George Condo – “Lamentation of the Drinker”

lamanation

The plastic narration found in this work from 1994 by George Condo represents a reassertion of a type of compositional structure not found since the late works of Cézanne. Like the French master, and his concern with the structuring of advances made by the more formal impressionists, for example, the de-materialization of subject matter and broken surface tension, Condo reformulates and codifies similar concerns, a type of metaphysical space that one is allowed to access, a place of possible dramatic interpretation similarly found in the work of De’Chirico, Magritte and more recently Guston.

 

Just as Cézanne’s bathers push space around in tightly knit compositional formats, Condo, in the painting “Lamentation of the Drinker,” allows a grouping of faceless humanoid’s to control and manipulate the residual of geometric and architectural space, while acting out odd histrionic episodes.

Approximately thirty figures occupy this canvas where great tragedy has just taken place, or is about to. The size of the canvas (65 x 81 inches) and the overall composition used represents the format of an eyeball shaped oval. This cycloptic orifice stares out toward the viewer. Dead center, figuratively and literally is the main group of figures witnessing the last (?) moments of “The Drinker.”

Imaginatively thought out, these groups of figures, three “beings”: hovering in space, seven others in severe panic and dressed in black observe or are reacting to the unfolding drama. Unlike Christian exegesis, where Christ, descending from the cross, his mother weeping uncontrollably or even losing consciousness is the main focus of meditation, Condo’s lamentation is a situation suspended between certainty and doubt, where many possibly scenarios could happen. Unless Condo’s main protagonist is experiencing rigor mortis (his arm being outstretched), or dead drunk, he could be alive. A strange group of robed figures look on in wonder and disbelief, others gesture in misunderstanding. If this work is not seen as an elaborately concealed study of certainty and doubt, or the ambiguous nature of perception and belief itself, how else can we decipher the gestures, groupings and interaction between these faceless figures?

Kenneth Rexroth, in a short essay about the artist Morris Graves mentions “deliberate formal mysteriousness…analogous to that found in primitive cult objects,” there is much of that found in this painting, a visually complex riddle. It could be seen as a strange cinematic reflection projected on our memory, always needing to be re-deciphered, its meaning re-established. Therefore, it should not be so strange that the figures that occupy Condo’s “Lamination of the Drinker” have no distinguishing facial features.

Like Cézanne’s bathers they exist within themselves, purely in the space of painting.

Mark Dagley
1997

Maria Luisa Anido & her 1864 Antonio de Torres guitar

Anido3Maestra Isabel María Luisa Anido

Original letter from Tomás Prat to the father of Maria Luisa Anido, in which the shipment of the [Antonio de Torres] guitar once owned by Francisco Tárrega is confirmed.

carta_1

Barcelona, ​​August 2, 1917

Mr. Juan Carlos Anido, BA

I greet the distinguished friend Mr. Anido and his family.
With the steam “Balmes” will arrive to that of
Buenos Aires the guitar of the immortal Tárrega. He could not get on the mail “Infanta Isabel” because, when I received his letter, it was already full but will leave the 6th of Barcelona and will arrive at the end of August.
The guitar was made with what I said, but I did not receive any letter from Domingo in which I was given instructions on the shipment of the guitar, although I gave them more than enough.

A few days ago Master Llobet compared V.’s guitar with his own, seems to be very much in love with his guitar, so much that after much testing one and the other said: “the two are superior and look alike” but, for Me, is much better the V.  The guitar of Tárrega is of the year 1864 and the one of Llobet of 1857, therefore, if we were to the logical, Torres had more practice when it made the guitar of Tárrega than when it made the one of Llobet, Although this does not matter at all.
Yours is insurmountable.
Regarding the packaging of the guitar was done everything indicated V., the insurance of maritime accidents and war, the cost of packaging is 32 pesetas and insurance of more than 350 pesetas.

Surely my son will have already heard of our change of address but in case he forgot, I offer our new room: Gerona 113 ppal 2nd and here you have some friends willing to receive it on the planned tour in Spain, hopefully soon .

Greetings from my
family for yours and V. receive the affections of your friend

Tomás Prat

Maria Luisa Anido colorMaria Anido in 1922 with her Torres.

Every human being sometimes needs a kind of spiritual dialogue with the infinite, he needs to dream of that ever-moving immaterial beauty of poetry or music, recreating with colors or sonorities the mysterious impressions that awaken in his soul. {M.L.A.}

FOTO 04

In  1977 Maria Luisa Anido had come to live in Barcelona bringing with her the Antonio de Torres that once belonged to Tarrega…. [which] Pujol recognized as the sweetest guitar that he had never heard. The guitar was in need of a restoration, since Maria Luisa had not wanted to take it to any Luthier, and it had remained unused for many years. In that state I had the opportunity to play it and I actually felt that sweetness that Pujol spoke of. Of course, we can think that my sensations were a product of the suggestion of the moment, but I think not, the Torres guitars, whatever you try, have a unique and special voice, although it had deteriorated, …it retained its characteristics. With that guitar I remember playing “Marieta” and … [seems to find no words]

It must have been very exciting to play a guitar that belonged to Tárrega…
that guitar is part of the voice of modern Spanish music. Torres is part of the nationalist-nationalistic voice in the aesthetic sense of Albéniz, Granados, Falla. One would not understand Spanish music without the unique voice of Torres’ guitars.
Carles Trepat

The instrument now fully restored.

 

the dream

Fururedreamcity

All these strange black crystals lost in the night

the fallen fragments of worlds far, of worlds massive, of worlds far, far away.

There are monstrous ones like corpses of the drowned.

Some go under the moon, along the tides.

There are soft and fine ones like diseases.

There are some velvety and poisonous.

The still dreams. Deserted, immense, lunar.

To the nostalgic grasslands that cradle

and the supple lilac dreams that cling, the ecstasy.

The warm virgins go to the terraces

and the people of the great spheres, tall towards the golden domes,

(always that great dark weight in the sky)

love the ultramarine vegetation love the ultramarine vegetation.

Râaaaaaaaaaaaaga blancâ

The dusty velvet orchestras

watch the strange parade of pierrot’s of camellia below the closed balcony.

Silent fireworks shoot and big diaphanous fish

love the strange black crystals lost in the night,

the complex and decadent flowers loaded with the East,

and the black bouquets in the passionate souls.

Nostalgia of white of white – Algiers at midday – of white of white.

The fresh wood of lilac sins and the spirals the spirals.

There are monstrous and mushy ones, corpses of the drowned.

The hot vines and the warm herbs to the arid nomad.

Others to groups – masses of ivory sheep on the purple hills.

Nostalgia of white of white             nostalgia of white

The golden cities far from the minarets                                  the golden sky

travels towards the great still machines on the day of celebration.

(always that great dark weight in the sky)

J.Evola
1920

Judith Fleishman ~ The Impossibility of Becoming

“The actual world wherein the aspiration and the service find their calling, seems to this consciousness no longer an essentially vain world, that is only to be destroyed and consumed, but rather, like the consciousness itself, a world broken in twain, which is only in one aspect vain, while in another aspect it is a sanctified world, wherein the Changeless is incarnate. For the Changeless has retained the nature of individuality, and being, as changeless, an Universal, its individuality has in general the significance of all actuality.”

Georg W.F. Hegal
Herning FolkSchool

Judith Fleishman studio, Herning Folk High School, Denmark, 1990

OBJECTS
“The Velvet Hammer”
“Afraid to Dream”

The impossibility of becoming and/or coming into being play a major role in the object making and construction tradition that Fleishman is engaged in. This hypothetical postulate, which we are assuming to be true, that is without proof, is necessary for the sake of argument, like the Hegal quotation above, we can only assume the experience of the actual world. The “fact” of becoming or its impossibility is observable by the senses, as faulty they may be. Let belief structures manifest.

In a small brochure published in 1992 for her exhibition at the Johan Jonker Gallery, Fleishman, in the centerfold, has juxtaposed a photograph of a spiral nebula intermingling with systems of stars next to one of her objects entitled “the velvet hammer.” Since 1990 Fleishman has taken mundane or everyday objects and removed them from use/context value by defacement of surface, for example, covering, painting, or cutting.

JonjerCatalog

By covering numerous objects, such as telephones, kitchen utensils and even police barricades, with sometimes yards of black velvet cloth and faux pearls (they look like stars), she has been able to remove their identifiable sign or value systems. It is generally understood that all objects project meaning beyond their use and purpose. Here Fleishman is able to focus on the semiotic and the transference of meaning. In “the velvet hammer,” 1991, and photographic juxtaposition of the spiral nebula, a distant galaxy in Andromeda, science fiction, savage poetics, and “beautiful” object making are combined, allowing the poetical and the psychological to intertwine with the particular and local. The majority of the “Black Velvet” objects, produced between 1990 and 1994, all involve analogy and transfer of sign value, generally into the impenetrable non-space of mystery and eternity.
“Afraid to Dream,” another object from the same period, is an oversized mop handle with hair in place of the mop itself, a strange title, but one can almost imagine this situation, a state on non-becoming, where the psyche is destroyed, or used as an object for the general clean up of human emotions and ambitions.

Installations
“The Spectator”
“Sin City”

“The Spectator” 1994

The Spectator” W139 Amsterdam, 1995, 39′ x 11′ x 11′, second hand wood, found objects

The removal or displacement of sign-system identification found in Fleishman’s objects continues in concrete dimensionality in her installations and performances. One example of this is found in the work entitled “The Spectator,” 1994. This site specific installation/sculpture and audience participation piece consists of a full scale thirty-eight foot observation tower made of wood that one is able to climb up into. Once you are there, you are able to look around, sit or just think. To actually experience this work completely, one has to climb up into its interior. From the ground it looks just like an abandoned tower, but upon closer examination its true nature and purpose becomes known. A change of viewpoint and inner reflection is offered to the viewer by this process of climbing.Sight_09

ob_44

Inside the interior of this installation, a book bag with a wide selection of books are available “Marquis de Sade”, “The Age of Longing” and the “I Ching.”  Other objects, seemingly left by someone in the tower, tell an unusual story: a few coins, women’s clothes, lipstick, perfume, condoms, even a Herald Tribune. Here you are allowed to become “The Spectator,” to watch and be watched on many metaphorical levels. The ob_42physical action of looking and the sexual action of looking and being looked at are played out in this semi-private space. The actuality of seeing and not being seen is itself the classic panoptic arrangement. Self-examination and resolution comes to a possible closure with the inclusion of the rope in this private/public space of seeing and being not-seen.

“Sin City”, Sculpture Space, Utica NY, 1996, dimensions variable, local flora & fauna, found objects, photos, poems , clothes line

“Sin City,” an installation from 1996, forms a trajectory away in some degree from the above mentioned thoughts on Fleishman’s explorations of contextual rearrangements and psycho-personal object making. “Sin City” in some ways is a metaphor for the failure of the industrial sector of society in small town America, in this case, Utica, New York.

The social and personal are scrutinized in this recent installation, probably Fleishman’s first true “political” work. Old clothes from The Salvation Army, poems by the artist, photos and other found objects interact in a mock clearing house of useless information._Sin Citydetail

The words “Sin City,” constructed out of local leaves and sticks and mounted above your head, rise above this arrangement of objects like an ad along the highway. These semi-organized array of objects, which also includes a typewriter and crutches, act out a complex historical analogy for urban decay and loss of economic power. We are left with a residual of dysfunctional small town life. This work, unlike the sociopolitical and democratic “ideals” found in the work of Joseph Beuys, presents no final epiphany or reconstruction of spirit. Fleishman, in this installation, presents a “no exit” situation, where life attempts to continue in moral and social decrepitude.

Performances
“A Fall From Grace”

I_P_01

“A Fall From Grace”, Plasy Monastery Czech Republic 1997, with Charlie Citron

Ritualistic gestures and a desire for exposure of the human flesh to the spectatorship of live audiences seems to be the operating procedure in the performances of Judith Fleishman. We could add open ended improvisation, game playing, and a variety of other situations she presents to an audience.A Fall From Grace  Plasy Monastery Czech Republic 1997, with Charlie Citron

“A Fall From Grace” is a performance from 1994 in collaboration with the American artist Charlie Citron. With Citron as Adam, Fleishman as Eve, there is not much one could really add to this Biblical account without digressing into irony or cynicism while keeping within the framework we have been reflecting upon. This performance, which exists now only in photographs, presents a slightly different angle of vision, but one of the classic subjects of all western art. The two artists, as Adam and Eve, are presented after the fall. They stand banished in actual space and time, aware of themselves and possible viewers. I_P_29They stand partially hidden amongst bushes and trees, covering themselves. The fact that this performance was first presented in the theologically charged space of Palsy Monastery in the Czech Republic adds poignancy to a tragic account. As Adam and Eve “hide,” we are placed in the position of discovering them, even if we do not want to. As spectators we are allowed to see through “divine vision” and discover our creation, miserable and naked, hiding from us, but still in complete view.I_P_15
Adam confronts his viewer, Eve looks away. In the account of Adam and Eve, their fall from Divine status into the three dimensional time/space we experience postulates an awakening of the egocentric consciousness of the human condition.

As Hegal mentions in Phenomenology of the Spirit, “It knows not yet that in finding these it has the assurance of self-possession as the basis of its existence.” In “A Fall From Grace,” again the gaze of the human condition is upon itself, Fleishman’s performance reflects this: we are aware of them and they, by their gestures, are aware of something, but seem unaware of the complete implications of their newfound self-possession.

Mark Dagley
Newton, New Jersey
1997

Judith Fleishman, “Untitled,” window frame, feather, wax, satin ribbon, 1990

Looking For Maya

Judith  Fleishman is an artist/writer who lives and works in New York City. In 2003, Abaton Book Company published her text/visual collaboration  Looking for Maya. Her prose has been published by Tema Celeste, Rogue Magazine and the artist zine The Orifice. Fleishman’s work can be found in many private and public collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art, The NYC Public Library, the Gemente Museum Arnhem, The Netherlands and The Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany.

Purchase Judith Fleishman’s photojournalistic expose of her adventures in the skin trade. With text by Black Alex, interview with Lauri Bortz, and poem by Jeff Burns.
http://www.amazon.com/Looking-For-Maya-JD-Fleishman/dp/0967732646

Read an excerpt at the Brooklyn Rail:
http://www.brooklynrail.org/2003/04/lastwords/excerpt-privilege-apr

Interview with Fleishman (Maya) by playwright and publisher Lauri Bortz:
http://www.brooklynrail.org/2003/04/lastwords/interview-maya

Published by www.abatonbookcompany.com

In Defense of a Young Artist

KeanNevermind

July 26, 2001

To: Dr. M__T__

Associate Professor of Music

Kean University

Dr. T__

This letter is in regard to our telephone conversation this morning, which concerned incoming Kean student Marianne Nowottny. First of all, let me thank you for your time and attention. We are aware that the circumstances surrounding Ms. Nowottny’s enrollment at Kean are unique and your patience was appreciated. We do intend to follow your suggestion and will attempt to enroll her in the music department at William Patterson or Morris County College.

It is unfortunate that Marianne did not pass the audition for the music department at Kean University and there is a lingering question here. Marianne was under the impression that, since she was given her petition and class schedule two months ago, she was in fact going to be accepted as a music major. She was quite upset to learn otherwise and wonders why she was ever given a class schedule. You yourself heard her piano playing and placed her in classical piano, only to pull her out with just a few weeks to go before the semester begins. Your reasons were not fully explained to Ms. Nowottny, nor were they explained to me in any satisfactory way. We are curious as to why this decision was made. She will now have to reconsider all of her classes, something that will only magnify the normal stress and strain experienced by an incoming freshman.

As Marianne Nowottny’s label representative here at Abaton Book Company, I have to mention that I take personal offense at a statement you made during our phone conversation. You told me that you felt we were “leading her down the wrong path.” Am I to understand that you arrived at this conclusion by playing Marianne’s recent CD Manmade Girl to a colleague there at Kean “who knows a lot about pop music”? Please let me give you some background information. My wife, Lauri Bortz, and I have been working diligently with Marianne since she was 14 years old. We have published her poetry and drawings, recorded, produced and promoted her musical projects, and obtained paid commissions for her oil paintings. We have worked as closely as possible with her parents, Ingomar and Nancy, to promote her extraordinary talents to best of our abilities, always encouraging her to work hard, and be true to her artistic vision.

Marianne has been able to teach herself to play the keyboard by ear and express herself musically. She is very enthusiastic to learn, and was looking forward to the challenge of Kean University. She felt that she would be an asset to your music department and hoped that the department would be willing to help her fill in the gaps in her musical education. It would seem that this is exactly what the liberal arts department should be doing; taking the opportunity to develop her talents further, claiming her as one of their own. It is quite heartbreaking for me to see someone of her abilities, someone who really wants to learn to read and write music, to communicate her ideas to other musicians effectively, denied this opportunity.

I have enclosed some of the press that Marianne has received. Her CDs have been reviewed in a positive manner in many publications. Marianne has been called “indisputably one of the major musical figures of her generation” by Joe Harrington of New York Press and “far removed from the romantic bromides of chart-topping kiddie-pop” by Jon Pareles of The New York Times. I would think that someone such as yourself would appreciate and understand the importance of a positive review in such an established paper as The New York Times.

You should also know that Marianne has played concerts at both The Museum of Modern Art and The New Museum. She has performed many times at The Knitting Factory, Tonic, Maxwell’s, and most of the new music venues in NYC. She has played live with such personalities as Eric Mingus, son of jazz legend Charles Mingus, and with avant-garde composer Elliott Sharp. Marianne has also performed on the same bill as experimental pianist Kathleen Supove and Karen Mantler, daughter of jazz composer Carla Bley. She has done live radio concerts on WPRB, Princeton University; WURS, Rutgers University; WFMU, Jersey City; KFJC, Palo Alto, CA . Her voice has been compared to that of Om Kalsoum, Patty Waters, Marlene Dietrich, Nico, Patti Smith, and P.J. Harvey; her musical compositions to those of jazz genius Sun Ra, modern classical composer Carl Orff, and experimental artist Meredith Monk. Encouraging Marianne to continue to pursue an already successful career could hardly be considered “leading her down the wrong path.”

Again, thank you for your time.

Mark Dagley

Abaton Book Company

cc. Ronald L. __

Dr. Jose __

Francisca Blázquez ~ Space is the Place

Francisca Blázquez ~ Paintings, 2005

Francisca Blázquez ~ 2005

Ever since early childhood the Spanish artist Francisca Blázquez has claimed awareness of higher dimension realms including access and even contact with Sattvic (सत्त्व)  or Angelic beings of light. Her “New Age” paintings which I saw in Spain in the early 1990’s  were striking in their incorporation of technological transcendent imagery. This was my short contribution to a catalog from her 2005 exhibition at Jadite Gallery, NYC

*

Francisca Blázquez’s most recent body of work, a group if paintings subtitled Dimensionalismo, draws from several populist sources; spaces might be the more correct term. Blázquez has borrowed the indeterminate and fractured cyberspace of the Internet and the pre-packaged “Outer Space” of classic science fiction films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. Within these moving pictures, a purely artificial visual dimension exists, expanding at a glacial pace and climaxing in transcendental spiritualism. The cosmic visual projections of Francisca Blázquez, her not-so-still-lifes, have a very similar aesthetic effect.

1513205_F3._Luna_para_2._F._BlaEzquez

The Dimensionalismo paintings have been projected from the artist’s inner atmosphere, but with her odd shapes and patterns and clashing color combinations, Blázquez reflects on some very earthly concerns. She explores the classic paradigm of body/mind duality reinvented for the Age of Information.

Blázquez’s art world influences can be most easily located in the early neo-concrete experiments of Lygia Clark and Equipo 57. Clark’s groundbreaking geometric sculptures “demanded the spectator’s manipulation to yield their organic meaning.” These works, in turn, yielded their creator, sending her into deep philosophical speculation on the emergence of new technologies and aesthetics. Meanwhile, the Spanish team Equipo 57, with their “laboratory of ideas,” radically researched the second and third dimensions through painting, sculpture and furniture design, pushing life and art toward a total convergence. Half a century later, Blázquez is attempting to pick up these experiments where they were left off, incorporating ancient forms of artistic communication, like dance, with more current computer-based graphics.

1513109_F7._Mundos._F.BlaEzquezThough I’m uncertain of Ms. Blázquez’s musical influences, might I suggest the free jazz of Sun Ra as a soundtrack for the creation of Dimensionalismo. Space is the place indeed for artists who inhabit a post-religious world but still yearn for a spiritual dimension.

Mark Dagley ~ 2005

*

 

Declaration of Francisca Blázquez
(Channeled by the artist)

Francisca Blázquez ~ 1990

Francisca Blázquez ~ 1990

The Etheric Temple of Archangel Michael is in preparation for the coming of Christ over the mountains of Jerusalem in 2023.... Science and spirit will be one thing and the Christic peace [will] reign in the hearts and minds of all people and beings of planet Earth. The darkness will vanish, since light, love and power create good….this will soon be the reality of this new Earth…Humanity will develop into a perfect and harmonious junction, and happiness of God consciousness will reign in all places. There will be no limits. Space platforms with plant and animal life will be created... souls who are here will be able to travel to paradise and those found in other dimensions will come to Earth as they desire. We will walk alongside the angels, as brothers and sisters of light with divine powers to use for the common good. Everything will be given. Peace, love, justice, happiness and harmony will be the common dialogue on planet Earth. From the perspective of 2010, we can not understand how this will be possible, but this is a time of change and of transmutation. That is why there are strong shocks and events… transcend to the new light with confidence. The struggle between light and darkness is now clearer than ever. At present it’s powerful, but … think ahead… You’ve won, center in good, forget the negative…”

Francisca Blazquez, “Untitled” 1992, 20×16 in. Collection of Mark Dagley


Punk Noise & Paint, Interview with Mark Dagley, by Don Voisine

Abstract artist and musician Mark Dagley has been working in New York and Europe for over twenty-five years. Drawing from various postwar art movements and developments: Op Art, Washington Color School, Monochrome Painting, as well as European modes of art making, such as Support/Surface and Radical Painting, Mark has created a diffuse, yet particularly American body of work.

Last spring Mark retrieved a group of paintings he had in storage at his parents’ home in Washington, D.C. Although dating from 1986-87, the paintings look to me as if they could have been done yesterday. The paintings do not look like historical pieces, reflective of a specific time, and they would not look out of place in a gallery today. I’ve found in them pop associations to video game, skate board, and surf cultures, though they still preserve a tie to the aforementioned precedents.

DV: Let’s go back a bit… Mark, you studied at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C. Did you study with any of the Washington Color people: Leon Berkowitz, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Howard Mehring?

MD: I was at the Corcoran during spring and summer of 1975, taking night and weekend classes in color theory and painting, while still attending high school. Raymond Wilkins, my art instructor at Oakton H.S., suggested these classes, since my interest in painting and sculpture went beyond what he was teaching. So they let me in. Maybe he pulled some strings. I don’t know.

Ed Mcgowin
Ed McGowin, Children, 1969
Vacuum formed plexiglass, 10 modules, each 4 foot radius

I took classes with Ed McGowin, whose early vacuum form plastic pieces still look good, and with Lowell Nesbitt, when he was available. They pretty much let me do what I wanted after the first few weeks. I was painting geometrically, more or less, from the beginning f my studies. Not much has changed with my work since then.

I was very grateful–and relieved–that not only Wilkins but the Corcoran instructors had taken me seriously, even though I was only seventeen. They showed me a lot of valuable techniques and studio practice: from cleaning brushes to stretching large canvasses, to using masking tape and architectural templates and tools. Most importantly, I was taught how to apply acrylic and oils in different consistencies to get the effects I was seeing in the work of the D.C. color painters.

My teachers also pointed me to the essays, books and magazines that any young artist should be familiar with. I was brought up to speed fairly quickly, shown that this was a real profession with a living history.

Leon Berkowitz was chairman of the Corcoran’s painting department at that time. Gene Davis, who was quite a star then–about as big as a D.C. artist could be–was there too. Anne Truitt was still alive. Sam Gilliam and William De Looper were quite well known. Even as a student, it was clear to me that a great moment in painting had just passed in the city. Morris Louis had only died a dozen years previously. Color Field was still very much in the air. It was the official party line, so to speak.

Color Field Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Washington D.C., Anne Truitt 17th Summer (left), Paul
Reed #1D (center), Gene Davis Wall Stripes No.3 (right)

P Street was still the center of the D.C. art world then. The Henri Gallery, located there, had a Thomas Downing or a Gene Davis on the walls up until its closing, in the mid-90s. It was run by an old school grand dame who called herself Henri, pronounced with a French accent, though she otherwise sounded–and most likely was–completely American. Things were still 60s cool then, or at least she was. She wore sunglasses and fabulous baubles at all times of the day. I finally introduced myself to her about fifteen years ago and told her about my teenage trips to her gallery. She ended up taking some of my paintings on consignment, but died shortly thereafter. She left her vintage glove collection to my wife, a fellow glamour gal for whom she’d developed a fondness.

DV: You also studied at the Boston Museum School. The Museum of Fine Arts regularly held major exhibitions of the Color Field artists. As an art student in Portland, Maine in the early 70s, I would come down to Boston on field trips and see Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Ken Noland, Jules Olitski, or Larry Poons at the MFA, as well as Joan Snyder’s stroke paintings and Katherine Porter’s early zigzags at the galleries.

MD: Yes, I did attend school there for a short while. I have to say that it was, in many ways, a grave error. The dialogue with working artists that I had experienced in D.C. was sorely lacking. While Professors Natalie Alpert and Sandi Sloan showed some enthusiasm for the dozen of so geometric paintings and the selection of wooden reliefs that my father had helped me transport in a U-Haul trailer, there was little other interest in Color Field or geometric painting at the Boston Museum School.

Mark Dagley
Planks, 1975
Wood, 23 X 38 inches

I couldn’t accept the school’s empty academic formalism. It seemed, in this environment, that painting as I had known it had been played out. Though I appreciated their positive feedback, I found Alpert’s paintings overly fussy and precious, and Sloan’s work at the time wasn’t very compelling to me. I missed the intrigue, the eccentricity, the cut and dry quality that is particular to the best of the D.C. painters.

Gene Davis
Red Dog, 1961

It was big news when visiting artists like Alan Sonfist or Nancy Holt would arrive on campus. The students were supposed to assist them with a project, get some hands-on with a “pro.” I was the only one who helped Alan make 8-foot-high compost heaps in the school courtyard out of wet autumn leaves, lunchroom garbage and dog shit. I don’t think he liked the Museum School much after that. Neither did I. Guess I should’ve enrolled in the course they called “Winning!”

Didn’t receive much, if anything, in terms of practical advice. After being told by instructors whose work was provincial at best, artists without any professional experience, that I would have to begin again–”Slow down a little, kid”–I went my own way, moved my art materials out of the student classrooms and started painting in my studio apartment. I never went back to the painting department, or showed anyone my geometric work again…until I moved to New York in 1979.

The winter of ’76 was so cold that the water in my toilet bowl actually froze. That’s when I started to plan my escape to the Big Apple.

DV: You are also very active as a musician. While in Boston, you were in an art rock post punk band, The Girls, which released a single produced by David Thomas on Pere Ubu’s own Hearthan label. Later, after you moved to New York, you formed a blues-based punk avant garde noise band, Hi Sheriffs of Blue, which also had an acclaimed underground reputation.

MD: Luckily the Museum School had a small electronic music studio with a few decent synthesizers and some other good gear. I hung out there with the other misfits, stoners and rock & rollers. At least they understood that the place was a total drag. I also discovered the photography and video studios, and the performance department, where all the cute arty girls were hanging out. That’s where I learned about Acconci, Beuys, Nauman, the Velvet Underground, Kraut Rock, Eno.

I started going to the New England Conservatory of Music whenever John Cage gave a talk, also to MIT, which had the best videography department in town. Between 1976 and 1979, I met many of the artists and musicians I would later run into in the East Village: Pat Hearn, Mark Dirt, David Bowes, Nan Goldin, Jack & Dan Walworth, John Miller, Peter Dayton.

We would check out parties and events over at Massachusetts College of Art, which was only a few blocks away. That seemed more like the Corcoran–you know, a real art school. I remember being impressed that you could buy art supplies right on campus. No such luck at the Museum School. And Mass Art had an actual stage, a sound system, lights–the whole works. Many of the instructors were professional artists, like Peter Campus and Don Burgy. We would take our videos over and do performances there. Peter Campus would show his latest work along with the students.

By 1976 punk rock had entered everyone’s radar. I had seen Daved Hild, a classmate in electronic music lab, perform at the Museum School in gessoed clothes and white sunglasses with a woman named Pseudo Carol. Since I played guitar, I asked if I could join them. They said yes, but our band days were quite shortlived. Pseudo Carol moved on, and, after playing out a while as a duo, Daved and I set out to find some artists who wanted to start a Captain Beefheart/Kraut Rock type of group. Robin Amos became both our synthesizer and bass player, which wasn’t terribly convenient. We realized we needed a fourth on bass. Daved mentioned a guy named George, who was bringing his guitar to the T-shirt factory they worked at: a really good classical guitarist, funny as hell. A few weeks later, George Condo was in. We chose the most awful name we could think of that still sounded punk: The Girls.

The Girls, circa 1978
From left to right: Mark Dagley, George Condo,
David Hild, Robin Amos
Photo: Margie Politzer

David Thomas heard us perform about a year later and brought us to Cleveland, into the same studio Pere Ubu worked out of. He produced our only single, which he released on his Hearthan label in the spring of 1979. By November of that year, the band had dissolved.

George Condo and I left Boston for New York on an Amtrak train in late December with maybe $400 between us. After getting set up in the East Village, we started another group called Hi Sheriffs of Blue, modeled after the 1950s electric blues bands from Chicago and Detroit. We tried to play not only hard electric blues but punk, fake jazz, funk and rap. We were together for about three years.

DV: You continue to make original and uncompromising music today, often combining slide guitar and electronic effects with fractured rhythms. How does your music feed your visual art making and vice versa?

MD: I’ve been a musician since childhood. We always had a piano in the house, and music lessons were required from day one. I started playing the guitar when I was around eight years old. I was in garage and surf bands with my brothers in grade school, and then during high school in folk, rock and blues bands.

I try to keep whatever I’m involved with musically a little primitive, very clean and simple, but I don’t know if my art really informs it that much. The things I’m interested in doing with painting just don’t apply to my music. I have no problem with the formalist viewpoint: a separation of the arts may be a good thing.

DV: The paintings you are showing at MINUS SPACE were exhibited at Tony Shafrazi’s in 1987. What was going on in the art world at the time you made these? How do you think this body of work related to Neo-Geo or other painting trends going on in New York at the time? Can you tell us about when and where they were made and how you arrived at this particular look?

MD: Well, by 1981 or ’82 it was pretty clear to anyone living in the East Village that we were in the midst of some sort of art boom. Condo’s career took off, and by 1984 he was selling out shows with Pat Hearn, who we both knew from Boston. Soon after, he moved to Europe, where he enjoyed even greater success. Things were happening really fast, at least for him and many, many others.

As for me, it was difficult making contacts, meeting artists who did the sort of work I was interested in. I visited André Emmerich Gallery (which is where I thought I belonged) frequently, always with slides in tow, though I never had the nerve to show them to anyone. Finally, at an East Village exhibition, I saw a red monochrome painting by Olivier Mosset. It was tough and uncompromising, and it was one color. This I understood.

Olivier Mosset
Untitled, 1970
Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

I introduced myself to Olivier, who then introduced me to Steven Parrino. I ended up sharing a studio space with Steven for seven years.

Around the same time–1985 or 1986–I met Alan Uglow, Li Trincere, Max Gimblett and Barry X Ball. We did a fine group show at The Mission Gallery in the East Village. Soon after that I was in another group show with Olivier and Bill Beckley at Tony Shafrazi’s gallery. Tony offered me a two-person exhibition with James Nares the same year. As he was doing brisk sales with my work, I guess he felt comfortable enough to offer me the entire gallery. I had my first solo exhibition there in September 1987.

While preparing for that show, I knew I would have to pull out all the stops, treat art like a full-time job. I was at the studio by 9 a.m. every day, building my own shaped canvases, working with enamel paints, fiberglass, stainless steel sheets and whatever scraps I could afford from the surplus shops on Canal Street.

I started to experiment with surfaces, polishes and varnishes. I tried buffing and sanding different types of paint, but had trouble achieving the desired result. I wanted to make something that had a surface like a custom car, a surfboard, or a piece of lacquered furniture. I craved a California fetish finish, like a John McCracken sculpture, but I wanted it on a painting. It also had to be a shaped canvas that was informed by classic geometric painting. Most importantly, it could not look the least bit cynical. This was a tall order.

My carpentry skills at the time were primitive at best, plus I had no real tools or workspace. I realized I needed to up the production level to get the results I envisioned. After a few weeks of material trials, I ended up finding the polymer resin material that restaurant and bar owners use to coat the tops of tables. It worked perfectly, drying to a sleek mirrored surface. I then found a good carpenter who could make the shapes exactly as I wanted, down to the smallest detail.

voisinedagley-pour

Mark Dagley, Work in process, 1987

I would plot the shapes out on graph paper, then make a small cardboard maquette. A few of the designs were anthropomorphic, but most were non-referential. Color decisions were sequential, sometimes random. I worked on the cardboard maquettes until the finished wooden structures returned from the carpenter.

After finishing three or four of these works, I realized I needed quite a bit more space. I ended up subletting William Burrough’s Bunker on the Bowery from John Giorno during the summer of 1987 and was able to complete the entire exhibition there.

 

Mark Dagley, Studio view, The Bunker, 222 Bowery, August, 1987
Photo: Beth Phillips

DV: Op Art has been getting a lot of renewed interest and visibility lately. Recent museum and gallery exhibitions have thoroughly surveyed the movement, from its quasi-scientific origins in the 60s, through its Post-Structural deconstruction in the 80s, to its current incarnation. You participated in Post-Hypnotic, a 1999 traveling exhibition exploring the resurgence of optical effects in the work of an international group of artists. When did you begin using Op phenomena as a model for making new paintings? How does it continue to generate new work?

MD: After the Shafrazi exhibition, I took a temporary studio in Cologne, Germany to prepare for an exhibition at the Hans Strelow Gallery in Düsseldorf. I painted stripes and dots on unprimed canvas, something I’d done a decade previously. I also started to make my own stretchers again.

Mark Dagley, No Title, 1989
Acrylic on unprimed canvas
Collection: Foundation Prini

I produced the dot paintings by standing on a ladder over the canvas, which was rolled out on the floor, and letting the thinned paint rain down on it: This produced an unintentional moiré effect. Though I found the results quite interesting, I never really pursued their implications, but I guess my involvement with Op Art started there.

After working through a series of eccentric handmade shaped canvases and a group of torqued monochromes (which I exhibited in New York, at Stephanie Theodore Gallery, following a second show with Strelow), I attempted to locate areas of surface and support that had been overlooked in painting. I wasn’t terribly excited by the properties of paint, as were many of the abstract and geometric artists I met in Germany. I had developed more of an affinity with Blinky Palermo, BMPT, the Zero Group and Concrete Art.

Mark Dagley, Radical Structures
Kunstverein St.Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland
21 August – 26 September 1993

The material qualities of the paint and its application became perfunctory for me. I really wanted that impersonal look, but, paradoxically, I wanted to achieve it painting by hand. Simultaneously–around 1990–I reduced my palette to red, yellow, blue, black and white. This was a little scary at first because, all the sudden, my work began to look like Mondrian knock-offs. But I could see ten or twenty paintings into the future, and I knew they’d never been done before, that this was unexplored territory.

I called these works Primary Sequences, as they were comprised of just that: a 12-inch red square, placed next to a 6-inch yellow square, then, next to that, a 3-inch square of blue, and so on. This led to a whole series of paintings based on sequences and systems. But one thing I felt was missing, or discarded from the foundation of 20th-century geometric art, was classical perspective, so I also started doing one-point perspective line paintings in primary colors. I immediately noticed that they had an optical effect. They reminded me of Raymond Loewy’s Shell logo and the shopping mall supergraphics I grew up with.

Raymond Loewy
Redesigned Shell logo, 1967

In 1995, after completing dozens of single-point perspective line paintings, I turned my attention to the dead center of a square canvas. My Corcoran training came in handy here. I began tracing dots in pencil with a circle template, as one long, spiral string. I started with the smallest hole that a pencil point would fit into, figuring I’d trace dots up to 1.5 inches. I don’t think I ever got that far.

It seemed that the drawing more or less made itself. After about a week, I had filled a 74 x 74 inch canvas completely. Then I painted the dots in: red, yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue… I knew from the start that there would have to be three of these paintings: one in primary colors, one in secondary, and one in black, white and gray. I still have to complete the one in secondary colors. Though they’re not difficult paintings to make, they’re extremely time-consuming.

Funny, I never set out to make Op Art. As far as my work is concerned, I much prefer the term systematic painting. The opticality is just the sexy part, the by-product of the real issue at hand, which is structure.

DV: Lastly, tell us about Abaton Book Company, which you run with your wife Lauri Bortz.

MD: I had my own record label, Tweet, for a brief time during the early 80s, and Lauri ran an independent film company and a small theater troupe in the late 80s, early 90s. We met in 1994, through George Condo, and launched Abaton Book Company in 1997, with a volume of Lauri’s one-act plays.

I’d always wanted to produce limited editions and artist books. Knowing so many interesting artists made it a natural move. We released a boxed set of twenty-five artist booklets called The Five and Dime, in celebration of the new millennium. Titles by Alix Lambert, Judith Fleishman, H.D. Martinez, Steven Parrino and me followed.

We expanded Abaton, adding a record label in 1999, which features singer/songwriters Marianne Nowottny, Julia Vorontsova, and Corbi Wright; jazz chanteuse Devorah Day; Indian classical singer/musician Veena Sahasrabuddhe; punk bands Shell, The Girls and Fuzzy Wuz She.

In 2003, we converted our garage into an art gallery, aptly titled Abaton Garage. We’ll be launching season five with a photo exhibition by Alix Lambert. There’s usually live music at Abaton Garage openings, mostly by artists on our label. And lots of food. Lauri always cooks up a storm.

Don Voisine is a Brooklyn-based painter.