In the throes of the global pandemic, the mask has become far more than just a face covering. It has become the symbol of our times and a lightning rod for diametrically opposed political views. Different interest groups are playing tug of war with guidelines for wearing masks while behind the scenes PPE masks and the materials required to produce them have spurned a black market run by profiteering opportunists – or smart entrepreneurs, depending on which side of the geopolitical divide you’re on.
Which brings me to the unlikely subject of this month’s blog post: The world’s newest superhero, Maskman! Forget Superman – or Batman for that matter.Maskman is here!
This is no fictitious comic action figure, although this real-life ‘hero’–known to millions of giddy Chinese fans as the Mask Hunter–has all the makings of one: square jaw, tight fitting black turtle-neck, and a world view that is ruthless yet ethical in a self-serving sort of way. Meet 30-year-old businessman, Lin Dong from Guandong province.
As the saying goes, one man’s misfortune is another man’s fortune. And that’s the way Lin Dong sees it. While the world is succumbing to COVID-19, Lin jet sets around the world buying up as much of that superfine, super-expensive fabric that filters out virus-carrying particles. Welcome to the COVID world’s hottest commodity: melt-blown, nonwoven fabric. And don’t even try to unload that cheap spun substitute onto the Mask Hunter. Lin can smell a rip-off a mile away.It’s got to be melt-blown or nothing. His primary suppliers are sleazy arms dealers who have temporarily pivoted away from illegal arms to COVID-inhibiting shmattes because the profit margins are astronomical.
How did businessman Lin Dong become a Chinese superstar sensation? Here’s where art comes into it. Chinese video blogger Wu Dong stumbled upon our dashing hero carving out a deal in a hotel in Istanbul and immediately saw the film making potential. He cozied up to Lin Dong’s pretty sidekick and got the green light to tag along and film Lin Dong’s deal making.
The resulting eight-part series “Mask Hunter” was a blockbuster. Over one hundred million viewers and counting. Lin’s search for the rare fabric has made him millions but he stands to lose it all in a bad deal. His Chinese fans are rooting for him as if he were the Robin Hood of PPE, unlike those money-hungry American profiteers. KABAM!
On that note, I’ll sign off with a powerful and thought-provoking video about masks created during lock down by fellow artist, Reda Abdelrahman. Click HERE to watch.
The world is going through a crisis, a global pandemic, an unprecedented assault by an unseen enemy. Call it what you will, COVID 19 is literally killing us while we’re waiting for our lauded scientists and medical professionals to get us out of this. In the meantime, we’re sitting at home reading, playing, working, singing, chatting, zooming, eating, drinking, crying, watching Netflix and praying that this will be over soon. Praying, the way I see it, is a personal and intimate dialogue with whatever form of Spiritual Other people find comfort in believing in. We’re all searching for ways to comfort ourselves and others during this difficult time and if prayer does the trick, why not?
These thoughts brought to mind an installation I created in 2014 entitled ‘Virtual Angel’.
‘Virtual Angel’ was created specifically for an international traveling exhibition called AMEN. I was honored to have been selected by CARAVAN as one of 18 Western artists to join with 30 leading Egyptian artists in building bridges between faiths and cultures through Art. Each participating artist received a life-sized fiberglass figure in prayer with which to create a personal expression of prayer.
I chose to transform my figure into an angel as angels appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as well as in ancient manuscripts that predate those texts. These winged creatures straddle the celestial and earthly worlds acting as divine helpers, intermediaries, protectors, and emissaries.
But I wanted to find a way to actively engage the public and provide the viewer with an opportunity for personal prayer. By using a mobile phone to scan the QR code I emblazoned on the angel’s chest (below), viewers were able to send their personal prayers to the world with a click of a finger.
My Virtual Angel provided a means of bridging the spiritual world and the contemporary digital world. It seemed fitting that these digital prayers are sent to the cloud for safe keeping. I invite you now to scan the QR code and send your own prayers out into the world.
If you do not have a QR code scanner on your mobile phone and wish to send a digital prayer to the cloud, you can do so directly by clicking HERE where you can also read the anonymous prayers that have been sent out by others. And for what it’s worth, I’m sending my prayers out to one and all for a safe and healthy sheltering. Take care.
I appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as much as the next person, but the immersive, experiential Van Gogh traveling exhibition brings his paintings, his life and his travails to a totally new level. I was fortunate to catch the traveling show in Israel at the Arena complex in Herzliya. It was a stunning, unforgettable experience.
One is first guided into a huge space where the 360 degree surround sound and imagery are otherworldly. The fact that Van Gogh’s imagery is so iconic and recognizable made the experience feel intimate and monumentally epic at the same time. I’ve never dropped acid, but it felt like I was tripping as Van Gogh’s painted petals detached themselves from the branches of giant cherry blossoms, sunflowers careened underfoot and flocks of black crows took flight from haystacks that danced and spun around me. I could have stayed there for hours.
The artists and production team who created this sensory delight have to be applauded. The viewer is taken on an emotional roller coaster – chirping birds and beautiful vases of flowers morph into gaudily painted characters who peopled Van Gogh’s life in Arles. Then comes the suspenseful music that foreshadows Van Gogh’s descent into madness and despair.
But just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better, the next phase of the exhibition blew me away. Visitors are fitted with Virtual Reality headgear that literally transports you back to Van Gogh’s time, starting right in his famously painted bedroom.
And from there one flies down the steps, walks through the town of Arles, greets his friends and patrons, wanders through meadows, sidesteps chickens, watches the boats glide on the river and the night turn starry over the local church. My hands were reaching out to touch the cows, or hold onto a handrail. Magical, simply magical.
I happened to visit the Van Gogh show just days after another truly inspirational and totally unique cultural experience that played a different game with my senses. The Israeli town of Jaffa is home to a unique space called Na LaGaat (‘Please Touch’). Na Lagaat presents cultural opportunities for connecting the deaf and the blind, those that are both deaf and blind, and the wider seeing and hearing public. I attended a concert there by singer/songwriter Yoni Rechter – IN TOTAL DARKNESS! Not only did the audience experience the concert in total darkness, but the musicians had to play in the dark as well. The words to the songs have never sounded sweeter, nor more poignant.
I’ll never look at a painting in quite the same way again, nor listen to a song in quite the same way…
Every three years, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery hosts the Outwin Boochever contemporary portrait competition. It’s one of my favorite art events because it expands and re-defines what we think of as portraiture. This year’s judges selected 46 out of 2600 entries! Race, gender bias and immigration were the underlying themes tackled by the selected artists. Here are a few of the standouts:
Artist Deborah Roberts felt ‘called’ to paint a portrait of 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. who was executed in 1944 in an electric chair for a murder he did not commit. The work symbolizes the injustices against African American youths today (I would highly recommend a visit to another outstanding Smithsonian museum in DC – the National Museum of African American History and Culture). Aside from its message, I loved the subtle confluence of painting and collage in the face, shown in detail:
Some of you may recognize the face of iconic novelist and activist, James Baldwin (1924-1987), in this work below by artist Nekisha Durrett.
But take a closer look at how she created this portrait:
A video work by performance artist, Anna Garner, presented a totally different interpretation of self-portrait. Garner filmed herself engaged in a potentially harmful situation of her own making. To watch the video, click on the image below.
The portrait of ‘April and June’ by David Antonio Cruz features Cruz’s focal subject – black and brown members of the queer community. I particularly liked the artist’s fearless treatment of color and the clash of patterns (see detail below).
The exhibition also included several outstanding photographs.
AND THE WINNER IS….
The judges of the Outwin Boochever competition awarded first place to Hugo Crosthwaite for his stop-gap animated ‘Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chavez’ dealing with one woman’s American Dream. Click on the image below to watch the video.
Before concluding this brief overview of the portrait competition, I want to introduce another two works that greatly impressed me. I was blown away by the sensitive treatment and paint quality of ‘Hidden Wounds’ (below) by Luis Alvarez Roure, who painted his childhood friend after the latter returned from war. The half-shadowed face hides the hidden scars below the surface.
Another powerful service member portrait (below), this time representing women in the armed forces, was painted by Julianne Wallace Sterling who found her subjects by advertising on Craigslist!
(I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the service of another young woman, close family friend, 2nd Lt. Rosenberg, United States Marine Corps, pictured below with General James Mattis)
It’s a great feeling when all the different influences and inspirational threads from one’s time at a residency come together. That’s what happened when I created Through my window (above). I felt like I had captured the colors and the intense heat, as well as my weeks-long view from the window of my atelier here at LMStudio Residency in Hyères.
I produced quite a few studies and works during my time here, allowing the inspiration of the moment to guide me. Here are a few examples:
My portrait (below) of the local personality, Michel, always drew a small crowd outside the gallery.
Michel is an unforgettable character and he taught me a thing or two – his motto in life is ‘Pourquoi pas?’ (Why not?) Why not indeed. Why do we have to conform or answer to anyone but ourselves?
I did a series of prints with abstracted windows/shutters that are so typical of France, and this area in particular. The shutters keep out the intense sun and provide privacy so coveted by the French. The rabbit is an image from a local poster about town advertising a wine festival. In the original poster the rabbit ears were cleverly composed of wine bottle silhouettes.
Watercolor sketching is not my forte but it’s just so satisfying and relaxing. Here I am sketching on the picturesque island of Porquerolles.
The beach is a GREAT place to sketch – all those free, unsuspecting models!!!
Other new works created during my residency will be on exhibit in September here in Hyères at the beautiful gallery, ARTDANH, run by artist/sculptor Annie Denis.
My final act on the last night was to eat a madeleine (below) while reading the famous excerpt written by Marcel Proust about this sweet French treat.
In his iconic book Remembrance of Things Past (a novel in seven parts, published in the early 20th century), a madeleine crumb triggers memories of Proust’s childhood. The excerpt is famous for its legendary wordiness and pomposity. It is often used as a literary example of how to really milk an idea! Just for the hell of it, I have included an English translation of the madeleine excerpt. Eating one while reading may make it more pleasurable…
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of
Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre
and the drama of my going to bed there, had any
existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came
home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered
me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I
declined at first, and then, for no particular reason,
changed my mind. She sent out for one of those
short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’
which look as though they had been moulded in the
fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon,
mechanically, weary after a dull day with the
prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips
a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel
of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the
crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran
through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon
the extraordinary changes that were taking place.
An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but
individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.
And at once the vicissitudes of life had become
indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity
illusory–this new sensation having had on me the
effect which love has of filling me with a precious
essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it
was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre,
accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to
me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was
connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it
infinitely transcended those savours, could not,
indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did
it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon
and define it?
I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing
more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather
less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is
losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my
quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The
tea has called up in me, but does not itself
understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a
gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which
I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be
able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it
there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my
final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine
my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But
how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the
mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond
its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the
dark region through which it must go seeking, where
all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More
than that: create. It is face to face with something
which does not so far exist, to which it alone can
give reality and substance, which it alone can bring
into the light of day.
And I begin again to ask myself what it could have
been, this unremembered state which brought with it
no logical proof of its existence, but only the sense
that it was a happy, that it was a real state in whose
presence other states of consciousness melted and
vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I
retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank
the first spoonful of tea. I find again the same state,
illumined by no fresh light. I compel my mind to
make one further effort, to follow and recapture
once again the fleeting sensation. And that nothing
may interrupt it in its course I shut out every
obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and
inhibit all attention to the sounds which come from
the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is
growing fatigued without having any success to
report, I compel it for a change to enjoy that
distraction which I have just denied it, to think of
other things, to rest and refresh itself before the
supreme attempt. And then for the second time I
clear an empty space in front of it. I place in position
before my mind’s eye the still recent taste of that
first mouthful, and I feel something start within me,
something that leaves its resting-place and attempts
to rise, something that has been embedded like an
anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is,
but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the
resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces
Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of
my being must be the image, the visual memory
which, being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it
into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far
off, too much confused; scarcely can I perceive the
colourless reflection in which are blended the
uncapturable whirling medley of radiant hues, and I
cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the
one possible interpreter, to translate to me the
evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable
paramour, the taste of cake soaked in tea; cannot
ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in
question, of what period in my past life.
Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my
consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment
which the magnetism of an identical moment has
travelled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up
out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell.
Now that I feel nothing, it has stopped, has perhaps
gone down again into its darkness, from which who
can say whether it will ever rise? Ten times over I
must essay the task, must lean down over the
abyss. And each time the natural laziness which
deters us from every difficult enterprise, every work
of importance, has urged me to leave the thing
alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the
worries of to-day and of my hopes for to-morrow,
which let themselves be pondered over without
effort or distress of mind.
And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was
that of the little crumb of madeleine which on
Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those
mornings I did not go out before church-time), when
I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my
aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her
own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of
the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind
before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often
seen such things in the interval, without tasting
them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that
their image had dissociated itself from those
Combray days to take its place among others more
recent; perhaps because of those memories, so
long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now
survived, everything was scattered; the forms of
things, including that of the little scallop-shell of
pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious
folds, were either obliterated or had been so long
dormant as to have lost the power of expansion
which would have allowed them to resume their
place in my consciousness. But when from a longdistant past nothing subsists, after the people are
dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still,
alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more
unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the
smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,
like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping
for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and
bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable
drop of their essence, the vast structure of
And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of
madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers
which my aunt used to give me (although I did not
yet know and must long postpone the discovery of
why this memory made me so happy) immediately
the old grey house upon the street, where her room
was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach
itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden,
which had been built out behind it for my parents
(the isolated panel which until that moment had
been all that I could see); and with the house the
town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the
Square where I was sent before luncheon, the
streets along which I used to run errands, the
country roads we took when it was fine. And just as
the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a
porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little
crumbs of paper which until then are without
character or form, but, the moment they become
wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour
and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or
people, permanent and recognisable, so in that
moment all the flowers in our garden and in M.
Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne
and the good folk of the village and their little
dwellings and the parish church and the whole of
Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper
shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town
and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.
It actually is as beautiful here as in the postcards. But don’t take my word for it – a picture says more than a thousand words.
Hyères will be my home for the next three weeks – I am the artist in residence at LMStudios where I have the run of a quirky, centuries-old little house in the historic part of town. This includes a gallery on the ground floor where I exhibit my own works.
The gallery sitting aspect of this residency is my least favorite part. I find it quite excruciating to represent and sell my own work. Give me another artist’s work that I admire and I can be an amazing salesperson. I believe people fall into three categories as far as galleries go – first you have the totally oblivious passerby like this gentleman below who stood for a good five minutes at the entrance of the gallery reading his daily!
The majority of passersby fit into the second category – those who look in through the glass vitrines but are deathly afraid to enter – either from fear or discomfort. And lastly there’s the tiny minority whose radar is open to the existence of art and dare to step foot inside!
Because I just arrived, the work I hung in the gallery are small format works I brought with me until I start producing work here (I’m not sure yet what direction my works will take). The surroundings need a while to simmer. A very interesting local gentleman popped into the gallery on my first day.
My multi-media series on African women appealed to him greatly. My first sale of the morning was from that series. See below.
Juan Gatti’s over-sized paintings in the luxurious Faena resort’s lobby are so…Miami. Big, brash, over-the-top, oozing with fabulous detail and dripping with gold. They are pretty fabulous and apparently each mural panel cost one million dollars! As you stroll through the lobby (referred to as ‘The Cathedral’) towards Faena’s private beach, the path splits when you get to ‘The Mammoth’, Damien Hirst’s gold-dipped and encased mammoth skeleton. It’s quite a sight.
Every detail at the Faena has been tastefully curated to create a seamless blend of art, architecture and design. Even the hotel doors are glitzy.
And then there’s the Jeff Koons work upstairs at the entrance to the resort’s signature restaurant. But just up the road on Collins Avenue, theBass Museum of Contemporary Art offers a more serene and contemplative style of art in the form of Sheila Hicks’ fiber art.
Born in Nebraska in 1934, Hicks has had an expansive career. Her resume reads like an artist’s wet dream – Yale University, Fulbright Scholarship, Venice Biennale, Whitney Biennial, solo shows in Tokyo, Korea, Israel and on and on. Impressive to the point of intimidating. Oh, and she divides her time between Paris and New York just for good measure. But you can’t begrudge Hicks her success because she deserves all the accolades and more. The current exhibition is loosely centered around the theme of landscape. Her creativity with her medium knows no bounds.
You don’t have to wait for Miami Basel to see some great art in Miami. Hicks’ exhibition, Campo Abierto (Open Field), is on through the end of September, 2019. It’s a winner.
Whether you’re celebrating your spouse, significant other, your offspring or your pet, who’s to question the healing power of Love. Here’s a quick slideshow of a few of my more romantic works to put you in the mood.
Miami: Hub of the rich and famous, home of art deco, Cuban-style hot rods, Latin culture, palm trees, blue skies and blue waters. It is also one of three international cities to host Art Basel. For the uninitiated, Art Basel is one of THE most important annual events in the artworld. Galleries, artists, collectors and art lovers from all over the globe descend for a week of intense – and I mean intense – art immersion. I’m talking about hundreds of exhibiting galleries and over 100,000 visitors. If you get saturated after visiting a museum, you might want to think twice about visiting Art Basel!!! For me, though, it was Heaven.
It would be impossible to relay the scope of paintings of every type, size, and subject, sculptures big and small of every material conceivable, photographic works and digital compositions. So for digestibility, I will focus on artworks that use unconventional materials. It’s a trend I found incredibly interesting and one that demonstrates the infinite creativity that artists bring into our lives. I challenge you, my readers, to guess what medium the following artworks are made from. (NB My sincerest apologies to those artists whose names I failed to record.)
Nice nostalgic scene, right? Well, there’s a bit more to the artist’s method: used jeans!
This next artist creates large and beautifully composed abstract compositions from….
…collaged pieces of chipped paint collected from crumbling buildings all over the world!
By far one of my favorite work was by Italian artist, Andrea Salvador. These gorgeous works below blew my socks off – wait till you see what they are made of…
The big reveal:
Salvador creates his photorealistic works from hand-chipped glass mosaic. I met the Venetian glass blower who created the custom glass colors ordered by the artist. Wow.
There were numerous artists whose works used traditional craft methods like quilting and embroidery to create fine art works that took the craft to a totally new level:
I’m pretty sure you’ll never guess what material the next artist used to create this huge watercolor-like painting that had me stumped until I got the lowdown from the gallerist:
Give up? Plastic bags fused onto a huge canvas…
And another head scratching work…
Cuban artist Jorge Otero’s lifesized work was striking and fascinatingly unique. Venture to take a guess at how he achieved this beautiful effect? Woven photographs!
I’m willing to bet that no-one recognizes the elements used in the following wall hanging:
Used and stained computer keyboard keys…
If you aren’t wowed by now, I don’t know what to say. I’ll leave you on a lighter note with an artist who has playfully and successfully ($2500 a piece!) re-purposed vintage bowling pins.
Check out my next blog post ART BASEL MIAMI PART II where you’ll find a broad range of art that caught my eye. In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful Holiday Season. You can find out more about all the satellite art fairs here and here.