Meta-Practice, Research, Values

Enthusiasms Unbounded, Mentality, Reviews

My Art Practice as Enthusiasms Unbounded

“Enthusiams unbounded” is neither grammatically correct nor concise, but it’s the best linguistic capsule for my sentiment: that many aspects of being an artist can be seen as exercises in honoring curiosity.

I love my life in art because I’m constantly learning new things; I made a decision to cultivate areas of knowledge and skill, and they’re accumulating more or less every day. When I look at it this way, art practice is even more satisfying.

I’m starting to think that being an artist means studio work, as well as enacting one’s enthusiasms at will, anytime and anywhere. To borrow examples from my own recent past, this manifests via browsing exhibition catalogs about shopping, learning how to use a nail gun (powered with air: brilliant!), getting over my fear of hand-held circular saws, and savoring donut shop typefaces. My enthusiasms fuel my art practice, so as an artist, it’s my job to follow them.

An Observation on Mentality

My friend Stephanie pointed out that longevity in art can often be attributed to sheer determination. In other words, success in art is partially a war of attrition (especially for women, as my friend Jenifer would add). Stephanie vowed to make art, no matter what. I want art in my life, but I need happiness too. And I think there’s a way to cultivate both:

I suspect that another secret to longevity in the arts is good morale, which requires (at least) two skills:

1. The ability to welcome and accept all forms of validation. I think it’s along the lines of being a connoisseur, not an addict, of the tangible evidence of success. That means blocking out mithering resentments or bitterness in light of any successes, and not letting hang-ups limit the extent of one’s satisfaction.

2. A high tolerance, or the quick ability to recover. May the stings of rejection fade quickly. May the forgettable exhibitions be soon forgotten. May petty resentments pass, along with all the reasons to be jaded about the art world.

The goal, it seems, is to make optimism and happiness “sticky,” and to let all the rest roll off your shoulder. Duckin’ and weavin’. Stick and move.

Enthusiasms, specifically

A cursory look-see of downtown galleries less than stunning, with two major exceptions:

Kim Anno at Patricia Sweetow Gallery

Kim Anno’s paintings on metal are pretty and formal — two things I’m not usually that wowed by. But I felt that feeling of worship that I think overcomes many art lovers when I looked at her paintings — my God, the light! The works are pure abstraction, with large expanses of white paint nestled by wisps of translucent color; they “read” quite simple and gestural and yet there are passages upon passages of textures, patterns, marks and contrasting surfaces. The whites revealed themselves to be rich in color as well. They’re works that continue to reward the act of looking. Expertly executed.

Bruce Connor at Gallery Paule Anglim

I first saw one of Bruce Connor’s miraculous black-and-white inkblot pattern drawings in Lawrence Rinder’s Galaxy at Berkeley Art Museum a few weeks ago, so it’s a treat to see more of them so soon. I absolutely adore them. There are several tiny ones on view, as well as a generous series of leaf-shaped inkblots and a few fuddy-duddy assemblages. The inkblots, though, are sublime. Completely abstract, moments of recognition appear and fade away, with a variety of textures, media and mark-making devices that result in an surprising magnitude of visual experiences — some lent the sensation of solarized photographic prints, others are clearly tactile acrylic, still others suggested small infinities. They strike a balance between meticulous compulsion and the fine art of knowing when to stop.

Art & Development, Research


Making ephemera has become an important part of my art practice. I began by making small batches of laser-printed posters, which fold to become brochures. They supply additional texts outside of the work and the wall texts, yet within the gallery space. They draw attention to the concepts behind the works without literalizing them in an artist’s statement.

I think making collateral and multiples is related to my background as a printmaker. But though I know how, I don’t print this collateral by hand, because they are free for anyone to take, because I can easily make more at any time.

This is one example of the glacial change my work seems to be undergoing. Like my other work, the brochures de-emphasize visuality, so the word “visual” in “visual art” seems too finite to describe what do.

I suppose that I’ve always been interested in ephemera, but had previous notions about graphic design, printmaking and zines. Thankfully, Ted Purves and Steven Leiber helped me to embrace ephemera as a legitimate form in itself.

Ted, by the way, also contributed an essay to Extra Art: A Survey of Artists’ Ephemera, 1960-1999, a beautiful catalog of thousands of inventive invitations, posters, buttons and wacky one-off objects in a show curated by Steven Lieber…

You might find Extra Art in the stacks at 871 Fine Arts at 49 Geary Street, Suite 513 in San Francisco. Unlike the boutique-like museum stores I’ve visited lately, this book seller and gallery has a drool-worthy selection of art books and catalogs. Their gallery seems to show only works on paper or ephemera, focusing on minimalism, concrete poetry and fluxism, with a few contemporary artists like writer/designer/book artist Emily McVarish. During First Thursday gallery openings (No! More! Paintings!), 871’s idiosyncratic shows can be quite refreshing.

In September, I was delighted to see an exhibition of art posters at 871. What follows are my awful photos of some of my favorite posters. Sorry I didn’t get information about the designers.

This is my favorite by far. It’s of Marcel Duchamp with a piece from “The Bride Stripped Bare.” Like Duchamp, the poster designer selected materials minimally and purposefully, using foil stamping to represent the metalwork, and a high-gloss spot varnish only where the sheet glass appears. The rest of the poster is printed in economical evergreen and carmine red inks.

A really handsome Naim June Paik poster. It’s just a black and white portrait of the artist with text set in Helvetica: two sizes, two weights. And while the photography and typography are perfect, the whole thing is restrained but somehow avant garde.

I’m not a big Lawrence Weiner fan (the unblinking monotone!) but the use of selectively-placed die cuts are satisfyingly conceptually-sound.

I was really happy to see this Fred Sandback poster, because it’s an elegant conveyence of the ideas in minimal work. Also, many artists find gridded paper attractive, but in Sandback’s case, it seems to be an entirely appropriate usage.

What I really love about these posters is that the designers understand that it’s not possible or desirable to represent conceptual art in purely visual terms. All the posters do is suggest or supplement.

Activist Imagination, Research

Art ideas

Write “Come up with a good idea for an art piece and write it down. Mail it to myself, as I could use the postmark date to show that I had the idea first” on a piece of paper. Mail it to myself.

Invite Kearny Street Workshop’s audience to edit the Wikipedia page on Kearny Street Workshop.

Address the ideas of celebrationism and nostalgia, political rigor vs moral outrage, in APA activist art.

Art & Development, Travelogue


This year, I’m lucky enough to travel abroad twice. In a few days, I’ll be off to the UK. It’s my first time across “the” pond. I’m going to be an artist in FRED, the annual art invasion of Cumbria. Then I’m going to see as much art in Manchester and London as possible.

I feel lucky to be an artist who makes a living as a self-employed graphic designer. Still, having tasted the life of a full-time artist during my trip with Galleon Trade, I want more. And that’s another reason why being an Affiliate Artist at the Headlands is so great — sure, there’s the studio, the awesome environment, the community, but I’ve also been savoring the osmotic zone of artists-in-residence. The AIRs are there to have time and space to experiment and develop, and appear to be happily spending their days and nights thinking about, talking about and making art. I find myself wondering, What would it be like to wake up in a secluded place, and in the quiet of the morning, wander over to the studio and see where the day takes me?

I’m starting to think of these opportunities for international travel as Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs) as an artist. A while ago, I worked with Underground Railroad, a collective of cultural workers who theorized that, while we lived in a country that lacks physical TAZs (Not counting Burning Man — I mean those accessible to young urban POCs), cultural events could be transient TAZs. The vision was that a taste of being free would lead towards expansions in duration, until soon enough the TAZ would be round-the-clock and migrate beyond its four walls.

I love this idea’s elegance — its sense of natural momentum. It’s not about the fear of failure driving one to a necessary optimism. Rather, the potential is just too good to pass up.

Art & Development, Values

Assisting an Artist

A while back, I realized that I wanted to gain perspective on the life of an established, full-time artist. I started looking for an artist’s assistant position. But since San Francisco’s art market is so small, it can support only a limited number of working contemporary artists. My chances looked slim.

Luckily, I had the good fortune to assist Mario Ybarra Jr. in June. A Los Angeles based artist, Ybarra was a Capp Street Artist in Residence at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. I was at the right place at the right time, but it was serendipitous in other ways.

First, I felt that my interest in contemporary art and background in community art were at odds. Ybarra’s project for the Wattis was—can you believe it—a mural. I jumped at the opportunity to work with an artist weighing the conceptual considerations of mural painting. Second, my sensitivity to CCA’s poor racial diversity had become more acute, and Ybarra freely supplied his perspectives on being a contemporary artist of color. I appreciated our frank discussions, which raised questions of access (described in terms of squeezing through a hole in a chain-link fence, and now holding the fence for others to enter), identity politics and being pigeon-holed or tokenized. Third, I was interested in shaping the art world into one that I would want to participate in. Ybarra is a great case study for changing the terms of engagement. In addition to his inventive artistic practice (his studio is the street), he’s also a youth educator and gallery owner—an entrepreneur who proudly employs neighborhood locals, a curator who seeks artists that might not have a venue otherwise. His generosity is clear; his gratitude for his teachers lives on as a practice of mentoring emerging artists (and, by the way, donating work to support Galleon Trade).

Of course, I picked up on many practical, technical and conceptual skills (like rag-throwing, spray-bottle painting, and balancing the urge to upset cliches with a commitment to humanizing his subjects) as well, and actually, I had a great time working with him and his other assistants from Wilmington.

Ybarra’s two-story mural is in the stairwell at the entrance of the Wattis Institute, on the San Francisco campus of the California College of the Arts. The mural will be unveiled in September, along with a new monograph.


Going to “the manly place to be”

To get ready for Galleon Trade: Ship Launch, I went shopping for Kleen Sweep, a moss-like powder that’s great for trapping harmful dusts on the ground. It’s really useful after sanding gallery walls. So I headed to the hardware store nicknamed “the manly place to be” in an old rock ditty.

In the past, I’ve heard arguments that men should have “man spaces.” I believe that men and women would greatly benefit if men had reflective, discursive spaces to consider manhood and the role of men in struggles for equality. Unfortunately, most contemporary male-centric spaces–in my experience, fight- and motor-sports arenas–function as spaces for exhibiting the stereotypical male qualities that A.O. Scott brilliantly contextualized within a culture of consumption and sexual entitlement.

Usually, I’m pretty fond of hardware stores—bigger quantities, competitive prices, more open-ended materials. They’re like interesting cousins from out of town to the sibling art stores, whose idiosyncracies are too familiar to excuse.

But sometimes I’ll be reminded of hardware stores’ gendered context. (There’s no better place to witness the different treatment you get in a skirt instead of jeans than my neighborhood Ace.)

My Kleen Sweep quest wasn’t going well, so I asked a gentlemanly sales associate for assistance. Perfectly politely, he pointed me towards the broom aisle. I scanned the products — no Kleen Sweep. I went back for more help, and the guy ‘fessed up: he knew what Kleen Sweep was, he just assumed I meant Swiffers…. As in the TV ad with a housewife cleaning and rocking out to the debased Devo tune, “Swiff it up.”

Interestingly, more female employees and a housewares section does not correlate to a more female-friendly experience. My new favorite hardware store, a builder’s supplier where the parking lot is filled with pick-up trucks, has the best service and products (like Kleen Sweep) in stock.