An interview with Roger Miller by Mark Dagley

This article was originally published in the December 2004 issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine. http://www.terrascope.co.uk/home/History.htm

Originally published in the Winter 2004/05 issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope.



MoB rules! And they could have had it all, being true monarchs of the kingdom of alt-rock. But they abdicated the thrown to their siblings Sonic Youth and took up in a haunted mansion on a hill of beans.

 Boston, Massachusetts, a.k.a. Beantown, home to these Burmese (guitarist Roger Miller, drummer Peter Prescott, bassist Clint Conley, and sound manipulator Martin Swope), was better known in the late ‘70s for the pomp and swagger of groups like its namesake Boston, Aerosmith, and the J.Giles Band, than it was for any protopunk squalling. But, like most major cities across the U.S., Boston had a thriving underground music scene. It existed in a parallel universe of performance venues (38 Thayer Street ), art spaces (Punk/Data Gallery), and the remains of a previous generation’s dirty watering holes (The Rathskeller, The Club and The Bird Cage). The original Modern Lovers were still fresh in the memories of many, and anyone with an ESP-Disk was considered an enlightened being. It was in this environment that Mission of Burma flourished, creating intricate melodies that maintained complex structure beneath pulsing tug-o-war rhythms. In 1980 they produced a regional hit single, “Academy Fight Song/ Max Ernst” and became the city’s predominate artband.

 And then, after three more years, and just as many releases (the others being a single, “When I Reach for My Revolver,” an EP, Signals, Calls and Marches, and an album, Vs.), guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, which he’d developed as a young punk in Michigan, worsened, forcing the high volume MoB to disband. Miller embarked on a quieter solo career, also recording with Maximum Electric Piano, Alloy Orchestra, The Binary System, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic with Swope, and Wrong Pipe with Conley, who produced and played on Yo La Tengo’s debut album and then formed his own group, Consonant.  Prescott went on to lead Volcano Suns, Kustomized, and Peer Group. All of these bands achieved a more than modest success.

 Several Mission of Burma compilations and a posthumous live album were released in the late ‘80s, and though their music continued to receive kudos throughout that decade and the next, it wasn’t until 2001 that the band chose to reunite, but without the pleasure of Martin Swope’s company. ONoffON, released in 2004, is the fruit of their extended space odyssey, a trip taken with Bob Weston of Shellac. Here’s Roger Miller with a sprinkling of the moondust that’s been hidden under the rug. (P.S. Roger’s hair is for real)


MD: I read somewhere that the Burma reunion is the most well-planned since Fleetwood Mac’s.

RM: As for best-planned, I can only say that we had no plan and still really don’t know what we’re doing.

MD: My first impression of ONoffON was late ‘60s/early ‘70s Quicksilver Messenger Service, or Ten Years After and other headshop rock. And I mean this in a good way! I forgot how damn melodic you guys can be! Did you guys poo-poo all that stuff in the Ann Arbor daze? What where you listening to back then?

RM: Actually, never cared for Quicksilver or Ten Years After. I didn’t dislike those two bands; they just didn’t hit me much (lesser versions of Airplane/Country Joe/Dead). My personal influences were more UK: Pink Floyd ala Syd; first Soft Machine disc. Per USA, Beefheart’s Strictly Personal and the MC5, who I saw 20 or more times in AA.

MD: I think my brother brought some of those records back from the P.X. in ‘Nam.

RM: I was given Ten Years After’s Shhhh for Christmas. Kept it for about half a year, then sold it. It wasn’t horrible, just not good enough. Had no influence on me. However, this is my favorite Ten Years After story: Burma was playing the Peppermint Lounge or Danceteria (they blurred together) in the early ’80s. When we got there, some person affiliated with the club was rehearsing for his solo performance at some disco: it was a solo guitar/vox version of “I’d Love to Change the World, but I Don’t Know Who I Am” from the aforementioned disc. Truly terrifying! We were all wondering what planet he actually was from.

What I consider my “band influence” lineage: Beatles/Kinks/Yardbirds; Love/Elevators; Pink Floyd (early band only)/Beefheart/Silver Apples/Soft Machine (1st only). After that, I started Sproton Layer, found my voice, so influences after that point became more minimal. Eno encouraged me a lot. The Ramones straightened my overindulgent ass right out. Wire made things clearer for Burma.

MD: Have you seen the MC5 documentary yet?

RM: Yes. The first half was such a trip down memory lane – pretty whacked, but a lot of it captured exactly what I felt at that time. I was really glad I saw this part. Very A-OK. Of course, the second half is totally depressing (the band no longer interested me at that time period, but still it’s horrible to see things spiral down into hell). I left before the film was over because I didn’t want to get any more depressed than I was.

MD: Did you ever see Blue Cheer perform?

RM: The only time I saw Blue Cheer was on television – some afternoon pop/rock show in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area. Their hit “Summertime Blues” had just come out. Two things struck me – their hair was so long and thick that you could not see either the bass player or guitarist’s face: the microphones just went into this thick mop. That was pretty cool in my book (10th grade?). On the other hand, they struck me as a Jimi Hendrix knock-off: the feedback wasn’t as good, the leads were actually comprehensible, etc. However, I still dug them. I owned, or was near, the first two LPs. Enjoyed them, but they weren’t top of my list. In Latin class, we spent some time trying to make sense out of Vincebus Eruptum, but the fact is, it doesn’t make sense in Latin.

Never took any Blue Cheer – did take some Orange Wedge.

MD: I’ve heard that you tuned Glenn Gould’s piano? Did you ever meet him?

RM: A nice concept, but, no. I never had any direct dealings with Gould. Never met him, never tuned. Saw the G. G. documentary. Didn’t realize until later that it was made after his death, and that the guy was an actor. Still, a pretty good flick.

MD: You grew up, as I did, during the last gasp of 1950s cool.  Were you interested in science fiction, monster movies and hot rods?

RM: The ’50s didn’t do much for me (born 1952). In the world of cars, I did take quite an interest in a certain direction. My older brother (by 6 years) Gifford and I were totally into car design between 1958 and 1962. Because of this, every one of those four years we’d hit all the new car shops when the new cars came out in the fall: Giff would engage the salesmen, claiming that his parents were interested. I would gather up two copies of every folder I could get. (I still have a very complete collection of 1961s and 1962s, with a smattering of other years). Note that at this time I was between 6 and 10, and he was the appropriate 6 years older. We were primarily interested in the body designs – those were the greatest years for Amercian car innovation. I began to lose my interest when I got into rock music via the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Anyways, US car design began to lose its edge, and look where the fuck it is now. Our best adventure was the following: Giff had scoped out where the new Chevys were stored before they were placed in the showrooms (’60 or ’61). So of course we snuck into the lot, and Giff took some pictures. As we left, we were followed by a plainclothesman for a few blocks. Pretty exciting for a 10-year-old. Every corner we were at, waiting for the light, he was at the opposite corner!

Didn’t care for monster movies or hot rods (as in Big Daddy Roth) all that much. Appreciated the monster/auto mix (Digger, the Wayout Dragster), but it wasn’t really my bag. I got into Science Fiction in junior high. Preferred, actually, psychedelia when that hit.

MD: Did you enjoy pop culture growing up? I mean the real garbage stuff, like Hogan’s Heroes, for example, or was it of no interest to you?

RM: It didn’t interest me much until the early/mid ’60s. I was a big fan of The Man from UNCLE, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, etc.. Star Trek (round #1) interested me for a while. But when I started smoking pot, around 1968, I lost interest in television. Also, I think the quality of American TV went down around then. I don’t watch television at all now, and I have huge gaping holes in my awareness of American culture since around 1970.

1969 was when I finally “found my voice” in Sproton Layer with my brothers Laurence and Benjamin. I was in 11th/12th grade, they were in 9th/10th. So from then on, I generated my own culture and only touched base with the outside world when something grabbed my attention.

MD: What about the idea of volume as a Rock & Roll signifier?

RM: I think that the high volume is a direct reaction to the high volume of the modern environment. Things have ramped up like crazy outside (sirens, car alarms, traffic, density of humans and dogs, etc.), so the natural reaction is to ramp it up to compete. There is an interesting, somewhat over the top rap by Roger McGuinn on the back of the first Byrds LP, where he defines the “new sound of rock” as sounding like “ROOOOOAAAAAAARRRRRRRR!,” which he says is imitating the new predominance of jet planes. There’s something to that.

MD: Did you ever consider doing anything outside of music?

RM: Basically, once I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, rock music became the most important thing in my life. As far as doing anything else outside of music, when I was in junior high I thought I’d study lizards – my dad was a professor of ichthyology (fish specialist). Even my Mom knew that wasn’t going to happen! I was a pretty good writer of poetry/stories in high school. My creative writing teacher thought I’d be a really good kids’ writer, if I’d just drop the weed references. I was kind of working the Barrett-esque psychedelic fairytale thing, which crosses from fairy tales into dreams and nightmares of a more personal nature. I have always written (lyrics, odd very short stories, poesy), and I have always drawn. Recently, my drawing took a turn for the much more interesting, such that I have been in some local shows, a gallery, and have sold a couple of my drawings. I use the Max Ernst “Frottage” technique, and basically collage the surfaces of whatever environment I’m in. This is great for downtime on the road. I can keep all my drawing supplies and paper (always 9×12) in the shoulder bag I carry, so whenever I get the urge, out come the graphites. Tree bark, wooden stairs, salt, etc. For more info on the frottage thing, go to www.funworldmusic.com and click on the frottage page halfway down.

MD: Thanks, Roger.

RM: OK. I hope this is useful and/or amusing.






The Infinite Divisibility of Jackie Meier

smokestackssharp“Infinite divisibility” must then be understood not as “being divisible into an infinite number of parts,”… but rather as “being forever divisible” or “being divisible without end.” In other words, what is infinite about infinite divisibility is not the number of parts you get, but the process of dividing…
Michael Taber
Assistant Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
St. Mary‘s College of Maryland

Jackie Meier paints in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This site, which once served a very particular purpose, has recently been converted into a multi-use industrial complex. Its website declares “the Brooklyn Navy Yard… represents a variety of industries, like construction, theatrical set design, computer and office supplies…the Navy Yard is capable of handling any type of business.” Contemporary real estate pitch aside, the conveyer belts of the Sweet and Low factory still cycle around endlessly, as they have since 1957. The gigantic chimneys of the Navy Yard Cogeneration facility still belch out voluminous clouds of gray steam, which block out huge swaths of sky, turning the sun’s rays into a dank yellow haze. On a winter’s day, an atmosphere of somber beauty encompasses this landscape. The warehouses and abandoned heavy machinery sit in dramatic relief against the fluid horizon of the waterways and the dry docks, the bridges and the skyline of New York City.


In Meier’s newest work, this industrial landscape finds its artistic analogy. By osmosis, the painter has absorbed, but more importantly eclipsed, the abstracted atmosphere of industrial production which surrounds her studio. Since her first solo exhibition in 2005, Meier has been consistently, patiently, and, yes, industriously practicing a very subtle form of abstract painting. The first picture to catch my eye was constructed of interlocking crescent shards of a waxing moon, shapes that bound the picture plane taut. Low keyed in color and diminutive in size, it had a remote but alluring effect. Meier has expanded upon such attempts to present the viewer with seemingly uncertain visual abstract paths and unusual spatial trajectories. She has also added a few new components to her pictures, which significantly increase their overall success: size of format, expanded color harmonies, and a dynamic certainty of constructivist composition.

Jackie Meier, Danger, 2013, Oil on canvas, 60x60

Jackie Meier, Danger, 2013, Oil on canvas, 60″ x 60″

All of this is clearly apparent in her most recent work, entitled Danger, (2013, oil on canvas, 60” x 60”). The palette is skewed toward cooler blues, moss greens and coral flesh tones, which augment these newfound tendencies well. The sightlines of this picture focus solely on a precise center vanishing point, where it shatters into a centrifugal freeplay of optical proportions. The force surrendered by this outward kineticism illuminates the painting with a transcendental radiance.

This effect is repeated successfully, though in reverse, it seems, with a larger work called Interlope (2013, oil on canvas, 72” x 72”). Here vortex lines of substantial force bounce back and forth visually within a pictorial field. From the four quadrants of the picture plane to the circumference of this canvas, the structural interplay of color, symmetry and order continually explodes and regenerates itself in artistic perpetual motion.

Jackie Meier, "Interlope" 2012, Oil on canvas, 72x72

Jackie Meier, Interlope, 2012, Oil on canvas, 72″ x 72″

Jackie Meier’s painting procedure is as simple and direct as her no-nonsense approach to the underlying drawing and paint application. Because all of her work is drawn with such a fragility of intent, it deserves close observation. Every issue is held together in a delicate balancing act, an apparent demonstration of will and empathic concern for the viewer beyond herself. She is essentially creating 21st-century humanistic icons.

Jackie Meier, Belgian Fence, 2012, Oil on 9 canvases, 108x108

Jackie Meier, Belgian Fence, 2012, Oil on nine canvases, 108″ x 108″

Reflecting Meier’s surrounding environment most clearly is the work The Belgian Fence (2012, oil on canvas, 108” x 108”). This huge painting represents a transitional moment in her oeuvre. Consisting of nine separate panels or modular units, not unlike interchangeable parts, all are painted with similar but different compositional configurations. Its overall mosaic field of arcs, diamonds and triangles produces a kaleidoscopic wall of visual intensity. It’s an organic geometrical matrix, warm and woven in feeling.

Jackir Meeier, Boogie, 2013, Oil on canvas, 48x48

Jackie Meier, Boogie, 2013, Oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

Contrasting with this is the acid-colored Boogie (2013, oil on canvas, 48” x 48”), a complex multi-layered painting that is obviously an answer to Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie. However, Boogie is quite a different dance. This painting could only exist today, in the informational space of computer technology. Meier employs a scorched earth policy that has deliberately canceled out any hint of the Dutch artist’s interest in urban cartography, primary colors and right angles. A kind of digital virus is affecting this painting, which, unlike those viruses affecting our home computers, is exciting to discover. Clashing multi-dimensional chevrons enter from both sides of the painting and abut dead center of the canvas. These two shapes overlay a Hakenkreuz, which breaks down into closely collaborated colored planes, further animating an awesome and hyper-real pictorial machine.

Jackie Meier, Still, 2012, Oil on canvas 51”x51”

Jackie Meier, Still, 2012, Oil on canvas, 36” x 36”

A group of smaller works, all from 2012 and 36 x 36 inches, oil on canvas, with titles such as Tumble, Still, Button Up and Dredging, emphasize X’s, chevrons and cruciform shapes directly, with a take-no-prisoners attitude only hinted at in other pieces. This suite of paintings explores sign and symbol, while treating the eye to puzzle-like visual riddles, which contradict their hard-won meditative stillness.

Jackie Meier, work in progress,  January 2013

Jackie Meier, work in progress, January 2013

Jackie Meier’s new paintings engage us directly and thoughtfully with the current issues of geometric abstraction. Thirty years ago, no one would have guessed that abstract painting would be so widely practiced today. At this moment, hundreds of artists, almost all entirely New York-based, are creating abstraction in either its formal (geometric or reductive) or its informal (casual or otherwise) mode, with varying degrees of success. Regardless of the genre’s popularity, the call of tradition insists upon continuous renewal of quality. Artists are required to break free from the commonality of the herd, as quantity of cause is never enough. If abstract painting is to continue as a challenging idiom and a valid conveyer of meaning, the arcane conditions of its existence must be addressed. Jackie Meier confronts these conditions with absolute honesty and complete integrity.

Mark Dagley
January, 2013

Jackir Meier, works in progress,  January 2013

Jackie Meier, works in progress, January 2013

 This text originally appeared as a catalog essay for the Jackie Meier solo exhibition, Razzmatazz at the Nancy Margolis Gallery from March 28 – May 4, 2013


Photographs of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the artist in her studio by the author.

The Dog-Eared Paintings of Dan Yellow Kuhne

In the February 1973 edition of Art International, placed between an article by Karen Wilkin on Stephen Greene, and a London Letter round-up by Bernard Denvir featuring the psycho-hysterical cat drawings of Louis Wain, I first discovered the work of Dan Yellow Kuhne. Somehow, in the decades that had passed since this magazine was released, I’d gone without knowing Kuhne’s work, or even his name. My Washington D.C. upbringing had lured me to page 20, where David Bourdon’s Washington Letter covered the district’s Color Abstraction exhibitions. Among them were museum shows of works by Augustus Vincent Tack, Sam Francis and Sonia Delaunay, as well as gallery shows by Sam Gilliam, Thomas Downing, Louis Comtois, Gene Davis and a “promising newcomer whose name is Dan Yellow Kuhne.”

Rather ironically, there were black and white images accompanying the four-page profile, so I was able to see a small reproduction of Kuhne’s large (74” x 87” inches) 1972 The Dog-eared painting.

The painting seemed to be a sort of square format Morris Louis veil, finely combed out and downward with what must have been a 70-inch fan brush, until its split-end pony hairs emptied onto a Ray Parker flat-tire of a black splotch, smeared with a little white paint. Additionally, crude splashes and drips of paint peppered both sides of the work, in some sort of feigned gesture of spontaneity. But, contrarily, the painting appeared to be totally purposeful in intent, concise and controlled in execution. Tacked to the top left and right sides, perpendicular to the gravitational pull of the painting, stood the painting’s titular detail: a collection of brushstrokes mirroring the undeniable image of folded dog ears.

Reading through Washington Letter, I learned that the artist was 30 years old at the time and a former student of Gene Davis. After expressing concern for Kuhne’s “dependency on Morris Louis’ veils and certain works of Helen Frankenthaler,” Bourdon stated that Kuhne’s first solo exhibition “provides evidence of real talent and a genuine flair for color.”

I googled Dan Yellow Kuhne to see if I could find further information, more images, but my search revealed nothing more than a recent blurry landscape and a serigraph in the Smithsonian. After a little sleuth work, I contacted Kuhne through his wife, Charlotte Barry, who is also an artist. He agreed to send me a selection of slides from the Dog-eared series, and to answer a few questions about his life and his early work.

Kuhne was born in 1942, Oneida, NY. In 1949, his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland and he has remained in Maryland ever since. While Kuhne was growing up, he lived within a few blocks of the Baltimore Museum, which he visited frequently. In his early 20s, he says he was “floored” by an exhibition of German Expressionism. He also stated that he first understood the rhapsodic nature of painting itself at 23, while attending Turner: Imagination and Reality at the Museum of Modern Art.  This controversial exhibition of thirty-seven late oil paintings and two early works presented Turner as a precursor to modern painters, particularly those “whose principle means of expression is color and light,” as Lawrence Gowing wrote in the show’s catalog essay. It was a ground breaking event because the paintings were hung sans historical frames, in a calculated effect of contemporaneous artistic achievement.

Kuhne exclaimed that Turner hit him “with the impact of a locomotive bursting out of the mists.” The late Turner paintings revealed to the young artist the vast grounds a painter could cover, that art could be intimate while conversely soaring in dimensionless, incalculable space.

Shortly thereafter, a friend christened Kuhne Daniello, but the artist heard this as “Dan Yellow.” Seeing as he’d always loved yellow, feeling it to be the most ethereal of colors, he maintained the moniker, which reminded him of a 19th century caricature of Turner with a bucket of yellow varnish, using a mop for a paintbrush.

After attending the University of Maryland, College Park on and off between 1960 and 1973, Kuhne began teaching primary drawing at the Anne Arundel Community College. He also took some classes with Gene Davis, who Kuhne writes “was careful to defend his accomplishments as a D.C. color painter and to mark his territory. The main idea that I thank him for immensely was that each artist should find the vortex….you came to him with your work and he’d respond, he was not a formal teacher. Defensive!”   And, like all D.C. artists, Kuhne looked hard at the holding of the Phillips Collection and the National Gallery of Art: Van Gogh, Delacroix, Ryder, Gorky, Pollock, and, of course, Morris Louis.

Dan Yellow Kuhne in 1973

By the time Morris Louis died in 1962, his critical champion Clement Greenberg had established him as a “serious candidate[s] for Major status,” as stated in his 1960 Art International article Louis and Noland. The article not only positioned Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland on the frontline of color abstraction but also put Washington D.C.’s burgeoning art scene on the map. As a result many local artists, such as Leon Berkowitz, James Hilleary, Anne Truitt, Howard Mehring, Alma Thomas, Willem de Looper and Paul Reed became forces to be reckoned with, forces that greatly influenced Kuhne.

Dan Yellow Kuhne, Untitled, 6’ x 7’ 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection of the artist

Dan Kuhne’s Dog Eared series was created between 1970 and 1974. It is comprised of approximately 45 canvases, most of which are around 6’x7’, plus a couple hundred smaller versions on paper. These works introduce the modern viewer to a young artist not just proficient at assimilating style, as Bourdon’s review implies, but also interested in the structural and behavioral elements of paint, elements particularly located in a series of paintings by Morris Louis now known as the triadic veils.

Dan Yellow Kuhne, Molton Molt, 6’ x 7’ 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection of the artist

One of the main anomalies found in the Louis’ triadic veils, the one for which they’ve been named, seems to have informed and generated Kuhne’s early paintings. Louis incorporated the shrouded imprints produced by the manipulation of liquid paint over wooden stretcher bars, creating a form of triptych in his compositions. These perspicuous vertical divisions within the color space, which produced a structural framework for Louis veils, can be seen clearly in 1958-1959 canvases such as Blue Veil, Turning and Dalet Aleph.

Morris Louis Blue Veil, 1958-59, 8’ 4 ½  x 12’ 5”, acrylic resin on canvas, The Fogg Art Museum

Morris Louis, Turning, 1958, 7’ 8 1/4” x 14’ 10 1/4”, acrylic resin on canvas, private collection

Morris Louis, Dalet Aleph, 1958, 7’ 6 1/2 ” x 12’ 6”, acrylic resin on canvas, private collection

By dividing the canvas this way, Louis was able to successfully address issues of asymmetry, allowing a structural pinning down of his color improvisations to the vertical edges of the canvas. These edges appear to be internalized and repeated, almost as a memory within the transparencies of color.  Such vertical divisions of space are not the basis of Kuhne’s paintings, which are clearly bisymmetrical and almost static, but their extension of Louis’ interest is obvious.

Dan Yellow Kuhne, Untitled, 5’ x 7’ 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection of the artist

As a side note relating to both artists’ work, I came upon an odd ­­­suburban feature near Morris Louis’ home in Northwest D.C. It’s quite possible Louis took notice of this wishboned walkway on the corner of 42nd  St. NW and Military Road. This mirroring, or Rorschach like folding, of pictorial space is one device that both Kuhne and Louis­ use successfully in their paintings.

Little information on Louis’ visual source material can be found: Some, however, has been implied. In Narrating a Proto-Minimalist Misfire. Or Noland’s Largeness…, Shepard Steiner wrote that [a Morris Louis] “… very often seem to be sopping wet from a recent downpour.”  To a close observer, the residual effect of rainwater on the pedestals of the abundant public statuary in Washington D.C. can be viewed in great detail.  Witness an example below, in a photo of the Liberty Statue in front of The National Archives after a downpour.

Here rivulets of descending and evaporating water upon the fold of the reed molding and around the corner die of the pedestal produce similar pictorial effects to the mirroring found in many of Louis’ triadic veils. One can easily imagine Louis taking in this particular effect in relation to his painting, possibly even attempting to reproduce it.

When questioning Kuhne about his compositions, I asked if “the pleating and imprints that produce the structural vertical divisions within the space of the triadic veils inform your use of bisymmetrical composition.” In commenting about the cropping and pooling of paint at the bottom of many of Louis’ canvases, I queried: “How important was this to you when making your paintings?  You seem to have taken this almost literally, creating fountains in response to his pooling.”

Dan Yellow Kuhne, Untitled, 6’ x 7’ 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection of the artist

Kuhne replied: “These pictures, although abstract, took on a highly suggestive effect: mesas, WWI airplanes, fountains, valleys. I was working very intuitively. I’d start by wetting the paper or canvas, then I’d spread beads of watercolor from the tube, or acrylic bands on the canvas, irrigating and eroding them with H20 or washes. I was thinking of color and imagery…”

Dan Yellow Kuhne, Untitled, 6’ x 7’ 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection of the artist

Surprisingly, Kunhe worked on the Dog Eared paintings without ever discussing them  with his fellow artists. He confronted the pictorial legacy of Morris Louis and the overarching influence of Washington Color School alone. The paintings were included in several exhibitions, including a prominent 1973 show of works on paper at The Phillips Collection. Then they were rolled up and placed in storage, where they remain to this day.

Dan Yellow Kuhne, Chief, 6’ x 7’ 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection of the artist

In a form of radical regionalism common in different degrees to many of the D.C. color painters, Dan Kuhne has never shown his work outside of the Baltimore/D.C. area.  This is a profound loss to artists and art enthusiasts living elsewhere, as even in reproduction, these 40-year old paintings can generate great excitement. For those who’ve wondered what sort of challenges young artists working in the direct shadow of the Washington Color School faced, the Dog Eared paintings by Dan Kuhne provide some beautiful clues.

Mark Dagley, 2012

Jerry’s Kids

Mark Dagley’s 222 Bowery studio (1987)
Photo by Ivan dalla Tanna

A good artist does not need anything.
Ad Reinhardt

When NYFA Current asked me to write a first-person account of the circumstances surrounding a not-so-recent exhibition of my paintings, a show that took place at Tony Shafrazi Gallery nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was surprised by their interest, but gladly jumped at the chance. I never hesitate to admit to any and all who care to listen that my 1987 New York City debut was considered a failure by local critics and collectors, not to mention the disappointed dealer. While preshow interest was high, in the end little work sold, and a well-regarded ARTFORUM writer snarkily dissed my efforts. Paradoxically, this perceived failure launched me on a fairly successful trajectory in the European art world: Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland—but that’s another story.

Back to my Shafrazi solo show, which was perfectly planned and executed. An incredible studio at 222 Bowery—“The Bunker”—was secured with funds from prior sales, allowingme the necessary space to create the ambitious exhibit I had proposed, a group of paintings unlike any I’d made before: shaped canvases using video-game-referenced imagery, along with checkerboards, diamonds, and Picasso-esque harlequin designs. Cardboard models of all the shapes were experimented with for months before the full-size wood constructions were built. The long labor of painting and finishing these works came off without a hitch. In August of ’87, the 14 canvases were delivered to the gallery on Mercer Street. Soon after, advertisements appeared in several glossy magazines. Tony designed and printed a playful color poster. A brochure was also available, featuring an essay by George Condo.

Opening night, September 12, a steady stream of New York art world luminaries flowed through the gallery. Their sleek black limos flanked the entrance. An exclusive dinner at Indochine followed the reception. Yes, it was an absolute ‘80s cliché. But the party ended long before the decade. What initially seemed to be an uncontested success—three of my works sold immediately, another four were placed on hold by a very prominent collector, and two drew significant interest without a commitment—quickly proved otherwise, thanks in part to Black Monday, October 19, when stock markets around the world crashed, making history as the largest one-day percentage decline. By October 20, it became clear that the paintings on reserve would not be purchased and that any additional interest had instantly withered. Were there a doubt in my mind, or in Tony Shafrazi’s, it was soon assuaged by Kate Linker’s ruthless pan in that December’s issue of ARTFORUM.

Since the economy wasn’t entirely global at the time, I was able to continue my life as an artist abroad. In this present-day recession I suppose going overseas isn’t a realistic option. My advice to young artists back then was: “Go where you’re wanted.” Nowadays, I say: “Keep your day job.” Anything to prohibit dependence on dealers, critics, curators, or collectors. Anything to keep hold of your creative ideals. Chances are, given enough time, they’ll come into vogue.

Mark Dagley
Clone (1987)
60” x 90” x 4”
Vinyl acrylic, acrylic, polymer resin on canvas, mounted on wood

The pre-digital, low-fi fundamentals of the imagery in my early work have recently been discovered by a techno-savvy contemporary audience. Artists and writers who grew up with cell phones, laptops, and the Internet are able to understand and appreciate what was once dismissed as ironic neo-geometric endgame painting. This interest peaked curiosity about my newer work—paintings, drawings and sculpture—and spawned a resurgence in my New York career. Perfect timing. Some things never change.

I’m sure most Current readers follow Jerry Saltz’s New York Magazine column, which has, for the past eight months, focused largely on the recession’s effect on the art world. With titles like: Frieze After the Freeze, Art on a Shoestring, and After the Orgy, Saltz’s recent articles deliver fairly dire economic news along with predictions of a slew of commercial gallery closures this coming summer. Time to pull ourselves up by the sandal straps, or, according to Saltz: “It’s time to get over 1968; if we’re going to think of the past, let’s reconsider 1988, when artists, suddenly broke, were left to themselves.”

Having been a student in ‘68—does grammar school count?—and a suddenly broke artist in ’88, I can easily relate. It’s surprising to me how many artists, age regardless, can’t. Why go into the arts, after all, if not to be left to ones own devices?

In summary, while the economy (and the hairline) may recede, art—good art—goes forth. And sometimes conquers.

Mark Dagley is an artist who studied painting and sculpture at the Corcoran School of Art and electronic music at the Boston Museum School. His work can be found in the public collections of the Broad Art Foundation, University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Dagley is co-owner, with playwright Lauri Bortz, of the Abaton Book Company, a publisher of artist books and audio projects.

A Country Of Mine

A Country Of Mine
New York, New York

 “For an undetermined period of time I felt myself cut off from the world, an abstract spectator.”

‑J.L. Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

 The Character in the short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Borges participates in a detective story that occurs in parallel universes. As an abstract spectator of his own fictional mental construction, he discovers a long lost symbolic labyrinth. It turns out to have been “constructed” by his great, great grandfather over a thirteen-year period. Here we asked to consider complex metaphorical situations of infinite continuity, a meditation on the nature of time and family. This short story could be seen as an analogy to the most recent exhibition at UP&CO.

Entitled “ A Country of Mine” and including painting, photography, film and performance documentation, this exhibition features the work of Joe Andoe, Angela Hill, Antonio Longo, Daniel Miller, Uscha Pohl and the group p.t.t.red. Unfortunately, the restricting title may have been a tad euphuistic. It was uncharacteristic of the content of the majority of the work I found on view. To ask to be identified with any place or state of being is tough enough for many of us. To get behind concepts such as “country” and “mine” would seem to be a recipe for disaster. For many Americans of a certain generation, or of a particular class structure, this country of theirs is full of racism, sexism, and a political system that seems to be out of touch with everything but it’s own survival. To many others this country of ours is nothing but what the power-structure imposes upon us. It is an abstract concept, a myth. This country of mine is McDonalds, Coco-Cola, TV and Rock-and-Roll. It’s DUMB. In general, this is the perception of the United States throughout popular culture in many countries.

The exhibition attempts to address issues of place, and of the global change that is happening with the breakdown of the post-war structures, of the DDR and West Germany, the Berlin Wall, and the continual erosion of the British Empire. It is a metaphorical exhibition on the themes of being and change, and the results of those changes, either actual or perceived. The relentless assault on the natural order is touched upon. “A Country of Mine” does address a broadness of poetic imagination, with a few hints of possible spiritual renewal thrown in for good measure.

Antonio Longo, who lives in a small town outside of London, seems to have taken the position of the “abstract spectator.” His black and white photograph of his father is distant and aloof. One cannot help but notice that connections have been severed, at least symbolically. No one is there, not the father or the father’s father. Longo has to witness this, and in an abstract way this is the strength of his work. Longo’s work functions best as a type of conceptual documentation, well removed from the particularities of his sources and surroundings.

Angela Hill, another photographer from Great Britain, portrays a physiological sensibility completely different from Longo. She is best known on this side of the Atlantic for her full-frame portraits of young teenagers. There is a seductive visual strategy at work here, akin to advertising and employing a lot of the same techniques. Hill is able to direct the gaze of both the image she seeks to record and the viewing of the image. Programmatically, there is an effort to control subjectivity which is interesting because Hill is expert at re-routing visually through a filter of mythology. The end result is a kind of timeless impressionistic space.

Uscha Pohl contributed two works in a strict autobiographic context. Nomadic in experience, these works allow a glimpse into her private reflections and past personal experiences. “Plane Glass” is a film and photographic installation that focus on the sensation of returning to a familiar but unresolved situation. The nice thing about this work is its early experimental film quality. The 8mm format contributes a rawness that is absent from the other works in this exhibition. This film loop was shot out the cabin window of a flying plane; we only experience the continuum of descent. The loop is projected upon a photograph of a misty country road that disappears into perspective; the knowledge that this all is intimately connected with the artist’s childhood adds a special poignancy. Another work, Diary of a Traveler” is a curious memento to thoughts, feelings and random musings on travel, coupled with a small diamond painting of a landscape by Joe Andoe.

Andoe also exhibits a large painting of the prototypical symbolic subject, the she-wolf. Andoe’s technique is interesting because he really isn’t painting with brushes, but by the application and removal of layers of oil paint with rags and paper towels. This archeological approach to painting, of unearthing and of removal, is in harmony with the majority of the images he chooses to work with. Andoe, who is from Oklahoma, has been able to access some of the more primal iconography in the classical genre. His paintings of birds, horses and, more recently buffalo and wolves all demonstrate an ongoing concern for the endangered or the disappearing.

The break up of the former Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall were a few of the defining moments of recent post-industrial development. Daniel Miller is able to salvage some compelling images from the crumbling facade of theses areas, enabling one to visualize the dire consequences. I am reminded of the social documentational format practiced in this country through the great depression by Walker Evens, Dorothea Lange, and many others who were able to capture rapidly changing moments of social and political development.

The performance group p.t.t.red (paint the town red) rounds out this exhibition with a selection of images from their performance “Ursa in Orbit/Ursa in Motion”. This performance, either by calculation or happenstance, touched upon deep historic symbolism. Within and beneath the construction of German identity, they were able to uncover dormant mythological areas, which they demonstrate as almost-entertainment. We see the two artists together in these photos dressed in what looks to Americans like Smokey the Bear costumes, minus the hats; typical pop stuff at first glance, but here it gathers resonance. It seems that someone mistook the artists for actual bears, but bears have been absent from Germany for almost a hundred years. The return of this species of wildlife to the Berchtesgaden National Park would be like discovering a woolly mammoth in Yellowstone. Its implication to German national heritage, not to mention prestige throughout the world, would be enormous. Unbelievable as it sounds; the news got around, “Bears have returned to the national forests of Germany”. These artists are famous for this, and even had to take photos of themselves, bear heads in hand, looking over the forest in a Casper David-Friedrich-like pose to prove the truth—“Not in this country!” The Berchtesgaden National Park, like the Rhine, is one of the most symbolic natural spaces in all of Germany. Bavarian folklore claims the Frederick the first (Barbarossa) lies in mystic slumber in this area, soon to awaken, bringing peace and prosperity throughout Germany. Hitler also took refuge high above these forests in Obersalzberg. Evidence has been discovered of prehistoric circumpolar cults of bear worship that extended all the way down into Nuremberg, the heartland of Bavaria. These alters of arranged bear skulls and bones date back 200,000 years to the era of the Neanderthal man and point to ancient preoccupations with this animal. “Ursa in Motion” was the constellation around which the strongest elements of this exhibition revolved.

Mark Dagley

Newton, New Jersey


First published in Zing Magazine, vol.2 Fall 1998, pg 248-250

Paul Reed ~ Natural Mystic

Paul Reed

Paul Reed, April 2011

At 92 years of age Paul Reed is the last surviving participant of the Washington Color Painters exhibition, a pivotal event in the annals of the Washington, D.C. art scene. This traveling museum show, curated by Gerald Nordland, included a group of artists–Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Morris Louis, Howard Mehring, Kenneth Noland, and Paul Reed–who would come to be collectively known as the Washington Color School. It opened on June 25th 1965, at the now defunct Washington Gallery of Modern Art, and continued on to the University of Texas, the University of California, and the Rose Art Galleries at Brandeis University, ending its run at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Of all the Washington Color Painters, Reed employed the most non-programmatic approach to painting. His work is enigmatically structured and unabashedly chromatic. He always seemed to be separated aesthetically from his pack. Reed created some of the most confounding geometric color field paintings with his aerial view series, works that view extreme close up floral or mandala patterns through a field of color and wedges of geometry, as if seen from a great height.  He was, and still is, the only original member of the Color Painters to continually use Nature itself as a referent in his work (Reed’s daily walks on the Potomac River provide him endless inspiration). His preference for painting plein air when the weather permits would likely be antithetical to his contemporaries, were they still among the living. This experience imbues Reed’s work with “a precise blending of intellectual and sensual experiences,” as David Gariff, Senior Lecturer of the National Gallery of Art, describes it.

Paul Reed, Number 17, 1964, 67x67 inches

On April 25th of this year, a warm, sunny spring day, I visited Paul Reed in Arlington, Virginia, at the quiet suburban home he shares with his wife Esther. The house, a modest dwelling surrounded by flowering bushes, trees and a well kept lawn, is a stones’ throw from the Potomac River and about 10 miles from Fairfax County, where I spent my entire childhood, where my parents live to this day.

Upon entering Reed’s home, my eyes were drawn to the windows, which are covered by muslin “canvasses” painted with translucent washes of color, amplifying the incoming light like stained glass and transforming the room into a diaphanous spectrum. Only after extended viewing did I realize that these paintings are views of tree trunks, leaves and branches, as seen through those very same windows. I soon came to understand that Reed’s interests lie far beyond the formalities and martial scheme of reductive color geometries, or even color field painting (which he has a right to lay claim to), and purely in color itself, apart from the materiality of paint, color in its most allusive but observable property, that of illumination.

Throughout the rooms of his house, more than a half century of dedication to Reed’s ideal of color painting can be found hung on the walls, or in the process of being photographed and archived. Additionally, downstairs in what Reed called Monet’s Tomb, is a large cabinet holding hundreds upon hundreds of his works, carefully rolled up like rare Chinese scrolls, a treasure chest awaiting revelation to future art historians.

Like the original progenitors of abstraction, whose works were conceived in an altered state of occult contemplation, Paul Reed demonstrates again and again that such principles can provide an ideal ecosystem for germination. His introverted approach to life and painting has served him well, keeping his own discoveries peculiarly eccentric and, even today, shrouded in mysticism.

Mark Dagley, June 9, 2011

The author & Paul Reed


Cult Music


Twentieth century musical composition contains many unique and cultic personalities. Lili Boulanger, Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow, Harry Partch and Edgard Varèse all have devoted and/or fanatical followers.

Lili Boulanger was the younger sister of the world-renowned Nadia Boulanger. Lili, who was born in Paris in 1893 and died in 1918 at the age of twenty-four, was known as the “first important woman composer in history”. She produced some of the most beautiful and haunting music of the first decade of this century. In 1913, at the age of nineteen, Boulanger won the coveted “Primier Grand Prix de Rome,” (the first woman to do so). She composed a variety of works including the opera  “La Princesse Malaine,” which was left incomplete at her death. Her cult status can be confirmed by hearing the 1960 Everest L.P. # 6059, entitled “Works of Lili Boulanger,” conducted by Igor Markevitch.

Henry Cowell was born in Menlo Park California in 1897 and died in 1965.  He was one of the great pioneers of experimental musical composition. Like Boulanger, he was a child prodigy: As early as 1911 his radical innovations, such as the use of complex rhythms and dissonance, had begun to appear in such works as “Tides of Manaunaum,” which predates Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” by two years. Cowell’s configurations of piano keys struck with the fist or forearm were called “tone clusters” and were first performed in San Francisco in 1912. His most famous student was probably John Cage, who adopted some of Cowell’s techniques in his own compositions for prepared piano. Henry Cowell said, “I was influenced by Ives, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and lots of others before I ever heard of them.” His cult status was attained by not following any “schools,” and by his fearless search for pure originality. His 1951 Circle L.P. # L-51-101 “The Piano music of Henry Cowell,” on which Cowell performs his own compositions, is VERY hard to find.

Conlon Nancarrow was born in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1912 [and died in 1997]. A former jazz musician, Nancarrow is best known for his compositions for player piano. Nancarrow constructed a machine that allowed him to compose on fresh piano rolls, punching the notes in one at a time. It sometimes took him a year to complete a composition with only a five-minute duration. Nancarrow’s music has its foundation in the improvisational quality found in jazz and the barrelhouse and ragtime syncopated styles of piano playing. His first compositions were a type of jazz-blues reflection, somehow still related to human piano playing. His later works have been called “superhuman.” Conlon Nancarrow has lived in Mexico since 1940, and his distance from the scene has kept his music fresh, unaffected by trends and fashion.  Nancarrow’s music can be found still on vinyl: look for “The Complete Studies for Player Piano” Volume 1and 2 on Arch Records for a “cultaural” experience.

Harry Partch’s music has been called the “first truly American music since the American Indian.” Partch was born in 1901 in Oakland California, and died in 1974. He was a visionary working on the extreme edge of the accepted musical landscape. Partch is a favorite with many rhythmically oriented composers. His ideas can be found, smoothed out and processed, in the works of such “minimalist” composers as Terry Riley and Philip Glass, but his rhythmical ideas, and concern for a theatrically based musical ritual are probably more accurately located in Punk Rock. Harry Partch developed his own unique musical language based on a system of tonalities called Monophony, which “does not present any tone as any specific tonality…” He invented his own musical instruments to play these non-specific tonalities, with names such as “Zymo-xyl” and “Quadrangularis Reversum.” Try to find his Columbia L.P. # MS 7207, entitled “The world of Harry Partch,” and listen to the unusual sounds you have been missing.

Edgard Varèse was born in 1883 in Paris and died in 1965. Here we have a composer of such cult status that it is impossible to calculate his influence. In the field of percussive composition, electronic music and musique concreté, he is considered the major innovator. Even today with the current interest in “electronica,” we are hearing nothing that Varèse did not hear before. His early training in engineering and mathematics allowed him the understanding to produce sounds seemingly independent of one another. He was one of the first to work with magnetic tape, creating sounds artificially. His 1950 EMS #401 L.P., entitled “Complete works of Edgar Varèse” Volume 1, is quite hard to come by. The same disc, numbered and pressed in red vinyl, is almost impossible to find.

These five composers rejected the played-out forms of musical composition (late romantic, serialism, and twelve-tone) in vogue during the first decades of this century. Exploring new sound architectures and techniques of composition, they approached music non-manneristically and with a true visionary spirit.

Mark Dagley

Originally published in VERY issue #11, 1998