it houses (from left) Manet's The Fifer, Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

Perhaps you scoff at the idea of cultured footwear, but if you bothered to follow the links I've helpfully provided - we're all about education here at the Gazette - you'd be able to quote the following fascinating facts that are guaranteed to make you the life of any party:

  • The painting of the young flautist was featured in an episode of Hogan's Heroes.

  • La Goulule is French for "the glutton," and presumably referred to Louise Weber's (the real cancan dancer who was the subject of the artwork) penchant for draining the glasses on the table of the patrons lining the dance floor as she moved past them. Also, her favorite partner was a man known as "No Bones" Valentin, due to the fluid contortions he performed on the dance floor. And am I the only one who didn't realize there were male cancan dancers?

  • The original painting of The Birth of Venus is about nine feet tall. Also, there is a bit of subtle and possibly unintended humor in the Wikipedia write-up about the alternate interpretations of this artwork, particularly in the second paragraph of that section of the article. I'll leave the reader to his or her own devices in that regard.
Our last stop at the end of the day was at the River Rustic Gallery. We arrived at precisely 5:00 p.m., not realizing that was the art gallery's closing time. The woman coming out the door as we were going in was actually the manager who was about to lock up. We apologized, explaining that we were just browsing, and started to leave, but she insisted that we come in and look around, assuring us that she had nothing better to do.

This is a relatively new gallery in F'burg, and while it features work from a variety of artists, its focus is on the rock art of Carlos Moseley. And by "rock art" I mean that rocks are literally both his canvas and palette. (If you haven't been to Fredericksburg in a few years, you might remember that he had his own gallery next to the Old German Bakery and Restaurant.)

One piece in particular stood out, a "painting" entitled Two Stepping. See if you can figure out why it caught our eyes:

Rock art by Carlos Moseley

One of our favorite themes in art features fish, and the gallery had a couple of different pieces sculptured from stainless steel from an artist named Bear McLaughlin. Bear is also known as Tammy (yep, she's a she), and hails from Colorado. Based on the little I can find about her on the web - this article is the most insightful I could find - most of her work tends toward a grand scale, but this piece of wall art, entitled Big Fish, is an exception:

'Big Fish' by Bear McLaughlin

Incidentally, I hope we in some small way compensated the kind woman for keeping the gallery open for us as both of these pieces now adorn the master bedroom wall of our weekend place in Horseshoe Bay.

But the preceding examples of fine art were far from the only cosmopolitan culture we acquired during the day in Fredericksburg. I leave you with a view of a wonderful little piece of kinetic sculpture, title unknown. We didn't buy it, but the next time we're in the market for a puking chicken, this will be at the top of our list.

Contest! Turn this shotgun into yard art!
November 8, 2014 10:42 AM | Posted in: ,

I recently took possession of a 1960s-vintage 12 gauge single-shot shotgun, formerly owned by my father-in-law, who says the gun was shot only a few times. This was partly because the unchoked barrel made the gun pretty uncomfortable to shoot, but he also wasn't a hunter. So, the gun has been rusting away in a closet for decades.

Closeup of Model 94 shotgun

It's a Stevens Model 94 manufactured by the Savage Arms Corporation. According to this article, Savage turned out more than a million of these shotguns, starting in the 19th century, in a variety of gauges. They were inexpensive, and by the time this particular model came into being, "inexpensive" was an acceptable synonym for "cheap." What looks like a nice walnut stock is actually grade-A genuine plastic. These shotguns generally sell for around $100-$150 dollars in the aftermarket.

Model 94 shotgun

I've cleaned the gun a bit, although as you can tell by the first photo, it's still rusty. Somewhere along the line the bolt that tightens the stock loosened, and I can't tighten it so there's a wiggly gap (that's a highly technical gunsmithing term, I'm sure). In short, this shotgun is no longer destined for shooting. So, I've removed the firing pin, and I want to "repurpose" the gun.

Here's where you come in, oh gentle and creative Gazetteer. I need your ideas for turning this gun into yard art, either as a standalone piece or something that will hang on a brick wall. I could always just mount it as is and stick a flower in the muzzle, but that's awfully cliched (although perhaps age-appropriate for a hippies-vintage gun) and I'm sure you guys can come up with something better. The only caveat is that it has to be something that I can actually try to think like a third-grader.

And, seeing as how today marks the 12th anniversary of the Fire Ant Gazette, I figured we should make this a little more special than usual, so if you have the "winning" idea, I'll immortalize you on these pages as a character in a short story. (Eventually.)

So, if you can think of some creative uses for a shotgun that has a little sentimental value, but none otherwise, please share them via email or on the Facebook post that links to this page. Thanks in advance, and may the blast be with you.

Polygonal Me
July 24, 2014 8:26 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I ran across this cool tutorial (via Twitter) explaining how to create a polygon portrait poster design in three easy steps. I have no idea what a "polygon portrait poster" is, but the result was interesting and it seemed to be a process that meshed well with my artistic aptitude (read: stupid simple), so I decided to fire up Photoshop and try it out.

You can jump on the link to see the entire tutorial, but what struck me as a stroke of brilliance was the suggestion of using the Eyedropper tool to select a color that was dominant on the portion of the source photo within the bounds of each polygon. This was a revelation to a mostly-colorblind non-artiste like me, because it basically removed any responsibility for having to make decisions regarding color.

I think this technique might be more suitable for a photo that is dark and brooding (again, see the actual tutorial), but I don't think I'm capable of dark and brooding. The closest I can come is snark and looming. I do think the result would be better using a photo with side lighting, so that the shadows are bit more dramatic. 

Anyway, here's the result of my efforts.

Photo of me
Photo of me, polygonized

I can pass along one tip if you want to try this. The key is to not worry about being too precise with the polygons. Don't worry if you have some gaps. In the tutorial, all the polygons were perfectly aligned, edge-to-edge, but that might be overkill. In fact, here's what my first pass looked like:

This is a screenshot from Photoshop; the checkerboard background shows where there is no color, and it clearly shows where I was rather cavalier in my approach to drawing the polygons. I addressed this issue simply by creating a background layer and filling it with color to fill in the "cracks." I think this approach adds a bit of character to the image, although I could just be delusional.

Newly Framed Artwork
February 14, 2014 5:05 PM | Posted in:

We had three pieces of "artwork" framed recently. You'll see why I've qualified the subject matter in just a minute.

Two of the pieces had been laying around the house for a couple of years, awaiting the time we worked an infinitely-expanding to-do list down to where they resided. They are both legitimate artwork, paintings by an internationally known painter and author named Charles Sovek. Charles was one of my earliest website clients, and he graciously presented me with a few of his paintings over the years. He died in 2007 but I've continued to work with his widow on a gratis basis as she handles the artwork now belonging to his estate.

The first piece is a small still life painting - I think it's an acrylic, and I know it's a bell pepper - which became measurably more impressive once it was framed. The photo below doesn't really do it justice.

Still life painting

The second painting is an oil entitled Eagles Nest, Zion, from Sovek's Red Rock Country collection. This photo is another example of just how difficult it is for an amateur like me to photograph a beautifully-framed painting.

Landscape painting

The third piece is my sentimental favorite, capturing a concept that I'd been kicking around in my mind for more than a year. Take a look at it, and then I'll give you the back story.

Framed Mac G4 Motherboard

This is the motherboard from the Apple Power Mac G4 that I bought in 2001 and used daily for almost ten years. The circuit board truly is an industrial work of art (and even has the little battery - the pinkish blob in the upper left corner - that kept the clock going while the computer was powered off). I was enamored with the idea of showcasing a piece of high-tech equipment, where function trumps style in every aspect, in an ornate pseudo-baroque setting.

I love the way it turned out, and the framers apparently were thrilled with the challenge of bringing the concept to reality. One was a computer geek who once built computers; he said he debated about whether to leave the locking pins on the RAM slots open or closed (he settled on "closed"). He insisted on taking photos before letting me take the piece home.

Debbie has picked out spots for the paintings. The oil painting is hanging in our entry; the still life is going to Horseshoe Bay. But I haven't yet decided where to display the motherboard. I suppose our home office is the logical location, but I already have a cool watercolor map of the Caribbean hanging there. Hard decisions like this are what's known as "first world problems."

Studebaker Fish: The Backstory
December 22, 2012 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm a sucker for sculptures constructed from found objects. Are they art? I'll leave that debate to those who know what they're talking about, but I find such pieces to be a pleasant addition to my environment, and that's all I demand from my art. I also like the idea of making something whimsical for no practical purpose whatsoever (forgive the redundancy, and try not to apply that test to the Gazette).

Anyway, when we discovered the Artisans at Rocky Hill Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas, a week or so ago, I felt like a crackhead who'd just won a free house in East L.A. (no offense to East L.Aliens, or to crackheads, for that matter). The gallery is chock-full of cool stuff (a technical art term) and if we ever figure out how to make "spending our way into prosperity" into a workable financial strategy, I know just where to start.

I thought I showed remarkable restraint when we walked out of the joint with only one piece...but what a piece it is:

Photo of the Studebaker Fish

This construction is entitled "1949 Studebaker Nose Cone Fish." The name is interesting not simply because the base of the sculpture is the nosepiece from a Studebaker, but also because all the photos and text I've found indicate that this particular style didn't appear until 1950. So, either time travel was involved in its creation, or we should chalk the title up to artistic license. Personally, I like the former theory, but I'm not entirely objective.

As you can probably discern from the photo, the fish has golf club heads for fins, a pair of tin snips for a tail, and old ceramic door knobs for eyes. The dorsal fin appears to be a section from a big honkin' saw blade. Two boxend wrenches serve as the "legs." And nestled in the belly of the fish is a padlock and a handgun. [Insert hipsterish Noah joke here.]

The artist is a man named Terry Jones, and he calls the east Texas town of Jewett his home. Many of his sculptures incorporate [non-functioning] firearms. Jones works with several law enforcement agencies to "decommission" guns that have been seized in raids, and in return for this service, he's allowed to use them in his creations.

Closeup of Bryco 48 handgun

I did a little gumshoe work and discovered that the handgun in this piece is the chassis of a Bryco 48 .380 semi-auto, a cheap (in every sense of the word) "Saturday Night Special" with a rep for finding its way into all sorts of nefarious endeavors. It's not surprising that it ended up in one of these sculptures. And if you were the former owner of Bryco 48 #624643, well, shame on you.

The fish is one of Jones's more playful works; some are simply stunning in their intricacy and flowing design. If you happen to find yourself in Fredericksburg - or in another of the galleries that carry his work - be sure to take a look. You also might find yourself enhancing your yard art* collection.

*Uh, let's let this be our little secret, m'kay? I'm not sure that Mr. Jones intended for this particular piece to be planted under a Mexican Elder tree in West Texas.

Yard Art Follow-Up
June 26, 2012 1:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Yesterday's post about the cheesy lawn animals apparently struck a chord with some of you fellow rednecks art connie-sewers. I'm happy to see there are other serious patrons of yard art out there. In particular, I enjoyed hearing from Dale Thompson, an intrepid Gazette reader who enclosed some photos of an occupant of his back yard, along with this narrative: "Of course this is an old photo with the green grass. Went with the old saying 'go big or go home.' Dragon's head is about 9 feet with a 12 foot wingspan. Be careful with yard art; it can get out of hand."

Photo of metal dragon

Is that awesome, or what?

Dale explained that his metal masterpiece is truly a work of art, created by a local artisan and entered in a show in Odessa where it won the People's Choice award.

His warning about things getting out of hand is well-heeded. But, sometimes, too big is just big enough. So I'm kicking myself for not bringing this bad boy home to throw down with the dragon:

Photo of metal knight

As Daenerys will testify, never count out a dragon...but an armor-clad 12-foot-tall knight with a big honkin' sword is also a force to be reckoned with.

It would have almost been worth the $600 purchase price to strap it into the bed of the Ridgeline for the trip home.

Expanding Lawn Menagerie
June 25, 2012 6:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Did you ever pass by one of those stores where the inventory is crammed into a vacant lot and wondered what kind of unwashed, uncultured redneck rabble buys something like that for public display? Well, now you know.

Photo of lawn animals

Now, in our defense, since our lawn is almost dead, thanks to the drought and watering restrictions, we figured these things would be good ways to liven up the landscape. Plus, even the most hoity-toity amongst you can't resist the charms of this fellow:

Photo of metal burro

The spring-mounted head and tail add a certain joie de vivre (or, perhaps, je ne sais quoi) to the overall ambiance, if a poorly assembled metal burro can be said to possess ambiance.

By the way, that longhorn skull is comprised of washers painstakingly welded together by free-range artisans working happily for coffee and organic, gluten-free scones in an idyllic setting overlooking a verdant meadow occasionally inhabited by unicorns. At least, that's what the label says.

Having poked fun at it, it's only fair to point out that to many, this is a legitimate form of folk art, and I can thank Burr Williams, founder of the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, for introducing me to the term rasquache. As he explains in this essay, the term implies "scraping together or scraping by" - making do with what you have. I may be stretching the concept a bit, but this proves we're simply patrons of the arts.

So, all we need now is for the weatherproofing of our Black Velvet Elvis to cure and we'll be in business.

The Art-Producing Instrument As Art
September 14, 2011 6:32 AM | Posted in: ,

I have a fairly open mind when it comes to art, or, more specifically, what constitutes art. The human imagination is a wonderful and mysterious force, and when it's imposed on physical materials in unexpected ways, it evokes a wide range of emotions and reactions from the beholder.

Such as...what the...?

Photo of cameraI can't recall how I ran across this website, but it belongs to a guy whose art medium is cameras. He builds functioning cameras that make a statement about issues he's passionate about. His creations are elaborate, and incorporate both inorganic and organic materials, juxtaposed in ways to shock and/or amaze. 

For example, the camera at right incorporates an actual sample of blood from an HIV+ patient. The blood becomes a #25 red filter, and the photos it produces are eerie, to say the least. Other cameras incorporate insects, "sea creatures," human skulls, and assorted "found" parts. The craftsmanship that goes into each camera is as sophisticated as the imagination that conceived it.

As I mentioned, these are all functioning cameras. If you visit the site, be sure to check out the sample photos taken with each model, as they constitute a different kind of artwork.

Denver's Big Blue Bear
July 24, 2011 7:40 AM | Posted in:

One of the more entertaining sights in Denver is the installation of a whimsical statue entitled "I See What You Mean." See if you don't agree:

Photo of 4 story bear statue

The fiberglass statue was installed in 2005, stands 40' tall, and cost more than $400,000, according to this article. One can only hope that it's not staring into a stockbroker's office; dealing with a bear market is tough enough without another constant reminder.

Throwing Green
June 17, 2011 4:15 PM | Posted in: ,

I don't know what category this goes in, but I picked "Art" because it's the sort of thing that probably draws big bucks in a Manhattan gallery. Heck, for all I know it really is a piece of performance art:

Photo of a can of green paint spilled in a parking lot

It wasn't until I imported this photo - which, incidentally, was shot in the parking lot of Academy Sports this afternoon - that I realized that the dark stain off to the right gives the scene a weird 3D look, making the paint spill and can appear to be floating above the asphalt. That alone qualifies it as art in my book.

Note to whomever lost control of their Valspar: don't cry about it; I can assure you that this paint looks much better where it is than where you had planned to put it.
I daresay that Georges Seurat's painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is only recognizable to most people in the most vague, I-think-I've-seen-a-poster-of-that-somewhere-before sort of way, and most of us would surely not be able to describe it sight unseen. I suppose there's nothing inherently wrong with this; the painting is more than a hundred years old and Seurat is not a tip-of-the-tongue artist like, say, van Gogh or Monet.

But I find it very interesting that when the cast of NBC's TV show, The Office, is inserted into an updated, posterized version of this painting, people absolutely come alive with passionate discussions of every detail of the scene. If you don't believe me, click the preceding link and scroll through the comments section.

Here's a comparison of the two scenes; click on the yellow vertical slider and move it across the original painting to reveal the TV poster. By the way, if you are indeed one of those artsy purists who knows their stuff, I apologize for cropping the original slightly to make it overlay more closely to the poster. Sacrilege, I know, but we really just lost the umbrella lady's bustle, and a tiny sliver off the top of the painting.

Seurat's Painting 'The Office' Poster

I guess it's not a big deal, but it kind of saddens me that we can get so excited over a TV show and its characters, and yet a piece of amazing artwork merits nary a second glance. Have we become so cheap in our pursuits?

And here's how out of touch I am: I didn't even know Michael was no longer on "The Office."

Pi Plate
February 27, 2011 5:32 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, the creator calls it a "pi bowl," but that's semantics, and not very punny, to boot. Anyway, this ceramic concoction is etched with the first 1,498 decimal places of pi, and can be ordered in a variety of colors via Etsy. [Via Neatorama]

Photo of bowl

Mad Woodworking Skillz
January 10, 2011 9:24 AM | Posted in: ,

I once carved a rattlesnake out of a two-by-four. Took me three days. And several two-by-fours.

Link via Neatorama

The Dangers of Having Gifted Friends
October 19, 2010 8:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Norman Johnson is a local cartoonist, illustrator, and artist. His work is familiar to most folks in the Midland/Odessa area, whether or not they know its source. Norman is also a gifted caricaturist, and his friends (or, as he would put it, his rapidly-dwindling supply of friends) are frequent subjects. Debbie and I (and even other family members) have fallen into his artistic cross hairs on more than one occasion; below is an example of one he sent me last night.


While I must protest certain inaccuracies in this image - I haven't ridden a conventional bicycle in more than a decade, being now of the recumbent persuasion, and toe-clips are soooo 1998 - I do appreciate Norman's generosity in providing me with more hair than is strictly realistic. I'm still trying to figure out the Aqua Velva in the water bottle, though.

Don't be surprised if parts of this eventually appear as my Facebook profile picture.

Looking Up
February 22, 2010 2:18 PM | Posted in:

I sometimes accuse my wife of attempting to cover every square inch of space on our walls and shelves with, um, stuff. Don't get me wrong; she picks out first-rate stuff, but I do enjoy the peacefulness of an occasional blank surface.

So, I'm hoping that she's not reading this, and then clicking over to see this.

[Although, I confess that the idea of such offbeat ceiling-mounted art installations does have some appeal.]

"The Third & The Seventh"
January 17, 2010 8:52 AM | Posted in: ,

The video shown below (via @jonasl Twitter feed) is one of the most mesmerizing pieces I've ever seen. It starts a little slowly, and the variable depth of field and changing focus techniques can be slightly off-putting, but stick with it and you'll be richly rewarded.

You can watch the embedded version below, but if you have a fast internet connection and computer, I highly recommend watching the HD version in full-screen mode. I have no idea how much of it is real, and how much is computer-generated (read some of the almost 1300 comments on the Vimeo page linked above and you'll see that I'm not alone), but it doesn't matter. It easily qualifies as a digital masterpiece regardless of how it was made.

Tracing Norman Rockwell's "Art"
December 7, 2009 7:57 AM | Posted in: ,

NPR's The Picture Show blog has a fascinating look at the techniques used by Norman Rockwell to create the iconic images that many of us grew up with. It seems that Rockwell's paintings were actually tracings of photographs, and some are questioning their validity as "art."

I'm not among those skeptics. My definition of art may be looser than others, but I think the human creativity can manifest itself in infinite variety, and it's the result that counts, not the process. As the NPR article points out, Rockwell was in total control of every detail of the process - selecting the subject matter and models (most of whom were fellow residents of his hometown of Stockbridge, MA), working with a hand-picked stable of photographers, directing the photo shoots, and, finally, transforming the results of those photos to a medium of paint. In itself, the process is interesting, but it's the result that defines his work as art: his work stimulates the imagination and memory, and has an uncanny way of creating an attitude of peace, joy, and/or amusement in the viewer.

Further, if you take the time to compare the details of the original photo with the final artwork, you'll see that Rockwell's technique wasn't really "photorealistic." Take a look at the side-by-side comparisons of some of his paintings and the photos he used as starting points, and it will be clear that Rockwell made conscious decisions about details, omitting or altering those that didn't contribute to what he was trying to achieve with each scene. Some of those edits were so extensive that the use of the term "tracing" is inaccurate and unfair.

Whether or not you consider Norman Rockwell to be a true artist, his contribution to the tapestry of American culture is undeniable. And I suspect he'd be amused by discussions such as this.

Ron Shick's book "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera" explores in detail the artist's working methods. I haven't read it, but it sounds quite interesting.

This one's for you, Bud
November 23, 2009 8:40 PM | Posted in:

All of you are free to visit this website, just as long as you realize that the link is really provided for my Uncle Bud. (Note: It's a Flash site, so if you have deleted Flash from your computer -- as I have -- prepare to see...nothing.)

Click and drag, and drag. Happy Thanksgiving!
I don't remember how I stumbled across it, but The 20x200 Blog is a fascinating showcase for a wide variety of artists. If you like what you see, you can buy the artwork for a fixed price of $20, $200, or $2,000, depending on the size of the piece. Anyway, one of the posts that caught my eye dealt with a video featuring Jason Polan, a freelance artist from New York City who also happens to be a member, presumably in good standing, of the Taco Bell Drawing Club, and whose current project is to draw every person in NYC. He also paints big ants, thereby endearing himself to this blog. 

The video that's the subject of the 20x200 post was commissioned by the State Bar of Texas, and it's a very good primer on the importance of the separation of powers among the three branches of government. Here 'tis, courtesy of YouTube:

That's Jason's actual arm doing the sketching in the video. I thought it was a great piece of work, and quite effective in communicating basic concepts in an appealing fashion. (I'm a sucker for ads that incorporate drawing; the current UPS "whiteboard" series of TV commercials comes to mind.) My curiosity was also piqued by the pairing of a New York artist with the Texas Bar, and I wanted to know more about the project. I couldn't find anything online so I took the unprecedented blogging step of doing some actual research, thereby avoiding my usual tactic of just making something up. I emailed Jason with some questions, and he very graciously carved out the time to answer them. Here's the transcript.
NYC is pretty far from Austin. How did you and the State Bar hook up with one another?

: I think a producer at the group that was in charge of making the films had seen a film I made with a friend, Meredith Zielke, called How To Draw A Giraffe on the Wholphin Website and contacted me.

Where were the videos shot?

: Atlanta

Each video looks pretty clean, almost as if each was created from a single uninterrupted shot. Was that indeed the case? If so, how many takes were required to get the final version of each?

: Yea, each one had to be done with one shot. The editors changed speeds on some parts (you can notice it at the end of each film because I was writing too slow) but each one was done in one shot. They took three or four full attempts at each. A couple of times I would stop because I messed something up or there were a couple cases of going through the whole script and then people deciding something needed to be reworked. While I was doing it I was nervous but I was happy with the direction and I think they came out well.

Apart from doing the drawing, what was your role in the creation of the stories? Did you have input to the scripts?

: Scripts were completed before I did the drawings so I was completely out of the equation for their production, but as we figured out timing with the drawings we realized that some things in the script could be reworked. I gravitated toward visual things and parts of the script were not very visual - things needed to be educational the whole way through so we hopefully found a balance.

Did you also narrate the videos?

: Nope.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in this project?

: I was fairly nervous the whole way through. I wanted to be producing visually stimulating things that were also learning tools. I needed to be producing them in the order presented at a particular timing. Things were altered a little with the pace changes but I was trying to avoid that where I could and make things easier for editors (and more pleasing for viewers).
You were no doubt perceptive enough to note that in a couple of places, I referred to videos. The separation of powers spot is one of a "Choose Well" series of three commissioned by the State Bar, and featuring Jason. The other two deal with judicial elections and serving on a jury. The State Bar should be commended for using such a creative approach to education.

I also want to again thank Jason Polan for taking the time to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the project.

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