Saturday, May 24, 2008


WHETHER ONE HAS A TASTE for urban graffiti or not, this style of visual expression which found its mark in 1980s New York City is definitely exploding onto the local scene, and is moving from the streets into the art venues and into the home. This year's Artomatic '08 is larded with the stuff, every wall that would otherwise be empty is tagged, so let's cut to the chase. Here's an article with interesting follow-up comments presenting several sides of the question.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


MORRIS WEITZ, IN A GROUNDBREAKING publication entitled "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics" took aim at a longstanding notion in art theory called essentialism. This work provoked much debate within the art philosophy community and is part of a larger movement known as anti-essentialism that was popular in the 1950's.

Weitz's piece, however, is arguably the most popular anti-essentialist pieces, as well as one of the most debated pieces in twentieth century aesthetics. Weitz positioned himself against the traditional essentialist methodology and proposed using Ludwig Wittgenstein's family resemblance argument as an alternate method for identifying art objects. Weitz proposed that in asking "what is art?" aestheticians were really asking the wrong question altogether.

The question he believed needed to be fundamentally addressed instead was "what kind of concept is 'art'?" Weitz used this question to propel both his defense of Wittgensteinian family resemblances, as well as his defense of art as an 'open concept.' Weitz is widely considered to have renewed interest within the analytical philosophy for aesthetics, where his claims have been challenged for over fifty years, most famously by Maurice Mandelbaum in the 1965 piece "Family Resemblances and Generalizations Concerning the Arts."

Weitz later developed a philosophy of criticism, in which the critic must describe, interpret, evaluate, and finally theorize about the work in question.

What Weitz argued against fell in lock step with much of 20th century thought in every field, including politics. In philosophy, essentialism is the view that, for any specific kind of entity, there is a set of characteristics or properties all of which any entity of that kind must have. This view is contrasted with non-essentialism which states that for any given kind of entity there are no specific traits which entities of that kind must have.

A member of a specific kind of entity may possess other characteristics that are neither needed to establish its membership nor preclude its membership. It should be noted that "essences" do not simply reflect ways of grouping objects; essences must result in properties of the object.

An essence characterizes a substance or a form, in the sense of the Forms or Ideas in Platonic idealism. It is permanent, unalterable, and eternal; and present in every possible world. Classical humanism has an essentialist conception of the human being, which means that it believes in an eternal and unchangeable human nature. This viewpoint has been criticized by Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre and many modern and existential thinkers.

The point of this prologue is to highlight the notion that the foundation upon which the task of art criticism rests depends not on the framework but upon the foundation itself. Thus, we must question ourselves: does our worldview depend upon the incumbent strengths of essentialism (order), or the sprawling mysteries of its detractor (chaos)? In other words, is the universe a world of chaos, or a world of order?

To arrive at the proper response to this question, might we also presume that the world itself should lead us to the correct answer by showing us a living example? But after Heisenberg, despite the fine work of Popper and Hayek, we are still no closer to understanding the smallest particles in the universe, which appear highly ordered at certain phases in time and space, but still fall suspiciously prey to the lure of chaos when observed.

Yet, the question of creativity within the scope of aesthetics must be renewed with each generation. While we seem to have enough experimental data now to show that our minds are deeply involved in the quantum realm, we might inquire of The Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer by Henry Stapp with enough gusto to grab a clue.

We can believe that Stapp is close to something substantial, even essential, when it comes to the mind-body connection. He bases his projections on physics, but is sure to point out that we are not talking about billiard ball (Newtonian) physics anymore, but quantum physics. And we end by grasping not at straws but at the realization that the true nature of quantum physics is psychophysical, and therefore consequential.

But does this new knowledge help us sort out the debate between essentialism and anti-essentialism?

To be continued...

Friday, May 16, 2008


Originally published on the Internet by Gabriel Thy, writing for the Scenewash Project in 1997.

AFTER FORTY YEARS OF STUMBLING around like a drunken beggar among the same strategies and tactics this American desert of cultural chaos has subjected its entire population to more or less under the guise of truth and consequences when from a minority perspective (that is to say, of one man, one vote) I must admit in writing that I comprehend this ruthless subjection of the populations to seem more provisionally suggestive of an insane carte blanche rape of both the individual genius and the collective cause by the well-entrenched intellectual forces that be, and so, acknowledging that no idea can set men free when driven by anti-individual political forces in means and ends against populations differing in collective character and individual resolve, I break with them all, and call into organization my own perspective Librahausen.

Understanding that a few paragraphs here will never contain these issues, I nevertheless am occasioned to attempt an hypothesis upon that language which we here in these United States call the Freedom of Speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution penned by the founding fathers as good and necessary in the struggle against the long grievous dynamic of official oppression, and its effect on the human spirit.

I am neither trained in law or literature, religion or government, and have no special accommodations in any field save my blue collar, thank God. I am a working man working, working without bail, prestige, or grandiose financial compensation, working with my own feeble hands, working from my own knotted gut, and have little choice as a willing slave to the only mind I can bring to this argument rolling on past the damp eyes of disenchanted generations lost in the fraud, treachery, and deception of free speech as we have learned to practice it, than to argue from that simple perspective only the powerless can argue.

The strong in this country place great faith in their own ability to interpret the past, the present, and the future in terms of what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Despite all pretensions to the contrary the United States Supreme Court seems to operate as the highbrow puppetshow of these antagonistic political bands of strong movers and shakers, legitimizing or muddying each line drawn in the sand of an issue, a court consisting of mere flesh and blood, millions of musty words ratioed by changing tides of popular opinion impetuously tempered with an almost predictable jurisprudence as evidenced by the political cat and mouse games played with the court's occasional vacancies in the way of highly controversial party-line presidential appointments.

The First Amendment is the intimate friend of far left wingers and far right wingers alike. But of course they each find it within their own stormy projected biases the urgency to define both their own and their opponent's objectives, each accusing the other of evil, usually one of perpetuating evil via filth, the other of perpetuating evil via oppression.

Having recently sought insight in a 700-page hardcover called "Girls Lean Back Everywhere, The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius" beautifully researched and compiled by Edward de Grazia, an attorney practicing communications and First Amendment law here in Washington, DC, I am still nevertheless profanely distressed by the situation on both sides of this political equation. Mr. de Grazia comes with many prestigious credentials, was victoriously integral in the landmark Henry Miller and William S. Burroughs literary publishing cases, as well as the "I am Curious—Yellow" Swedish film breakthrough. The title of his book is drawn from a quote a small magazine editor named Jane Heap made at the James Joyce/Ulysses judicial hearing concerning some text in question. Her publication, "The Little Review" was the first to publish excerpts from what she sensed was the first 20th century literary novel masterpiece, and as such immediately felt the strong arm of the public decency law bearers reach out in fierce rebuttal in an attempt to smack down her own artistic sensibilities. The book thoroughly covers all of the major court battles from Zola in 1868 England to all the 20th century debates including Joyce, Lawrence, Nabakov, Miller, Burroughs, Karen Finley, 2 Live Crew, Playboy, Penthouse, and the Seven-Eleven Wars, and right on up through Mapplethorpe and Serrano in an exquisite commentary bulked up by full first hand accounts of the noted judiciary principals, and their hodge-podge of so-called principles. And yet I am still unsure how to approach this position paper.

While I believe in an artist's rights to exploit the tools of language and all media according to her own peculiar vision, I am also dead set against the public funding of this area of life. Zilch. Rock music and stand-up comedy get along without public grants. So can photographers, writers, and painters. If not prepared to give it all, or convince a private source for sustenance, then sorry charlie, tastes good, less filling. A paradigm shift of the ways in which we view both art and its marketplace may be required, but public funding is a sham and a scandal to both artlover and artloather. And while I believe that the artist should be as free to draw from real life as he sees fit, I am also certain that the media, specifically films, TV, and music have detrimentally contributed to the chaos of the past several generations with the sickening decline of the individual consciousness in regards to morals as they pertain to the rights and responsibilities of each human taking part in the great plan America once proclaimed to be, despite all the tax dollars thrown at so-called studies which deliver nothing but party line after party line of inconclusive evidence. Idealistic art is no better.

Jealousy and envy are perpetuated on a very large scale now due to the proliferation of a media which shows how others however mythically portrayed are living better off than they perceive themselves to be living. I would suggest that this everpresent barrage of images, advertisements, storylines, handsome bodies, has made us a very unhappy population, malcontented, bored, and yearning for something more, when in fact even the poorest among us live far better than most throughout the long rattling chains of history.

Understanding that I am adamantly against the right wing pontifications and falsifications with their feeble interpretations of Man, and God, and Law, the issue is not easily thumbnailed. Every thought I render butchers another one a few minutes later. For all the threading of the needle that the Supreme Court has managed through such definitive principles (protections on speech vs. what is not speech, universally obscene and utterly without redeeming social value vs. the community standards or the greatest good test, the unabridged rights of an adult vs.the protection of children), it has proven nothing but its own profound confusion and yet the fear of government reprisal remains as an omnipresent suffocating blanket on artists who have given up on the phoney Walt Disney approach to improving intellectual and political conditions eons ago. Cliches only soothe the uninspired. Every mythshattering inspiration is punished by the authorities of the hour. Wasn't Jesus the Nazarene a mythbreaker, poking fun at the puffed up morality of the religious establishment of his day? And look how he was paid for his efforts.

No, Jesus did not advocate unbridled degeneracy. Quite the contrary. But he held hypocrisy to tough standards. And he knew how to prick a stuffed shirt, and he did so with great strides and quiet enthusiasm. American novelist Norman Mailer is quoted by de Grazia:

Every gain of freedom carries its price. There's a wonderful moment when you go from oppression to freedom, there in the middle, when one's still oppressed but one's achieved the first freedoms. There's an extraordinary period that goes from there until the freedoms begin to outweigh the oppression. By the time you get over to complete freedom, you begin to look back almost nostalgically on the days of oppression, because in those days you were ready to become a martyr, you had a sense of importance, you could take yourself seriously, and you were fighting the good fight. Now, you get to the point where people don't even know what these freedoms are worth, are using them and abusing them. You've gotten older. You've gotten more conservative. You're not using your freedoms. And there's a comedy in that, in the long swing of the pendulum...

And a second excerpt I found fascinating, enigmatically similar while certainly not wholly congruent with my own beliefs on this topic came from none other than President Richard M. Nixon who had this to say after reading the controversial Lockhart National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, which he had commisioned:

The Commission contends that the proliferation of filthy books and plays has no lasting effect on a man's character. If that were true, it must be also true that great books, great paintings, and great plays have no ennobling effect on a man's conduct . . . The commission calls for the repeal of laws controlling smut for adults—while recommending continued restrictions on smut for children. In an open society this proposal is untenable. If the level of filth rises in the adult community, the young . . . cannot help but also be inundated. The warped and brutal portrayals of sex . . . could poison the wellsprings of American and Western culture and civilization...the pollution of our civilization with smut and filth is as serious a situation as the pollution of our once pure air and water . . . if an attitude of permissiveness were to be adopted regarding pornography, this would contribute to an atmosphere condoning anarchy in every other field.

Where does this inexplicable conundrum leave this discussion? As a law and order advocate how can I distinguish between what is allowable in a free society and what should be strictly and swiftly squashed or punished to the full extent a civil society has availed itself? I think for most civil libertarians, and I count myself intellectually among this group with a few notable reservations while refraining from membership or advocacy of any political party, public or private organization or sect, perhaps these distinctions are easier to make than for those who abide within religious and political cages vying for prestige and jobs, laboring for some ill-conceived hand-me-down god, or worse, such a restrictive a code of ethics hoisted in the name of freedom as to leave the modern psyche atrophied and floating off unattentive in a thoroughly pathetic and bewitched masquerade of what is known in this country as liberty and justice for all. We wish merely to embrace the unquestionable truth of reality and the unanswerable reality of truth. Freedom of expression is not about simple solutions. It is about the struggle to ask the most expressive questions.

Another angle of aproaching this nation's sticky and intricate questions of freedom and censorship might be useful. Let's consider recent moves to introduce into the American jurisprudence the concept of hate crimes. While the printed word on the heels of the William S. Burroughs/Naked Lunch decision has been effectively freed from judicial interference, a new spin by the liberal lobby with their eagerness to please legislators has cast another dark shadow upon the common sense and equal protection of the law wings of the American populations. In an opposition article published in a small press magazine called "Gauntlet" (no.6), Barbara Beebe, a self-professed "bald-headed, butch, leather jacket-bearing dyke" takes to task this recent wave of anti-crime legislation. Ms. Beebe is also black, and has been a victim of gay-bashing, and so is no stranger to the unfathomable wiles of law enforcement. Noting that everything from cross-burning to verbal bigotry uttered during the commission of a real crime can be and already has entered into various court histories, she nevertheless recognizes a faulty premise when she is confronted by one.

While several higher courts have struck down some of these laws in certain jurisdictions as ordinances "violating free speech because it sought to ban certain viewpoints", the perspective Beebe, a freelance writer with a B.S. in Criminal Justice, brings to this issue is both clarifying and in this author's humble opinion, quite on target. By dubbing this recent wave of hate crime legislation a typical, liberal cover-up, she suspects misplaced motives and simply poor judgement by those who seek to assuage their own consciences or real ability to change the social and economic fabric of the oppressed, but by attempting to placate the masses with more laws in an already over-litigated society, the waters of true freedom only become murkier. She writes:

"Proponents of hate crime legislation assume that one can actually attest and lay claim to hatred or bias by words expressed during the commission of a crime. The fact of the matter is, all crimes are motivated (whether expressed or not) by a form of bias, prejudice or hatred. Dr. Patricia J. Williams is correct when she states that the "attempt to split bias from violence has been society's most enduring and fatal rationalization." What else could motivate crime? What is greed, but the bias toward those who have what you want? There is the well-known modus operandi of robbing the old. They are perceived (as a group) as being physically weak and not well-sighted. If some young punk robs an old lady, in the process calling her an old decrpit hag, is he guilty of a hate crime?

Is something wrong with simply charging him with robbery and calling him the creep he is? Rapists generally rape women they perceive as weak...we're already aware of the possible lurid profanities expressed during a rape. Does what rapists say matter as much as what they've done? Hate crime legislation attempts to punish the motivations and not the crime. The St. Paul, Minnesota case in point: a white kid burns a cross in the yard of the only black people in the neighborhood. What is he charged with? Not trespassing, vandalism, or destruction of property. The poor fool is charged with a hate crime. Fortunately the Supreme Court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional. However, to now charge that same fool with vandalism or trespassing reeks of double jeopardy."

This St. Paul, MN example of the complete absence of social insight in the courts is further exposed to ridicule by the ruling that people who commit "hate crimes" motivated by bigotry may be sentenced to extra punishment without violating their free-speech rights, rendering a foul logic that you can say what you want, but not while committing a crime! Ms. Beebe:

"As ethnic minorities, women, and gay groups scramble to support such legislation, they assumed that they were above reproach due to their status as the oppressed. However, hate crime legislation is being applied to Afrro-Americans, artists, and the poor with a fervor that is frightening. Nineteen-year-old Todd Mitchell, who is black, received a double sentence for inciting the beating of a 14-year-old white youth. The ordinance he was convicted under permits longer prison terms for crimes motivated by racial or other bias. So, what has our fellow learned? The next time you beat whitey, just beat him—don't say a damn thing to him! This is not a viable solution to racial antagonisms."

Barbara Beebe sums up her analysis of these bogus laws by declaring her desire for a judicial system that does not pander to some "high-faluting, legal mumbo-jumbo that requires people to call me a nigger dyke while they kick my ass before I can get some justice." Too often the police merely look the other way when minorities or any disfavored class of crime victim has been assaulted or had a well-legislated crime perpetrated against them. This undoubtedly needs to stop, bringing sense to the laws we already have, and removing the clutter from our system which only confuses the issue, which always remains, liberty and justice for all. Can we use these arguments against hate crime legislation in the discussion against artistic censorship? I believe we can. Just as any man may be thinking to himself while standing on a crowded streetcorner, in an elevator, or strolling down a beach, that "Man what wouldn't I give to fuck the brains out of that good-looking woman over there?", he has committed nothing more than what is at worst a lamentable lust in his heart, and other than an unwelcomed, or depending on the very real physical and psychological features of both parties, the welcomed leer, nothing has transpired. His reaction to that beautiful woman may however work in such a fashion that he is prompted to meet and later marry this wonderful specimen of feminine grace. A verbal rendering of those same thoughts while to a greater degree opens both parties to any number of physical or psychological repercussions, one cannot expect to live in a vacuum created in our own likeness.

Invariably we encounter disagreeable notions perpetrated by the natures of things and the natures of people. The sheer variety of these notions precludes anything but a generalized mechanism for maintaining civic and personal freedoms and responsibilities. Mere legislation, particularly ill conceived legislation does not automatically create serendipity in a hostile environment preserved alone by magistrates and billy clubs without the consent of the governed. Into today's rapidly changing cultural environment, fragmented and aggregate powerful new subcultures are emerging, and it is inevitable that clashes of faith where new sensibilities show themselves laden with conflict should inflict themselves upon the whole.

But aside from the recent pendulum swing of the hate crime movement, and one glaring exception which I shall discuss later, the First Amendment ultilities of free artistic, political, and personal freedom of expression, go unchallenged and its debate has almost been completely removed from the whittling and hairsplitting of censorship judges and lawyers. Almost, as witnessed by the piercing of the envelope on cable television and the recent spate of ideology skirmishes concerning risk-free transmission of information over the Internet, but not so fast!

The Conservatives refuse to rollover and accept the erosion and ultimate loss of what they consider their eminent domain, that is to say, the constitutional power of the government to take private property for government use. In this case I refer to things of the mind. National defense is a ruthless job. Somebody's got to do it. The conservatives are not only willing, but demand to step up to the plate in this matter. As any schoolchild will tell you, war is hell. Bad things happen in war. Even the good guys do bad things. And yet very little is made by these conservatives concerning atrosities, real or imagined, great or small, by these same exact well-positioned conservatives right down to their name, rank, and serial number, of mind, body, and spirit perpetrated in the unimpeachable war for capitalism, or the frigging' holy war in the name of strategic land, mining rights, and oil reserves. Only when that free man, that soldier and those he has fought to protect is living on home soil enjoying his so-called freedoms of mind, body, and spirit, do the conservatives step in to control the vulgar tongues and impulses, purported unnatural and lascivious inner urges, rapacious and murderous options a soldier is trained, daypassed, and for survival ordered to swiftly accomplish, all with highest skill and toughest discipline on the planet marking him for distinction and honor. Is there any wonder we are a confused and nearly hapless society when it comes to knowing ourselves and our special birthrights as free citizens of a free nation?

The fact that the Conservatives act in one direction calls the liberals to the front lines to act in an opposite and equal reaction. The First Amendment suffers when one side seeks nothing but to uphold a basketful of Pollyanna fairy tale criteria as the watermark of what art is supposed to be, and the other side thrives merely by mocking all restraint and traditional standards armed only with flimsy transparent concoctions nearly always presented as art theory while stroking themselves as great liberators of the soul. Am I advocating a watered-down compromise of artistic integrity? No I am not. Integrity must exist before it can be compromised. Two paramount questions come to mind which I must answer with a full dose of integrity in order to resolve this issue within the framework of my own artistic yearnings. By what criteria do I suggest art be judged, and how would I define obscenity as the measure by which a work of art should be rejected?

Thursday, May 15, 2008


©1985Joe Szabo

Racial sensitivity leads to censorship in Philadelphia (1985) after a black mayor accidental firebombs radical headquarters in a Philadelphia residential block.

ON MAY 13, 1985, PHILADELPHIA was in flames. Police attempted to serve arrest warrants to a group of MOVE members who were a nuisance to their neighborhood. The group built a small fort out of their headquarters, boarded up the windows, used megaphones to push their agenda, broadcasted obscenities, and members armed themselves. Police, running into resistence, dropped a satchel bomb to puncture a hole on the house intending to make way for tear gas. The house caught fire. With some delay, firefighters approached the MOVE headquarters trying to put out the flames, but were shot at by members of the controversial group. At one point, a decision was made to allow the building to burn to force out the occupants. The tactic did not work however, and eleven MOVE members, including five children, died in the inferno. The flames quickly spread out of control destroying 60 other homes as well.

That night was the first day that Joe Szabo started drawing editorial cartoons for the Philadelphia Daily News. In the next several days, he drew four cartoons involving the tragedy. Two of them were censored. In one of those, a man standing in the middle of smoldering rubble is uttering to himself:

"It was a damn Goode idea..."

Mayor Wilson Goode was ultimately in charge of the ill-fated operation, and the bombing was widely attributed to his leadership, or the lack of it. The cartoon was said to be in bad taste and was rejected. The other one (above) dealt with the issue of firefighters trying to put out the blaze, but being shot at by the radicals.

The Philadelphia Daily News, in its infinite wisdom, declined publication of the cartoon, reasoning that the MOVE member (on the right) "clearly shows African-American features," and that "it would incite the city's black population." All members of MOVE were black.

Moral of the story: What was the moral? Was it the pernicious silliness of misplaced empathy? The bloated perils of false vulnerability? The entire question of censorship strikes against the desperate urgency that someone or an entire priviledged class of harbored "feelings" or "intellect" must be protected from the honest opinion of another. These people need to learn how to cope, not be coddled as emotional cripples. Except in the special case of children, cerebral men and women should be—both free to express themselves with whatever tools are available to them intellectually as well as interpret for themselves the expressions of others—without this need of special protection. This is the laissez-faire marketplace of ideas we hear so much about, but rarely observe in practice, even as we continue to wallow in the bloody clues of free speech and expressive liberty of ideas.

The stilted practice of politically correctness is a totalitarian practice of social domination that is showing cracks in its armor, particularly in the political sphere. In the case of strident art, I suggest we should all prefer the anarchy of a free language rich in inert symbols that are meaningless until the poetic energies of social collusion create meaning—first among individuals, and engineered to oscillate outward into the clusters of what is nothing more than the miracle of spontaneous and makeshift literacy (Wittgenstein).

Political language is the language of control. Artistic language is the language of transcendence.

We are not talking about the legislating of morality in this essay. We are also not talking about exotic dance moves as titillating exercises in free speech. We are specifically talking about intrinsic human speech and the communicative arts of human articulation using man-made symbols of language and abstract or representative depiction. Do executive bodies have an innate right to forbid certain depictions by free speakers deemed undesirable especially when the ban is not exercised universally for whatever cause (affirmative action, political correctness, hate speech) existing within or beyond the powers of control these executive bodies hold?

This essay is in progress...

Monday, May 12, 2008


Mohammed Jafaar, Demonstration, acrylic on canvas, 30" X 24", 2006

One wonders if the website I found this morning in a search for Iraqi work has incriminated these artists who have posted there. The colorful work of these painters is certainly exquisite, if mildly derivative of past Western art movements, but then, the same can be said for most of the contemporary painting populating Western galleries. We however, must not neglect to record our disgust with these code-bound jihadists of every stripe who have crawled out of the rubble of American intervention to murder and oppress their own people, but this is what we are fighting, people, if not over there, then soon in a neighborhood near you. The only strategy left to even the most rigid of peacemakers is the strategy of total victory.

Because this is the jihadist strategy also.

IRAQI SINGERS, ACTORS, AND ARTISTS are fleeing the country after dozens have been killed by Islamic radicals determined to eradicate all culture associated with the West. Cinemas, art galleries, theatres, and concert halls are being destroyed in grenade and mortar attacks in Basra and Baghdad.

According to the Iraqi Artists' Association, at least 115 singers and 65 actors have been killed since the US-led invasion, as well as 60 painters. But the terror campaign has escalated in recent months as both Shia and Sunni extremists grow ever bolder in enforcing religious restrictions on the citizens of Iraq...

In November Seif Yehia, 23, was beheaded for singing western songs at weddings, and painter Ibraheem Sadoon was shot dead as he drove through Baghdad. In February Sunni fighters killed Waleed Dahi, 27, a young actor, while he rehearsed for a play due to open at the Jordanian National Theatre this month.

Those remaining are in hiding as they make preparations to get themselves and their families to safety.

Haydar Labbeb, 35, a painter in Baghdad, said he had received five death threats and an attempt was made on his life as he drove his family home from a wedding. He is now trying to get to Amman in Jordan, where he hopes to continue painting.

'My art is seen by extremists as too modern and offensive to Islamic beliefs,' he said. 'For them, every painting has to be based on Islamic culture. But I am a modern artist.

Culture was encouraged during Saddam Hussein's regime, but no longer. Abu Nur, an Islamic Army spokesman, said: 'Acting, theatre and television encourage bad behaviour and irreligious attitudes. They promote customs that affect the morality of our traditional society.'

Read it all.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Artomatic 2008: May 9 - June 15, 2008.

We speak with the language of war. We laugh with the language of peace. Knowing that all life is born of crisis, punctuated by brief periods of solace, we also know that after all is said and done, we shall never cheat infinity, nor shall we extinguish the mark of a single thought.
—Gabriel Thy

I MUST ADMIT THAT I WAS LESS than enthusiastic about this year's spectacle of art. In addition to suffering from a bum knee for about a month now, I was disappointed that I didn't even receive a single phone call expressing interest after last year's event at the old Patent Office in Crystal City, and just wanted to stay in the studio and practice the art for which I stand, while the rest of my fellow artists brave the elements of mass hypnosis without me. But this year's event is just five walking blocks from my studio. The logistics of cross-pollination proved inevitable. Even though my knee was ailing, and I await probable surgery, I signed up, paid my entry fee, and plotted for the best of times.

Even though my horizontal allotment last year was more spacious and allowed for a more sophisticated prep job and display, I had already decided to scale down, keeping it simple, and present some of the older work, maintaining the theme portrayed above. I purchased a string of multi-directional lights that were made available by an on-site contractor, but they required a certain level of proficient assembly I avoided by opting for a three-bulb standing lamp I pulled from the studio. Like last year, the scheduling proximity to the 52 O Street Open Studios did nothing to ease an already tense situation.

But I'm hung, and prepared to greet the silence of competition and the noise of public curiosity. My work at this year's Artomatic...

1. Killer Corpse - $375
20”x16”, acrylic on canvas (2005)

2. Risk Management - $350
20”x16”, acrylic on canvas (2005)

3. Future Shock - $1050
36”x36” diptych, acrylic on canvas (2006)

4. Moirae (Klotho, Lakhesis, Antropos) - $350
20”x16”, acrylic on canvas (2006)

5. Manowar Destiny - $350
20”x16”, acrylic on canvas (2007)

According to event historians, Artomatic 2008 will be the largest Artomatic to date with over 1000 visual (2D & 3D), video, musical, and theatrical artists represented. Hosted by the NoMa (north of Massachusetts Avenue) Business Improvement District (BID), Artomatic 2008 will be held on nine floors (more than 200,000 square feet) of the Capitol Plaza I building. The building is located at 1200 First Street, N.E., just one block west of the New York Avenue Metro station, in Washington, DC.

Artomatic opens Friday, May 9, 12PM
Wednesdays and Thursdays: 5PM—10PM
Fridays and Saturdays: NOON—2AM
Sundays: NOON—10PM
Mondays and Tuesdays: Closed

Artomatic closes on Sunday, June 15.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


ONE OF THE MORE interesting mental relics I took away from the recent Open Studios event was a conversation I had with a young fashion designer, probably in her late twenties. She and her male friend were my last visitors of the weekend, two marvelously upbeat African Americans. Almost immediately, we made our way to a painting that only hours later in the post-event gathering down in my studio would capture the attention of a fellow painter, who despite the controversial nature of the painting, was vigorously drawn to the "power and beauty" of it. Of course, as a friend and fellow artist working in the same building for nearly two years now, he might "see" the painting with different eyes.

The painting, perhaps unfinished, depicts an abruptly vivacious nude, a cosmetically-alluring young woman arguably of African origin. Although she is underpainted and defined by highlights of white paint, her face and lips offer little doubt as to her ethnicity. Her right leg is wrapped in several strips of white bandage. From one hand, a clear cup of blue-greenish liquid is being flung. And one breast, at once full and riveting, is painted out in what amounts to an imperfect cadmium yellow triangle, signifying yet another departure from a typically romantic depicture of what is obvious to anyone, a beautiful woman.

Behind this strikingly enigmatic figure is a wide sash of white with no particular objective reference to explain its presence, curving to some undetermined vanishing point behind her back. One might easily imagine this object, this sash of white—perhaps six to eight inches in extrapolated width—as a bolt of cloth extending across the canvas from side to side, whose only purpose would be to cover the woman’s nakedness at some future point in time. However, there is another reason to suggest that this “cloth” has instead, been torn from the woman, as there is a rather wide tear in the fabric.

In the distance beyond the woman and sash is an industrial smokestack with its gaseous plume spilling off into the background. Tossed around this smokestack is a noose, oversized and more in scale to perhaps match the woman’s upper appendage. It is the presence of the noose which in this racially charged environment is doomed to create scandal. There are only two other details in the painting as it currently exists. Etched into the light reddish-brown background in large black hand-painted letters are four words: SLINGS HOT DIXIE CUP, a menacing threat no matter how one slices it, as if to set all the objects of the painting in motion.

As a painter from the Old South of a certain era, stop! Actually that phrase is loaded with meaning that simply does not apply, and rather than use this space to eat away at those preconceptions, let’s revisit my earlier intentions. Let’s return to the young African American woman who visited me in my studio and upon seeing the painting I just described, asked me what the painting meant to me. My response was immediate, and not nearly as evasive as one might accuse, as I returned the volley back to her, “Well, what does it say to you?”

Allow the truth to settle in first. The truth is that situationally when someone coldly demands a “dancing bear” act of storytelling and interpretation on the spot without ever having said a word, positive or negative about a work, I nearly always clutch up, and have nothing to say. If I intuit a feeling that someone likes the work, is truly puzzled by a work after giving it some thought, or absolutely hates a work, and shares something of themselves from ANY of these three perspectives, perhaps in the utterance of merely a single word, I am free from my bondage of initial timidity and mistrust, and can suddenly speak a blue streak.

Sometimes the breakthrough will require a bit more from a particularly baiting individual to open up the floodgates of my daring generosity, for I refuse to be drawn into perfunctory traps, because demands like—tell me about this one—accomplish nothing but resentment in me towards the entire process of dealing with an insensitive or undereducated public, and of course, nothing but dismay and boredom in the individual passersby who's just weathered a half-baked yet wholly conflicted response from the artist himself.

It is my opinion that my work is often complicated, and even conflicted within itself, but it is narrative. As I have put it, I try to layer in as much ambiguity as I can manage. I am not a preacher, nor am I a player in the world of party politics, but my work is nevertheless the result of a lifelong struggle with religious and political concepts. Let’s put it this way—I’m not shallow enough to think I represent all the answers, but I’m inclined to think I’m deep enough to represent interesting questions.

But on this particular Sunday afternoon, this young fashion designer wasn’t about to leave me disgruntled, even though she tried one more time by uttering the same words any artist reluctant to wax beyond the nature of his own chosen art has heard too many times before, “Well, the reason I ask is that a lot of painters usually can tell a story about what they were thinking...”

I interrupted her there. The blue streak had begun, this time in ducking the obvious.

I mentioned industrial lynching, and talked about Wheeling, WV, and the industrial rot there, about my punk rock roots, of never having painted until three years ago, but I had indeed drawn a few conclusions on the wall with magic markers back in the day, about the struggle between the national and the international that had plagued me since I was a young kid down in the south. About the fact, I still believed in America.

She then surprised me with a few remarks. One might surmize that her remarks were aptly colored by the recent ascendency of Barack Obama’s race for the White House only now being tarnished by his beleagured association with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but my instincts tell me she had long carried these feelings inside her. She agreed with me that America is usually much too hard on herself. And that all these ethnic issues Americans sweat and toil to harvest or reject are minor compared to those in other parts of the globe and in world history. Her catchy reality-grounded metaphor of Americans having the same mother by different fathers and the social problems inherent to that situation, was a sparkler in the hands of this boyish painter who wants nothing more than to help bring forth from his generation a new way of looking.

The fashion designer and her friend then left, but only after I was thanked for returning to the visual arts.

I was humbled by youth, and glorified by honesty masquerading as itself. Makes me wonder if there’s enough hope to go around if I keep all I’ve got. And I wonder about the painting. It seems finished, but is it? The real question here is the problem of one group or another claiming ownership of divisive cultural symbols. What I did not give to this vibrant young woman were those thoughts on my mind when I was painting this image—when the noose was finally thrown into the mix, almost the final object to make its way into the scene thus far. Only one item has been added since.

I apologize for my cowardice. Inward cowardice explains the yellow swatch covering the right breast of the woman in the painting. A false stab at false modesty. The artist's own cowardice at the subject matter, the conflict created of not wanting to offend, and yet being compelled to tell the truth as he sees it. The yellow sheep. Chinese and Western zodiac hints. The yellow flag of cowardice is everywhere the artist turns.

He believes that the American race problem is self-perpetuating, and is being driven by false flags. Injustice is one matter, superficially inflated hurt feelings another. The insult industry knows no bounds, and eventually will consume us all. Better that we each look ourselves in the eye, and simply decide to get over it. The old "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" adage is most apropos in the age of creeping censorship of words and images that are historical in nature and common in the contemporary fields of our senses.

A few facts address the dilemma facing the artist. More horse thieves and bank robbers in the American West were hung by their necks to die than the estimated 400 or so blacks who died at the hands of white men in robes at the end of a rope, and yet the noose has become a condemned symbol. In Iran, homosexuals and adulteresses are still hung today, when they are not being stoned to death. Accused spies and traitors were often hung. Several of those involved in the plot and the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination were hung.

In 1776, American patriot, Nathan Hale was hung as a spy by the British. Hale is often attributed with the last words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

Guilt or innocence simply does not enter into play here. Is the aphorism of "give a man enough rope and he will hang himself" contaminated forever, or at least never to be used in "mixed company" when trying to make the point of which that old saying was meant to convey? Find a better way of stating the same? What silliness!

Solution to this problem? Keep it simple, stupid.

You do not own the noose that hung the horse thief.

And so forth. Yes, this can be scandalous if not treacherous ground to travel, but this is the intelligent thrust of my most idiomatic work. Pushing the envelope of mental restrictions back to more sensible forms I will sometimes use symbols which both confront a problem by its very existence, while also using that symbol to make another point entirely because the use of that symbol is most suited within the framework of my own peculiar visual vocabulary of war and strife, peace and policy thrown into a syntax where nomenclature is multi-dimensional and of no single meaning, so as not to give fuel to those who seek to stir men's souls with pomposity and hatred rather than transcendence and humility.

It is not my intent to be vulgar in my bellicose use of raw nerve images, but rather, my intent is merely to be as precise as a mature work requires. Experiencing the difference between arrogant humility and humble arrogance is key to understanding the narrative of my work. If given the chance to explore, I dare hope I may actually uncover something fresh and revitalizing, something from which we may all find healing through the shared experience of expanding rather than contracting the universe in which we live.

We speak with the language of war. We laugh
with the language of peace. Knowing that all life
is born of crisis, punctuated by brief periods
of solace, we also know that after all is said
and done, we shall never cheat infinity, nor
shall we extinguish the mark
of a single thought.

We are spaceless stars
doing distance, mocking intrigue.

Or perhaps, I have just hung myself.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


ONE DOES NOT HAVE TO LIKE or even appreciate this type of art to embrace the seriousness of the question before us today.

If Sooreh Hera had exhibited a series of photographs of homosexual men wearing masks of Jesus and the Apostle John, we could be almost certain that no one would be issuing death threats, nor would John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, be pontificating about limits to free speech, but the media would instead be scowling with editorials about the dangers of censorship and the growing power of the Christian Right.

John Voll asks: "Can you imagine what would happen if John McCain used the n-word about Obama while campaigning? There are consequences. Free speech is not absolute."

What would happen, Dr. Voll? Oh, that;s easy. We’ve been here before. Would McCain be executed? No. Murdered? Probably not. Threatened with death? Again, probably not. Jailed? No. Vilified in the national press? Certainly. Would he lose the election? Almost certainly.

And that's the key difference. Sooreh Hera is being threatened with death, and the Dutch museum is kowtowing in the face of those threats, bowing to violent intimidation. If they declined to host her work because they found it tasteless and offensive, they would have a case. They have no obligation to host it. But Sooreh Hera should be free to exhibit it wherever she can find a place willing to do so, without having to hide behind a pseudonym and live in constant fear of being murdered. If McCain says something stupid that derails his campaign, Dr. Voll, that's his loss, but it is not illegal to say that word, and should not be, and he should not have to live in fear of being killed if he were to say it.

I say in the article: "The ultimate goal of people making threats is to make it illegal or too dangerous or both for anybody to say anything considered to be insulting to Muhammad or Allah." That is why everyone who does not wish to live under Sharia law should stand against violent intimidation from jihadists, wherever and whenever it manifests itself.

For the third time in four months, the controversial work of an Iranian artist has been suddenly yanked from a Dutch museum exhibition. The artist, who goes by the alias Sooreh Hera and who lives in exile in the Netherlands, said she received death threats after attempting to show her series of photographs entitled "Adam & Ewald, Seventh-Day Lovers." Some of the photographs include depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali in poses that would likely upset any believer in any religion. The most controversial images feature gay men posed in various stages of undress. In one, a man wears leather chaps with his buttocks exposed, wearing a mask of Ali, the son-in law of the prophet Muhammad. In other photo two men are shirtless wearing masks of both Ali (on the left) and Muhammad (on the right).

Museum directors initially planned to display the work of the 35-year-old artist. But now, citing fear of reprisals and political pressure, they've changed their mind, much to her dismay. Hera says she is fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of expression in a nation that once was known for its tolerance and peace, but now is a hotbed of religious and social tension.

"Freedom of expression has become an illusion in Europe," she told in a phone interview from a home where she is currently in hiding. "We think we have freedom of expression, but in fact we live under a sort of hidden censorship."

But John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said Hera's works cross the line and are offensive. He said freedom of speech does not mean that one has the freedom to be as insulting as possible. "It isn't as if we have absolute freedom in the United States to be offensive and insulting just to be different," Voll said in an interview. "Can you imagine what would happen if John McCain used the n-word about Obama while campaigning? There are consequences. Free speech is not absolute," he said.

Hera said a fatwa, or religious pronouncement, of death has been issued for her as a result of her exhibit. "The fatwa was printed in the Iranian newspapers; they said they would kill me," she told, and saying she can't go out now in public. She's declined television interviews to answer her critics, and won't even attend her own art exhibition.

"I will not be attending [Art Amsterdam] due to safety reasons," she said. "It's like being forbidden to go to your own wedding." She said her work is a direct response to the threats made by radical Islamists against her and against the Dutch government, adding "I did this to answer the Iranian government. I made some new work. In one of these photos the deceased spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, is in leather trousers, half naked."

She says the point of this is to expose the hypocrisy in Islam about homosexuality and to get everyone talking about the freedom of expression and speech in the Western world, "I'm hoping my work will arouse discussion. The thing that endangers the Netherlands is succumbing to fear and keeping silent about threats and not being alert in regard to freedom of expression. The Netherlands is very much a flashpoint right now. It looks as if there needs to be critical choices made about whether we're going to defend our civilization or not.”

Author Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch says this sort of pressure by Muslim groups "who don't hesitate to traffic in violent intimidation" will continue to undercut freedom of speech until it no longer exists. "The ultimate goal of people making threats is to make it illegal or too dangerous or both for anybody to say anything considered to be insulting to Muhammad or Allah, to impose the Islamic code, which is the goal of Osama bin Laden, upon the West," he said. "It's time to take a stand and say we believe in freedom of speech and that means some people will be offended."