31 January 2009

Textile Collage

After completing my masters degree in 1980 at Uof L through independent textile study with Alma Lesch, during her last year as adjunct professor of graduate school before retiring to studio work, I was allowed to observe the making of and, upon its completion, help deliver this site specific tapestry, commissioned for the ground floor lobby of Meidinger Tower, on the corner of Fourth opposite the Seelbach. Similar to any epiphany, and indeed near that singular Merton moment many years before at the same location, was how this tapestry, called Lay of the Land: Kentucky, in 1983, would spread before me for the first time, having not seen the whole composition flat as it would hang on the stone wall. I then realized that Alma Wallace Lesch (1917-1999) was seeing this also for the first time. I was fortunate to have been asked to help document the making of the piece in a studio that would not accomodate the full size of the finished piece. It was as if I were photographing an undulating landscape filled with valleys and hills sparkling under the light of the summer sun. Only when hung can the glint of the commonwealth's shape be seen. If not the largest textile collage she had executed, Lay of the Land: Kentucky was an expansive view, nothing identical to the smaller 'sketch' called Kentucky Landscape, 1982 a square shape when compared to this newest textile panorama. Today, after sale of the building and eventual determination that the Owensboro Museum of Art would gain the tapestry, I trust the major fiber work is available for art viewers in Owensboro. Detail photos of the above photo collage @ http://almawallaceleschdatabase.blogspot.com/

The small rectangular fabric portrait seen in the above photo collage (a life size composition) shows details and photos of a commission in progress. Entitled "Sallie", I purchased this signature portrait from the Kentucky Foundation of Art and Craft's curated retrospective of the artist's life work in 1997. Sallie, named in tribute to the matriarch of the Louisville Bingham family, "Sallie" graced the walls of the then called Kentucky Foundation of Art and Craft (now KMAC on West Main St.) in the 1997 Lesch exhibition (WHAS-11 TV archive/Bernson video). I view "Sallie" as the closest thing to knowing the artist herself, perhaps in the image of her mother, or in her own, mature, self-portrait in what would be our modern new Century, with it's first Great War, early impressions buried in her childhood memory, or America's post-Victorian lace days to come. Was clothing ever as disposable as now in our New Depression of this 21st Century?

Do we have the vision to see clothing as having a "life" as did Alma Lesch? She approached each idea for fabric portraits as if they contained the 'essence' of the clothed person. As that one instant she bought the denim off the back of a laborer who stood at her front door! Similar in scope to superstitious Picasso, who feared others possessing his thrown away clothing, Alma Lesch may have realized the power and scope when using clothing as a medium. Crediting Picasso with the innovation of today's "art marketing" trend, Alma Lesch despised the idea of a value driven art market, posthumously. We had the most interesting conversation one night in the late '90s while doing finishing work together late into the Saturday A.M. hours after mentioning Picasso and the millions attached to his work after his passing when she shared the plan for her bonfire. "I don't want people getting rich off my work. Why shouldn't I just control this problem? The minute you're dead they can do anything with all that work. I'm just going to burn it in the yard." Then she emitted her wonderful laugh, a single, strong one-note ...HUH!

I've always admired direct conversation. Many of my best friends happen to be strong women. In fact, many of my most influential teachers, coincidentally, have been women. Just after Alma's unexpected death a prominent fiber artist called for information about the disposal of Mrs. Lesch's life work, stating: "After you are dead, you have no control over what you leave." Then coldly stated, "When is the auction?" I had nightmares of cash registers larger, louder than the manual monstrous one than came out of (husband of Alma) Ted's closed drugstore in Shepherdsville. Alma was right to see her 'body of work' (see University of Louisville archive) in that light when it came to 'marketing' or 'profit'. To that fiber person on the phone I simply said, "What auction?"

There was a guilt collector, well known throughout the country, who would constantly approach Alma Lesch trying to gain access to her exquisite quilt collection, now dispersed. Alma Lesch thought this collector had misrepresented the poor people she would acquire good pieces from in order to feed her publishing and marketing agenda. That is the politics of art. Her own hand-made quilts, luckily, are in the archive at UofL thanks to Millard Lesch. A sizable collection of acquired works from auctions and friends has remained in one private collection. This collection should see exhibition some day.

The green, warm May of 1999 confirmed for me what conceptual artist Yoko Ono once said: "Each time we don't say what we want to say, we're dieing." Thinking back two years, when my silence, and instant muted disbelief and sadness about NOT having the opportunity of seeing all these wonderful Alma Lesch textile collages (protected in an archived collection) and telling her to think about another plan (setting up a trust) may have aborted this idea: there was no bonfire of the Vanities after all. I do remember saying to her when she spoke of destroying all her unsold work (...but only after giving friends preselected pieces) that she got the idea from Picasso, who invented this concept of art promotion in modern times. I said, "Picasso treated women like crap. After profiting from their psychological torment by painting them, why does the art world admire such a "devil" except for the money he generates from media driven demand. He made the art market itself become a household word back when you both were in LIFE magazine in the 60s...that's always the thing in the public mind." Consider Van Gogh's "Irises" now in a Japanese vault, maybe keeping a corporation from financial collapse? Art as currency, how creative an idea, especially now in this economic downturn post-Bush.

Coming of age living on a family farm in western Kentucky during The Great Depression may have honed Alma Lesch's appreciation for clothing as being as valuable as gold. One of the first fiber artists to collect and , what we now call, up cycle the worn garments of 'real people'; perhaps she was aware that she was creating portraits of her community, city and "everyman" beyond our commonwealth. To imagine the conversation that occurred when she bought the bib-overalls off the back of a man who appeared at her front door as hired help, one can only suggest the spirit of that 'everyman' in the composition inspiring another portrait, the moment Alma Lesch saw that fabric.

The body of work Lesch leaves behind, although a missing green Victorian satin portrait of a young boy remains unaccounted for, will offer future opportunities for exhibition and study through the University of Louisville.

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30 January 2009


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
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the horror story...
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At the Metropolitan, NY

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29 January 2009

The DISNEY CODE in Marketing!!

Walt had it so right. I never liked cartoons as a child. Rocky and Bullwinkle were the only characters I enjoyed after Mighty Mouse ran its course...nevertheless: When I hear DISNEY state, in its TV ads, that "Hurry... get your copy because after such-and-such a date...IT'S GOING BACK INTO THE VAULT" I think...that's where my work has always been and I won't sell it in another media format, IF I even sell the ORIGINAL. Americans and consumers around the world have selected to BUY these DISNEY movies, not once, not twice, but maybe a fourth time as DISNEY reissues its collection in every NEW format available as technology streams into the digital age.

What a gimmick!

The problem with this for the visual artist, in this country, is that when you sell a painting the owner can do anything he/she wants to do with it. Only California law allows the artist to profit from the reselling of the original. Licensing?... that's where the intellectual properties we deserve begin to serve the creator of the work.

Public Sculpture, DC

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Arriving into the Hirshhorn from the underpass from the sculpture garden in Washington DC.
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In the Hirshhorn Museum, DC
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Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, DC

These two sculptures posses more fortitude, power, dynamics and human strength than almost 50% of the living, breathing elected population in DC. When art is stagnant or boring few notice it.

Like Picasso, who actually created todays "market" mentality affecting contemporary art, so too will our politicians fall victim, as GM recently learned, to the rehashing and support of a product, bill or agenda that few want. No one needs a sculpture but everyone feels something that he or she never experienced before encountering this object in the public space.

Who needs a vehicle which gets less than 20 MPG when China has higher EPA standards for its cars than our "forward thinking" government? And Chrysler, which we bailed out once before, may rethink encouraging their artists sculpting prototypes of the "future" to change their giant boxes of ego on wheels. Try surpassing the Chevy Impala Bathtub Car into something beautiful and efficient.

Detroit, one day, will have sculpture gardens and a new vision that NO ONE, now, AT GENERAL MOTORS has. Again they ask for handouts, blind to new vision. Like Bethlehem Steels; old site, being turned into a casino on a river next to a slum, Old Business As Usual will lead to economic downturn, crime and ultimately ignore the immediate culture in its neighborhood. Louisville's river front developement is a beautiful model for any city emerging from a post-industrial age attempt at urban renewal. Imagine Kentucky having this attitude about the tobacco "market"?

The most obscene object I ever saw was a full sized Ford Truck parked at an auto show in the beach town in Pinamar, Argentina. I apologized to my friends for this encroachment on their culture and intelligent-design way of approahing life and navigating in high mileage, efficient and beautiful small cars of ALL sizes. Argentina happens to have most of the Ford Falcons that left the USA for some reason decades ago...go figure why Ford tossed this model into the trash. So, as Lee Iaacoca told me, "If you can find a better car, then buy it." I did exactly what he said: TOYOTA. At 240,000 miles my TOYOTA still runs well, clean oil drips from the stick and averages 30 mpg after, count them, EIGHTEEN years. May you, DETROIT, recycle your unsold gas hogs into a better and efficient product. Likewise:

I say, "If you can find a better politician in your state, then elect her!"
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Art and Politics: take DC for example


The Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden, adjacent to the marvelously placed circular venue across the street...where you can walk toward a gentle passage leading you UNDER a street and within the main museum ahead (photo). Unlike (1/28/09) the latest 100% Republican vote AGAINST the NEA within the bailout recovery package and without the open minded approach to change needed in Washington, many out-of-touch Republicans are guaranteeing their end(goodbye Eric Cantor i.e.)in politics when the next election cycles. Life is cyclical, as are the seasons and the architecture of the Hirshhorn itself. However, when you return to the beginning, simply biting your own tail and learning NOTHING from this seems to be what makes the USA repeat mistakes, fail and beg the question: How did we get to this financial meltdown?

Artists, even before Picasso, have funded their efforts with or without the help of their politicians. Blood is the artist's fuel; vision is an artist's hope and few realize how art can affect change in life. Money is paper, sometimes the medium itself if you make collages. What's a US dollar worth anyway? It's worth MORE in Argentina where they are stuffing them under mattresses, a cautionary mode due to world economic reports. Japanese have always saved 17% or more of their income. Hi Ho.

As for thinking spending money on art is a luxury and adds nothing to our environment addresses why travel answers that question. How long ago was the Italian Renaissance? Even Rap Music marketed Machiavelli. How much public art was generated from this historic period of politics. How many of the textbooks U.S. public schools use contain no photographs of these forward thinking innovators which inspired our America culture? Try to sell anything without a visual image (unless you are a windbag like RUSH). You can't trim down the poster visual in your mind.

Every dime an artist earns returns immediately to the economy. Art is the known center of the visual universe. Every dime spent by our government to fund the arts comes back in growth in all areas of our society. Compared to the one-trillion figure being batted around by these soon to be extinct congress people the NEA is literally asking for a DIME!
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27 January 2009

Loretto, KY


Bourbon country USA...
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...where the sun rises in the USA...
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Gotham City


I think this is the Waldorf Astoria...
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Green Mountain State
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in the country that invented perspective... where the trains never are on time...
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White Hall


Called White Hall, the home of Clay, Kentucky politician, who owned slaves....
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Global Test


cultural literacy

"What is this global test"? Bush-Kerry debate moment 2004
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Bernheim Reflections, 1987


screen printed and gesso, acrylic on canvas
private collection, Lexington, KY
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cd cover: frog songs and crickets
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Ginkgo Reflections


Bernheim carp pond with screen printed ginkgo motif cover this lily pond composition from 1983. Surface Design workshop at New York's FIT and University of Louisville screen printing workshops, while working on my MA degree influenced my technique in painting canvases, treating FABRIC as important as the PAINT most expect to only see in a PAINTING. I feel that was also about WOOD, preferring unpainted furniture to painted.
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Pond Surface 1983

Screen printed canvas and gesso with acrylic painted areas.
private collection
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BASKETball, 1989

Kentucky's state religion is basketball. It's pope lives in Lexington and has services at Rupp Arena; always has, always will be. Of course they want to rebuild the edifice. Change is good. I always try to think outside the 'sphere'.

Play ball.....

This early basketBALL form evolved from my workshop study in Brookfield, CT at the Brookfield Craft Center where Hisako Sekijima introduced me to the majesty of honeysuckle vine. Freshly boiled the wood within the vine glows green. Within a few weeks the vine is pasta white. Years later you have deep pine wood color to admire. Early egg gathering baskets in Kentucky were woven in honeysuckle where families passed down the craft. An invasive species, appearing almost everywhere in the bluegrass state, I continue to cultivate the vine as well as the other Asian invasive, akebia vine, often called the coffee vine in garden centers, which makes a pleasant window cover, shade producing arbor when you control its growth. Otherwise akebia may take over the neighborhood as does bamboo.
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Rebecca's Farm

No longer standing, with no evidence of the massive stones once used in the two large chimney structures standing like bookends framing the 100 year old white farmhouse in Fern Creek, this short fence along the west side of the Rush homestead could be seen from the kitchen window. Just at the opening in the fence was a small swing, a seat for two, where one could see the sun set, smell hyacinths and just at the end of the fence see a dense row of yellow forcythia and plenty of naturalized daffodils, now gone.

Densely packed over-priced single family homes, without the charm and character of this once powerful farmhouse, are packed tightly onto the surrounding 100 acres creating their own sewage and water runoff problems this farm never saw in Kentucky's history.

Down the road along Pennsylvania Run Road was another family farm, the Bates Farm where it was rumored that Patty Herst was hiding during the early tabloid days of urban legend. I was on this road when the radio announced that "The King" had died found face down on his bathroom tiles in Memphis. He had served Richard Nixon as a drug zsar trying to sniff out his competition, "The Fab Four". You can't make this stuff up.

I would rather remember the day I heard "Hey Jude" in Vermont driving toward a summer camping vacation in a $125 green Beetle which lasted three more years and traded in for a new Ford (the one with the exploding gas tank) for $200 trade-in value. You could buy a car off the lot for $4,000.00 then and God only knows for what the Saudis were selling us gas then. Hi Ho.
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