Monday, March 31, 2008

My Alyson Michalka / Giant Clown Hammer Fantasy

This is a little convoluted, but it’s a glimpse into my gray matter and that’s nothing but convolutions.


This is one of my favorite fantasies—I’ve got dozens of these things. I’m thinking of retiring this fantasy, however, because it has a little pathos in it, at the end, and I don’t really like pathos at all.


This fantasy starts with me booked to appear on the David Letterman Show to promote some best-selling book I’ve written. Also on the show that night is the actress/singer Alyson Michalka who is booked to promote some new movie she has coming out. On the morning of the show, during show prep when Alyson and I are sitting around backstage in the green room, word gets around that the show’s musical guest for that day has cancelled at the last minute. As the producers scramble to get a replacement, Alyson and I put our heads together. She’s a great singer, I point out, and I’ve been playing guitar for years as a hobby. If they can’t get a replacement musical guest, maybe the two of us can save the day by doing a musical number . . .

So we talk to the producer and he thinks it’s a fun idea and Alyson and I quickly rehearse something cool, like, for instance, a duet version of “Whipping Post” which I just happen to know.

So we rehearse, say, “Whipping Post” and some other songs and everything goes really well and Paul Shaffer even asks us to sit in with the band for the whole show and play through the commercial breaks.

During one commercial break, Alyson and I do a little schtick, where I start to play and sing a sappy, old, folk song/love song kind of thing and, as I get started and the audience realizes what a sappy song I’m performing, Alyson picks up a giant clown hammer and gestures behind me. As the audience applauds and cheers, Alyson brings down the giant clown hammer and bonks me on the head. I immediately launch into a better song, a cool song, maybe something like Mott The Hoople’s cover of “Ready for Love” as a duet with Alyson.

The cool songs go well and the audience enjoys themselves and everybody comes away from the show happy. That’s pretty much how the fantasy ends. Everybody’s happy. Cool fantasy.


Now, there are a lot of sappy songs that fit such an occasion, that call for a bonk on the head with a giant clown hammer, but for personal reasons I usually imagine myself starting to play and sing Bread’s “Diary.” The trouble is, having a fantasy like this means I’ve been thinking about these darn lyrics every time I run through the fantasy. I like the fantasy, but the actual lyrics to “Diary” are pretty much pathos-driven. Most people just know the chorus (“Wouldn’t you know it/She wouldn’t show it”) and maybe the first verse, but actually the final verse reveals what’s really going on and it’s not so much a love song as a loss song. I’m retiring this fantasy. Here are the complete lyrics:

I found her diary underneath a tree
And started reading about me
The words she’d written took me by surprise
You’d never read them in her eyes

They said that she’d found the love she waited for

Wouldn’t you know it
She wouldn’t show it

When she was confronted with the writing there
She just pretended not to care
I passed it off as just in keeping with
Her total disconcerting air

And though she tried to hide the love that she denied

Wouldn’t you know it
She wouldn’t show it

And as I go through my life
I will give to her my wife
All the sweet things that I can find

I found her diary underneath a tree
And started reading about me
The words began to stick and tears to flow
Her meaning now was clear to see

The love she’d waited for was someone else not me

Wouldn’t you know it
She wouldn’t show it

And as I go through my life
I will wish for her his wife
All the sweet things that she can find
All the sweet things they can find

Wouldn’t you know it
She wouldn’t show it

Wouldn’t you know it
She wouldn’t show it

Wouldn’t you know it
She wouldn’t show it

P.S. It occurs to me that some people might be wondering why a forty-seven year old guy like me even knows who Alyson Michalka is. It also occurs to me that some people might suspect they know why a forty-seven year old guy like me knows who Alyson Michalka is. The actual, real reason has a little politics in it, a little philosophy in it and a little Hilary Duff in it. I’ll talk in Wednesday’s post about why I started watching some shows on the Disney Channel.

Friday, March 28, 2008


It’s always disconcerting, venturing
after the creature from the Black Lagoon
and encountering Frankenstein’s monster
or going out looking for UFOs
and seeing a rainbow that collapses
down around you like colorful rubble
but rubble that grows hands and reaches up
colorful fingers that somehow you know
would grab you and strangle you if they could.

Monsters. And that’s what makes monster hunting
so interesting, addictive, hypnotic—
you never know what you will discover.

And if you can just keep yourself alive
through the boredom between expeditions
and if the terror of imagining
what the monsters might do if they caught you
finally doesn’t become too much for you
that’s what makes monster hunting so much fun—
down deep you know the next expedition
might take you to what you are searching for.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is my 500th post.

Pretty cool, huh? I can cook, too!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Today, Tomorrow And Yesterday

Tomorrow’s post is going to be something special for the occasion.

Tomorrow’s post will be short. I wrote it yesterday morning. It will be short, but it summarizes my feelings about life in general and this blog in particular. And it’s about monsters, so it’s not wildly off-topic for a change!


Before I get to tomorrow, however, I want to revisit two very recent posts.


Just a few days ago, back on Monday, I wrote:

Although I try pretty darn hard to have as few
of the seven characteristics of a supervillain as possible,
just like Lex, the supervillain on Smallville,
I still manage, damn it, to push away
everybody who tries to be my friend

I wish this were not true.

In fact, in my whole life, of all the subjunctives I’ve banged my stupid head against, this one is the hardest, this one hurts the most.

I won’t forget. Nope. Won’t even try to forget.

I won’t forget for two good reasons:

First, lucky people get a second chance, and when they screw up that second chance, really lucky people get a third, fourth or even fifth chance to try and get things right. If I’m one of those really lucky people, if I get a completely undeserved third, fourth or even fifth chance to get things right, I want to remember all the stupid things I’ve done and I want to remember all the wonderful, cool things my mistakes cost me.

Second, even if the people in my present life sail off beyond the horizon, out of sight forever, I will meet new people in the future. Any stupidity I can spare them by remembering what I did in the past can only help.

So, no, I’m not going to forget. I’m not going to try to forget.


Last week Friday I posted:

The title of this painting by Karen Kilimnik is “Chloe (from Blood on Satan’s Claw).” It is an oil on canvas work from 1996 that was shown in an exhibit called “Facing Reality: The Seavest Collection of Contemporary Realism Exhibition” at the Neuberger Museum of Art.

This is an oil painting of an unknown actress playing a bit part in an obscure film. (The film “Blood on Satan’s Claw,” 1971, doesn’t list a ‘Chloe’ in the credits.) Does the process of Kilimnik singling out this image and calling our attention to it in an oil painting make a statement about something? Old movies? Unknown actresses?

Is there a point to this?

Yesterday afternoon I was reading Andy Warhol’s autobiography. A passage made me think about how Kilimnik made use of that fleeting, lost moment from a fleeting, lost film.

Warhol wrote:

I always like to work on leftovers, doing the leftover things. Things that were discarded, that everybody knew were no good, I always thought had a great potential to be funny. It was like recycling work. I always thought there was a lot of humor in leftovers. When I see an old Esther Williams movie and a hundred girls are jumping off their swings, I think of what the auditions must have been like and about all the takes where maybe one girl didn’t have the nerve to jump when she was supposed to, and I think about her left over on the swing. So that take of the scene was a leftover on the editing-room floor—an out-take—and the girl was probably a leftover at that point—she was probably fired—so the whole scene is much funnier than the real scene where everything went right, and the girl who didn’t jump is the star of the out-take.

I’m not saying that popular taste is bad so that what’s left over from the bad taste is good: I’m saying that what’s left over is probably bad, but if you can take it and make it good or at least interesting, then you’re not wasting as much as you would otherwise. You’re recycling work and you’re recycling people, and you’re running your business as a by-product of other businesses. Of other directly competitive businesses, as a matter of fact. So that’s a very economical operating procedure. It’s also the funniest operating procedure because, as I said, leftovers are inherently funny.

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is post #499.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jeffery Camp On Gwen John

Gwen John is one of my favorite artists.

She has the three characteristics I admire most in any artist or entertainer:

  1. She developed a technique that said a very great deal with what appeared to be very little effort.

  2. She sharpened her sensitivity and awareness so that she knew (or could take good guesses at) what was the simplest thing that needed to be said, the simplest thing she needed to ask her technique to accomplish.

  3. She had the strength-of-character to keep her self restrained, to trust her sensitivity and technique and the audience to carry the day, to accomplish art, to allow art to happen.

Jeffery Camp is an accomplished, contemporary British artist who knows Gwen John’s world well. This is Camp writing about John:

Augustus John learned a kind of sweeping line drawing from Tonks. It was swishy and not very useful. It was less slick than Tonks, but compared with Sickert’s workmanlike drawings, or the gentle poetry of his sister, Gwen, it was too polished to be good for anything, except its august boast. But Augustus was fond of his sister, and by his example showed exactly what she did not need. She went and found a greater ego in Rodin (an even faster draughtsman, and a great sculptor). She met Picasso, whose enormous ego had a brilliant pencil to go with it. Plainly, surrounded by so much macho puff and virtuosity, she was left only a little space for spiritual retreat: a tiny room, a chair, a softly filtering light falling on a table and a book, a stillness punctuated only by the silent paw-falls of her cats. Her technique for painting was frugal and sufficient and no different from the one she learned at the Slade. Flax canvas tacked to a stretcher was sized with warm rabbit skin glue, then coated with a half-chalk ground, left rather absorbent. She used only a few primary colors—the main one bright, the others less bright. They were mixed with half-and-half turpentine and oil with more oil added as the painting proceeded. She had been taught to paint tonally, sight-size. But what they could not teach was Gwen’s feather-light touch, the delicate crumbles, the pale colors, or the power of her spirit. (Have you ever tried to break a feather with a straight pull?) Gwen posed for Auguste Rodin. It is difficult to imagine him posing in Gwen’s cane chair!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is post #498.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Two Favorite Monster Snake Movies

First, a note to blogger “Gideon:” Thank you for your comments. However, if you want me and others to be able to visit your blog, you must change the setting in your profile that keeps your profile private. You must set your profile to ‘sharable’ so that people can click on your name in the comment box and visit your blog.


My two favorite monster snake movies are “Python” and “Python 2.” They’re both very low budget, but really good fun.

I think what I like most about “Python” is that almost all of the monster snake scenes take place outdoors and in bright daylight. Most monster films arrange to have monster scenes take place at night. Directors and producers will say the darkness heightens the dramatic effect, but they really do it because night scenes let them cut corners on special effects. Darkness and shadows make cheap special effects look a little better.

Python” simply throws caution to the wind. The special effects aren’t all world-class, but just seeing almost everything in bright daylight makes for something like the kind of excitement and fun of the old Ray Harryhausen movies when he did almost all his effects in ‘normal’ lighting situations.

Python 2” is in many ways the opposite of “Python.” Where “Python” took place mostly outdoors in sunlight, almost all of “Python 2” takes place in a generic ‘underground military base.’ Most of the action is people running through corridors, running from shadow to shadow.

However “Python 2” has a beautiful Australian actress named Simmone Jade Mackinnon as the heroine. She’s very pretty and she plays the whole movie with a strange Russian accent that somehow manages to be both almost believable and almost cartoon-like at the same time. Watching—and listening to!—Mackinnon struggle with her boyfriend, CIA agents, a Russian soldier, two monster snakes and her odd Russian dialect makes for a very pleasant movie experience.

Neither of these films is, you know, cinema, but they’re both lots of fun and because they’re a few years old most rental places only charge a dollar or two to check out the DVDs.


Oh, by the way, this week Friday will be my 500th post. Today is post #497.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Me As A Supervillain Without A Supervillain Fortune

  1. The supervillain has a selfish, antisocial mission. The supervillain seeks something—typically wealth or power, but often fame or infamy in addition—that will serve his interests and not those of others or the larger culture.

  2. Supervillains are superior to the ordinary authorities. They have cunning, genius, resources, powers or extraordinary abilities that render the ordinary agents of the social order helpless to stop them, or at least put the authorities at a distinct disadvantage.

  3. The supervillain’s dream reaches far beyond the acquisitive scheme of the ordinary crook. The supervillain is an artist whose medium is crime.

  4. The supervillain’s mania is what raises him above the common person and above the common criminal. It is this mania that permits the supervillain to view the epic criminal acts as art or as analogous to great accomplishments in other fields and also to accomplish (or nearly accomplish, as he is almost always stopped by the hero) his great scheme.

  5. The supervillain’s selfishness is absolute, solipsistic. He sees himself as the center of existence.

  6. This self-aggrandizement arises from a sense of victimhood, from a wound that the supervillain never recovers from.

  7. The supervillain’s wound prompts him to monologue, to sit the hero down—whether to dinner or in a death trap—and tell his story.

Seven Characteristics Of A Supervillain

Lately my self-image has been very . . . crumpled.

Lately I’ve seen myself as a kind of penniless, irrelevant version of Lex Luthor, the supervillain on the TV show Smallville.

Lately, in fact, I’ve seen myself as Lex as he appeared at the end of the episode where he winds up in a straightjacket, banging his head against the padded wall of a cell in the Belle Reve mental hospital. (Season three, episode 8, “Shattered.”)

At first, my thinking was something like this:

        Although I try pretty darn hard to have as few
        of the seven characteristics of a supervillain as possible,
        just like Lex, the supervillain on Smallville,
        I still manage, damn it, to push away
        everybody who tries to be my friend

Then I did some soul-searching. To be honest, I told myself, I’d probably have to admit that all seven of those characteristics apply to me (in one way or another). So then my thinking changed a little, to this:

        Although I try pretty darn hard to manifest
        as few of the seven characteristics
        of a supervillain as possible,
        just like Lex, the supervillain on Smallville,
        I still manage, damn it, to push away
        everybody who tries to be my friend

Then I did more soul-seaching (and a lot of sighing). Now, my thinking is something like this:

        Oh, what the heck. I am what I am.
        Those seven characteristics do
        pretty much describe my deepest secret soul.
        I’m going to push away
        everybody who tries to be my friend. Instead
        of fighting my inner nature, I should re-dedicate myself
        to acquiring a suitable supervillain-type fortune
        (through some suitably clever,
        supervillain-type scheme) and just embrace
        my true, inner self. Then I can get a lair
        where I’ll have a little privacy.
        I can get a beautiful sidekick
        who will roll her eyes
        when I launch into a monologue
        about my latest silly-ass scheme.
        And then I can just have some fun
        with the whole supervillain thing . . .

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Abandonment Of Meaning

The title of this painting by contemporary artists McDermott & McGough is “My Happiness Is Misery, 1966.” It is an oil on canvas work from a 2008 exhibition at the Cheim & Read gallery. (The ‘1966’ is part of the title. More on that later.)

This is one oil painting, divided into two images. The top image is actress Tippi Hedren in a scene from the 1963 film, “The Birds.” The bottom image is actress Patricia Neal in a scene from the 1949 film, “The Fountainhead.” Many of the paintings in the exhibit are ‘split-screen’ type images. All the paintings, though contemporary, contain ‘1966’ in the title. I’m not sure what significance there is in the date, but since neither of these movies is from 1966, I’m assuming the date has some personal significance to the artists. Perhaps it was the year the artists (or one of them) first saw the films. The exhibit is titled, “Because of Him” and all the films excerpted in the oil paintings were heavily melodramatic stories with strong leading men.

These paintings aren’t about life in 1966 in general. They aren’t about movies in general. They’re simply oil paintings of cinema images people may have seen in 1966.

Is there a point to this?


The title of this painting by Karen Kilimnik is “Chloe (from Blood on Satan’s Claw).” It is an oil on canvas work from 1996 that was shown in an exhibit called “Facing Reality: The Seavest Collection of Contemporary Realism Exhibition” at the Neuberger Museum of Art.

This is an oil painting of an unknown actress playing a bit part in an obscure film. (The film “Blood on Satan’s Claw,” 1971, doesn’t list a ‘Chloe’ in the credits.) Does the process of Kilimnik singling out this image and calling our attention to it in an oil painting make a statement about something? Old movies? Unknown actresses?

Is there a point to this?


Don’t get me wrong. I like these images. I think they’re interesting. When I was flipping through art magazines or clicking through New York exhibitions on the web these are the images that caught my eye and caught my interest. They intrigued me enough to make me want to write about them on my blog.

But I don’t know what to think about these images.

The thing is, thirty or forty years ago painters in the fine art world did have a point to what they did. Painters like Lichtenstein and others created pop images as visual explorations of the nature of painting. Painters like Andy Warhol and others created pop images as ways to visually comment on and participate in contemporary life.

But what is happening in the fine art world today?

These images—and they seem to be reasonably representative of a lot of stuff going on in the fine art world—don’t seem to have any particular meaning beyond the range-of-the-moment meaning they embodied for the particular artist.

I suspect that the fine art world today is embracing the most pervasive trend in the modern world: The abandonment of meaning.

Throughout the internet, television, the music business and the various print media one common thread to everything we see is that content is defined not by some larger or deeper meaning but rather content is defined by its significance to this or that person. Something is important to a celebrity so the media makes it an issue. Something is important to a politician so the media makes it an issue. Something is important to a corporation so the corporation pays the media to make it an issue. (The very existence of ‘genres’—which people now take for granted but which did not always exist—is just a way of making these arbitrary groupings and exclusions ‘official.’)

Throughout most of human history there has always been a shared, collective understanding of shared, collective meanings that were of value to the individuals of a culture. The individuals, then, through their creations in the art world or the entertainment world or even the industrial world manifested these shared, collective meanings in deeply personal ways.

Now the whole notions of ‘shared’ and ‘collective’ meanings have been replaced by arbitrary personal meanings. People don’t take it for granted, as a default, that they are part of a larger whole. (So, for instance, Lichtenstein may have seen himself as a “painter” with all the history of that profession behind and surrounding him. Warhol may have seen himself as a ‘citizen artist’ with the history of that label behind and surrounding him.) People in the contemporary world simply accept themselves as individuals acting out their own individual dramas or comedies or horrors or whatever as if that is all that people can be.

Consider this blog, Impossible Kisses. This blog has a theme, Forteana. The unexplained. The wildly unusual. The odd. Now, often enough I indulge myself and drift away from this theme. But the theme is always there, it’s what I stray from, it’s what I return to. It’s my blogging focus, my blogging meaning.

But before I started Impossible Kisses I looked around the blogging scene and I was struck by how arbitrary everything was. Mostly I looked in on Jerry Pournelle’s site and was struck by how often he devoted a day’s posting to discussing how his sinuses felt or what happened when he walked his dog.

I understand the point of personal comments within a larger context. I don’t understand the point of personal comments being treated as a larger context themselves.

It strikes me that pop art thirty or forty years ago consisted of some interesting personal comments within an interesting larger context. In the contemporary world, it strikes me that pop art has become personal comments—some interesting, some banal—being treated as a larger context themselves.

It makes me wonder what the next two decades will bring . . .

In the spirit of this topic, however, I’m going to give the final word, this week, to artists McDermott & McGough. The title of this painting is “The Shadows Fall, 1966:”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fine Art, Pop Art And Andy Warhol

Today and tomorrow I’m going to post in a very quick, superficial way about the use of pop images in the fine art world. It happened thirty or forty years ago and it’s happening now. But the use of images from pop culture in fine art now doesn’t feel quite the same as I remember it feeling back then. I don’t have a specific point for today and, to be honest, I don’t foresee a specific point emerging tomorrow. But I want to get this stuff posted as background in case I ever do think of something interesting to say on the topic.

By “fine art world” I’m just speaking in a practical way about artists, critics and fans who generally live and/or work in or around the New York art gallery scene and who generally see art as an end-in-itself, not as just or primarily a commercial tool. (Yes, even as a working definition there are problems here, but I’m trying to be quick and any quick definition is going to have problems.)

I once mentioned that growing up the artists I heard people talking about were Peter Max, Frank Frazetta, LeRoy Neiman and Andy Warhol. Of those artists, Andy Warhol is the only person who is typically associated with the fine art world and, thinking back, I believe people I knew always discussed Warhol at the same time as Roy Lichtenstein, who also was from the fine art world.

For today’s post I’m going to be talking about Andy Warhol. But, technically, I suppose I should be discussing Lichtenstein because Lichtenstein was doing pop stuff before Warhol.

Legend has it that Lichtenstein was doing abstract images when one of his young children showed him a comic book and said something like, “I bet you can’t draw as good as this, can you, Daddy?” To amuse his children, Lichtenstein did an oil painting of a comic book scene. [“Look, Mickey,” above] Looking at the completed painting, he liked the image and decided to explore the theme further. But I’m not going to talk about Lichtenstein because I’ve never read of him saying anything interesting about the conceptual content of his art. And if I talked about Lichtenstein I’d spend the entire post commenting on his practice of “borrowing” actual comic images created by actual comic artists and using them as his own with only minor alterations. I have mixed feelings about that but I’m just going to ignore the issue here and move on immediately to Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol now and then did say interesting things about the conceptual content of his art.

I’m going to reproduce here a quote from the Wikipedia entry on Warhol and use this quote as a starting point tomorrow to discuss what Karen Kilimnik and others are doing today.

What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

That’s an interesting view and it creates an actual conceptual framework for Warhol’s work.

Almost always artists speak simply of the “power” of an image or style or technique. Artists usually speak simply of their “emotional reaction” to this or that image or style or technique. But we humans are conscious creatures. The stuff going on in our mind is both emotional and conceptual. The purely visual creation without an underlying conceptual continuity (to borrow Zappa’s typical term) is always going to be incomplete and, in a very real way, dehumanized and dehumanizing.

Besides, I also like this quote because the notion of a kind of all-encompassing consumerism defining America, all America from the bums in the street, to the normal person, to the celebrities and artists and up through and to the President, makes for an intriguing commentary on Warhol’s possibly most famous image of all:

Okay. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about this topic again, but focusing on Karen Kilimnik and others in the contemporary world. But I’ll probably be referring back to some of the stuff from today’s post. (I’m going to try and come up with a specific point to make, but I don’t feel any great confidence anything will present itself to me overnight.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Big Reductions At The MCA’s Karen Kilimnik Exhibit

A couple of Tuesday’s back I drove north of the river and visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Karen Kilimnik exhibit.

It was interesting to see in real life the drawings and paintings I was used to seeing in magazines and on the web. However, my two main memories of my visit to the MCA aren’t about the content of Kilimnik’s work at all.

First of all, in the MCA’s gift shop I saw that they sell designer toys. Although I’d posted about that cool trend, this was the first time I’d seen designer toys in real life. They were pretty cool and I’ll be posting more about them in the future. It’s my favorite trend. Designer toys combine art, industry and low-cost accessibility.

Second, what struck me most about Karen Kilimnik’s work was the scale at which she created things and the big reduction in size necessary to reproduce her work for the media. Kilimnik’s pieces are typically two or three feet across. Magazines and the web typically reduce such images to an inch or two across. That is, the media typically reduces images by 70% or 80% or more.

Working at a large scale and then reducing the finished piece for reproduction is very common. I’m focusing on Kilimnik just because she’s an artist I’m interested in now.

When large, hand-made images are dramatically reduced in size, a lot of rough edges get smoothed out. The whole look of a piece can change. The Gestalt—the overall totality of the image’s effects which are always greater than the sum of its individual characteristics—can change.

You see this a lot in good and bad art instruction books. Good art instruction books almost always reproduce images at their real size, and almost always note that images are reproduced actual size. Bad art instruction books reproduce images and technique demonstrations at 50% or more because they look better. But the reduced result is always something that appears oddly different than the life-sized work a student creates.

I decided to do some work myself at a slightly larger scale than I normally work.

A few days ago I mentioned I wanted to experiment with water soluble oils on plain paper. Recently I did an underdrawing in graphite for an oil painting. (Yes, I know pencils aren’t recommended for drawing under oils because the graphite can ‘migrate’ up through the paint layers, but working with oil on paper isn’t recommended, either. Besides, I’ve read that if you smooth the surface of a pencil drawing to remove excess graphite the image will stay on the paper.)

I created an underdrawing based on a fashion photo of socialite Amy Greenspon. I made sure to use the full page, even though I’m more comfortable working at a smaller scale.

Now, an interesting thing about underdrawings is that they don’t have to have any particular style or character. They just have to map out the composition. It is paint and its application that will create style and character. Underdrawings are utilitarian images and you can be very relaxed sketching them.

But even an underdrawing takes on a bit of interest when dramatically reduced in size.

Here’s my underdrawing of Amy Greenspon reduced to about 80% of its normal size. If you click on the image you can see it life-sized. At its full size, you can see the utilitarian nature of the image, the random smears and random erasure marks. Yet reduced in size there is a kind of unity-of-effect that looks like a pleasant, finished piece.

I suspect there’s something very revealing here about the whole nature of the mass media. Almost everything we see in the media is just plain different than what it is in real life. This creates a kind of unreality in our consciousness. Or at least an acceptance of the unreal.

On a simple, practical note, these digital and media-driven days it’s a good idea to work at the largest scale your scanner can accommodate. That helps make things look cool.


What about the bats in the belfry?

It turns out there weren’t bats in the belfry after all. The creatures were just a troupe of flying monkeys resting for a while. They flew off yesterday, flying away to do their witchy, flying monkey stuff someplace else. So this place will remain open for some time longer . . .

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Closed Until Further Notice

I’ve got bats in the belfry.

I’ve got to consult with some people
to see if it’s possible to clear out the bats
or if I should just tear down this place,
turn it into a nature preserve,
and rebuild somewhere else.

I’ll try to have a decision
as soon as possible.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Thoughtful, Troubled, Terrified Of Myself

If I were going to be a monster
I’d be a classic fur-and-fang werewolf.
I’d be a Lon Chaney Jr. werewolf.
I’d be a Lawrence Talbot-type werewolf,
thoughtful, troubled, terrified of myself . . .
Twenty-seven or so days every month
I’d spend my human time traveling the world
thoughtful, troubled, terrified of myself,
searching for a cure to my full moon curse.


If this were—right now—one of those three nights
of every month when my humanity
was stripped away, when I became a beast,
I would—right now—be creeping through the woods,
prowling through a foggy forest that looked
suspiciously like a movie stage set,
chasing a girl who looked suspiciously
like tennis star Anna Kournikova.
A boom camera would be tracking along
and getting closer to my face and fangs.
When the camera was right up next to me
I wouldn’t howl and scare everybody.
Instead I’d turn toward the camera—right now
and I would break character. I would smile
and say, “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Brenda!”
Then I’d snarl and maybe howl a little
but just to get back into character
not because I wanted to scare people.
And then I’d crouch in the fog and return
to my werewolf-creeping-through-the-woods schtick.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Surfacing Like Well The Loch Ness Monster

Friday, March 14, 2008

Diane And The Can Of Squid (5 of 5)

Diane and I didn’t talk till late in the week,
too late to make plans before she returned to school.
I wanted to can me, California-style fool.
I didn’t buy the can of squid. I didn’t seek

a relationship with the absurd cosmic tweak
that tweaked my plans to meet with Diane some place cool.
No lunch. No dinner. No museum. ‘No’s unspool . . .
What’s tomorrow? Same as today. No need to peek.

So Diane is back at school in another state.
Susan has the grocery store’s squid prices online.
I’m treading water over the trench of my id—

that is aisle four at the store, if I may conflate.
I’m trying to convince Susan to change the sign
on aisle four to read, ‘Stupid fucking cans of squid.’


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Diane And The Can Of Squid (1 of 5)

Diane And The Can Of Squid (2 of 5)

Diane And The Can Of Squid (3 of 5)

Diane And The Can Of Squid (4 of 5)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Diane And The Can Of Squid (4 of 5)

I considered taking the squid home for a meal
but I am not really a strange food kind of guy.
Four bucks. I could buy the squid and not worry why
but I’ve never been one for an impulsive deal.

My most seductive fantasy and the most real
was to buy the can, dump the squid and watch them dry
as punishment for how they made me miss my try
at chatting with Diane. That was my vengeful zeal.

I considered, also, buying the squid but not
by paying Susan but rather taking the can
and paying for the squid at Diane’s register

but I bet even Paris would say, “That’s not hot!”
bringing together these topics, squid and Diane,
without, say, seventy verse lines as magister.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Diane And The Can Of Squid (3 of 5)

Across the store all the checkout girls were busy.
Diane was at her register, now, a long queue.
I’d blown my chance to talk to her that day I knew
but the can of squid was still making me dizzy.

I wondered if Diane was going to miss me . . .
“Want it?” Susan asked. “Is the can some kind of clue
to a grocery mystery you’re trying to work through?”
Susan knew me. “Or have you finally gone crazy?”

‘California-style’ squid via Peru and Greece.
I wondered what made the squid ‘California-style’ . . .
I wondered at everything I was wondering . . .

The geo-commerce of the squid trade, if you please.
Had Diane been thinking about me all this while?
Should I buy the damn squid? My thoughts were floundering.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Diane And The Can Of Squid (2 of 5)

The service manager had the pink can of squid
because a customer had tried to buy the can
but when the checkout girl got the barcode to scan
no price showed but an inventory record did.

Susan, the service manager, checked a price grid.
She asked how, exactly, the label’s wording ran.
“‘California Girl,’” I read, helping with the plan.
“‘California-style Squid.’ I’d guess two bucks,” I bid.

Diane was looking at me from across the store.
I wanted to put down the can and talk to her
but the can held me, now, tighter than I held it.

Susan found the price. She said, “You guessed two bucks? More.”
I was hooked on the can like a fish on a lure.
“It’s three forty-nine,” Susan said. “Want to buy it?”


Monday, March 10, 2008

Diane And The Can Of Squid (1 of 5)

Diane was in from college and working part-time
at the grocery store. I stopped in to say hello.
She was bagging, not checking, because things were slow.
I got hijacked, however, by something sublime

before I could say hi. New, not covered by grime,
a strange can at the service desk put on a show.
I waved to Diane but walked to the can’s odd glow.
A pinkish can of squid. Diane. There was no rhyme.

Some Greek importer had sent the shipment of squid.
‘California Girl’ was the brand name on the can.
The label said it was a product of Peru.

Though canned, these squid were swimming, now, deep in my id
and surfacing, too, to interfere with my plan
of chatting with Diane working the grocery crew.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Water Soluble Oils On Plain Unprimed Paper

This is going to be a strange post. It is wildly off topic. And I don’t even have a lot to say. However, I’ve been wanting to do this post for about a week, so I figure I’m going to just indulge myself, do it and move on.


I’ve been interested in water soluble oils for a couple of years now. I’ve never done anything worth doing with them and I haven’t done anything at all with them lately. I got to thinking about water soluble oils again when I read that Karen Kilimnik uses them for her very cool paintings. I’ve continued thinking about them and have even done a little work with them.


The basic need for water soluble oils grows from the terrible health hazards of normal oil paint solvents. Although health hazards of normal oil paint solvents typically only get mentioned in passing in art instruction books, art students are very familiar with the troubles solvents have caused throughout history and art students all know classmates who have had bad reactions to solvents. The most frightening incident I’m aware of is what happened to the great illustrator Frank Frazetta, as recounted in the documentary, “Painting With Fire.”

It’s not surprising people have bad reactions to traditional oil paint solvents. The oil binders used in paints—typically linseed oil—are very similar to the fats which play such an important role in human biochemistry. In fact, one darling of the health food industry now, flaxseed oil, is really linseed oil under another name. Any solvent which disrupts the molecular bonds of oil paint binders is also going to disrupt the molecular bonds of the fats within a human body. And that’s just not cool. If I ever were to use traditional oil paints I’d stick with palette knife painting, no brushes, and I would not use any solvent at all for clean up.

Water soluble oils make this issue essentially moot. Water soluble oils are chemically almost identical to traditional oil paints. They are not ‘water-based’ paints. Where watercolors and acrylics dry by evaporation, water soluble oils contain no water in their make up and dry by oxidation exactly as do traditional oils.

But the oil binder of water soluble paints has been engineered so that plain water acts as a solvent for cleaning up. (Or thinning, but that induces a color shift until evaporation occurs.)

I like the high tech nature of water soluble oils. I love the long drying time, just like traditional oils. You can put down paint, work it, re-work it and even come back the next day for additional tweaks. And, even though I use palette knives for almost all my normal painting, it’s nice knowing that I can use a brush here and there and still be able to clean up with just water because I wouldn’t go near a traditional oil paint solvent.


The only thing I don’t like about water soluble oil painting is that like traditional oil painting the paint should be applied to a primed surface, typically gesso on canvas or gesso on wood or even gesso on paper. This is because oil paints dry by oxidation and not evaporation.

If you apply oil paint on a very absorbent surface like plain paper the oil binder will get sucked away from the surface, away from the pigment and away from open air. Unable to get oxygen to bind with, the oil will have difficulty drying and the oil in the paper will promote rot. Also when the binder gets sucked away from the pigment, the pigment layer on the surface of the paper will be under-bound and subject to damage.

However I like the simplicity and spontaneity of working on plain paper. I don’t like preparing a surface and I don’t really like the ‘feel’ of gesso on anything.

And, although the ‘science’ of oil painting on paper has been understood for generations, many artists have enjoyed the simplicity of doing small works on plain paper. Most famously, perhaps, are the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec on cardboard. Most of these have held up very well, as have other works which really should not have been painted the way they were. I have even seen documentaries on the textile industry where textile workers made color notes in their journals using oil paint on plain paper. Although the pages bore the familiar ‘halo’ of oil that was absorbed away from the pigment, gentle handling of the pages has kept the paper intact, kept the pigment in place and preserved the beautifully intense color of the oil paint.

It’s good to know the science behind the art, but it’s not good to let the science stop you from working in a manner that is emotionally suitable to you. Oil paint on plain, unprimed paper is not a good thing to do, but if you keep your paint surface reasonably controlled and treat the final sheet thoughtfully, then it is not necessarily something that will fall about a few years down the road.

Incidentally, there are still books which promote the practice of painting oil paint on top of acrylic under-painting, as if all acrylics were like gesso, and art galleries and museums are often seeing these creations fall apart. You don’t want a surface that is too absorbent, but at the same time a surface that is not absorbent at all will not give the binder anything to bind to. Again, it’s good to know the science behind the art.


So, although it makes me very nervous, I’ve decided to invest some time in working with water soluble oils on plain unprimed paper. I’ve done some tests and the tests work reasonably well. Basically I’m not going to create anything that has to last forever, anyway. Ultimately I’m just looking to take advantage of the great plastic nature of oil paint for creating images that can get scanned and digitized. I’ve been experimenting with my sketches of Amy Greenspon, working on compositions that will lend themselves not to pencil or pen renderings but to serving as under-drawings for oil paintings.

If I do anything interesting, I’ll post the results. Now that I’ve kind of ‘opened’ this topic on the blog, I can always come back to it if anything good happens.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

“Lizard Man” Returns?

Posted WIStv: Feb 29, 2008 05:02 PM CST
Updated WIStv: March 5, 2008 10:55 PM CST

BISHOPVILLE, SC (WIS) - After a nasty surprise Thursday morning for one Bishopville resident, she's wondering if the "Lizard Man" is back.

Dixie Rawson of Bishopville sent WIS News 10 an e-mail about a big surprise she got at her home Thursday morning. "The whole front half of our van is chewed up. There are bite marks right through the front grill. Both sides of the van above the wheel wells were bitten and the metal is bent like a piece of paper."

It reminded Dixie of the local legend of the "Lizard Man" that stretches back for decades. Now some are wondering if the Lizard Man is back.

The legend blows in with a brisk winter wind, sending chills through neighbors in Lee County.

"I couldn't believe it, I just couldn't believe it," says Bob Rawson. He looks down at the blood and claw marks on his van. "He literally bit, you can feel where he bit straight through here."

Who is "he"? It's a point of renewed debate in the area. Some are sure they know the only creature capable of this kind of damage is the Lizard Man.

If it is the Lizard Man, he's back nearly two decades after first being spotted near Scape Ore swamp.

No one's ever been able to confirm the account of the seven-foot monster with green skin, three toes and a three clawed fingers.

In addition to the car damage, the Rawsons didn't find their cats in the boxes where they usually sleep. They did find the towels inside shredded, and the same story with the morning paper. Whatever did this, the Rawsons aren't taking any chances.

His Glock loaded, Mr. Rawson is ready to shoot what he feels is most likely a bear. Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin says it could be a coyote, but then again, "All the scratch marks, people are saying, 'Sheriff, it's Lizard Man.' Don't know. It's hard to say."

Several of the Rawsons' 20 plus cats have also disappeared. They're hoping they were just scared away.


Alert WIS News 10 viewers asked about the blood found on the Rawson's van. Authorities tell us they've extracted a sample - sending it off for DNA analysis. It could be a month before those results come back.

Reported by Dan Tordjman, WIStv

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Typical Day On The Road To Utopia

Today is one of those days when I had planned to post one thing but then for various reasons at the last minute changed my mind. Then I planned to post something else and changed my mind again.

So today is going to be something special, kind of by default.

Ever since I started the blog, almost two years ago, in the back of my mind I’ve thought of the blog as having an unofficial theme song. I’ve always wanted to post the song, but I’ve never gotten around to doing it. Today, in the void of my indecision, I will post the song.

Also this gives me a chance to explain some behind-the-scenes blog history.

A long time ago, on another day when I didn’t have anything special to post, I improvised an affectionate pastiche of the song I regard as the blog’s unofficial theme song. [The Road To Magonia] However, in that pastiche I mentioned a real person but I didn’t know that the real person I mentioned apparently thinks I’m kind of creepy and had no desire to appear in the blog . . . So, that person had speaks with other people and other people had speaks with me and since then I’ve tried to be more sensitive about mentioning real people.

There was another time I mentioned someone and made an obscure reference that was wildly misinterpreted however I’m saving an explanation of that post for a special occassion.

A writer named Harlan Ellison constantly has gotten in so much trouble over his writing that he once described himself as the human equivalent of that strange bacteria scientists discovered around deep ocean vents. His natural environment, Ellison said, is hot water.

I don’t much like getting in trouble however generally I don’t let it stop me from doing something I really want to do. Hot water can be invigorating. (Plus I always remember what Maude said: If you don’t get in trouble now and then you will have nothing to talk about in the locker room . . .)

Okay, so that’s the behind-the-scenes stuff.

Here are the lyrics to my pick for this blog’s unofficial theme song, Todd Rundgren’s, “Road To Utopia:”

I blink my eyes and it happens again
I lose my way but I discover a friend
It’s a typical day
On the Road to Utopia

I walk along until my feet are sore
I rest a minute then I walk some more
There’s no time to delay
On the Road to Utopia

    And my destination is the unknown
    But I’m never far away from my home

    It shines like laser light
    It’s in my dreams at night
    Cause I’ve been all my life
    On the Road to Utopia

I will be there to share your tragedy
I know that you would do the same for me
It’s no trouble at all
On the Road to Utopia

When day is over and I’m trying to sleep
It comes so easy cause I’m not counting sheep
I am counting the smiles
On the Road to Utopia

    And I may lose my way again and again
    But I’ll cross that borderline in the end

    Trouble trouble trouble whirling all about
    But if we stick together we can stick it out
    Will we ever find the loves we lost again
    Does this crazy journey ever have an end

And will I find what I’m after
Do I know what I’m after
Guess I’ll join in the laughter
On the Road to Utopia

Todd Rundgren
Road To Utopia

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I The Titanic Strike A Neon Iceberg

Across the street from our local grocery store
there’s a tanning salon with a neon sign
in a yellow, orange, green and blue design.
Bright, it’s more than neon. It’s neon galore.

One night I wanted to talk with a friend more,
maybe find a place where we could sit and dine.
We stood outside the grocery store. The bright shine
across the street opened the night like a door.

I asked, “Is that a restaurant or a bar?”
“It’s a tanning salon,” my companion said.
I said, “You know, I knew that. Wishful thinking.”

Yellow, orange, green and blue. Bright lights, not far . . .
I yearned so much to walk through that door instead
of going home. Neon. I went home, sinking.

Monday, March 03, 2008

How To Tally A Sorted List

Of all the topics I wish I had more time and more resources to talk about here on this blog, my biggest regret is that I’ve spent so little time with programming, specifically list processing.

There’s something magical about the way the simple structure of a list can be used for almost any data structure imaginable. There’s something magical about the way tools developed for manipulating lists of one kind can be re-used in totally unexpected ways with other lists.

List processing typically implies recursive algorithms but since I do most of my work with low-level embedded systems or high-level scripting languages, stack space typically doesn’t support recursive implementations. However, lists are just as powerful when used with iteration as they are with recursion.

Today’s post isn’t about list processing as a concept or about why I haven’t written more about list processing. Today’s post is a kind of companion piece to my post about bubble sorting.

Someday I hope to do a whole series of posts implementing my list processing library in JavaScript. JavaScript matrices are powerful, but my list processing routines let data get shared reasonably seamlessly with scripting environments like Microsoft Word and Excel macros.

Also someday I hope to do a post explaining why I haven’t written more about programming. I’m waiting to think of some way to write it that is even passably interesting.

Because I work in many different environments, in the course of a year I code and re-code the same algorithms two or three times. (Plus, I actually enjoy re-coding routines because I can experiment with different techniques.)

This version of my ‘tally’ function is one of the most concise I’ve ever coded.


The basic idea behind this routine is that when you have a list of dozens or hundreds of elements just sorting the list doesn’t impose a useful organization to the data.

Instead of something like this:

    {0,0,0,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,3,3,3,3,3,3,3 ...}

You want something like this:

    {003:0, 003:2, 006:1, 007:3 ...}

It’s a very cool feeling to take a list of what appears to be hundreds of, for instance, digit patterns and tally them and realize you only have four or five in very specific ratios.

(‘Tally’ outputs an unsorted list of counted elements. Since the count is fixed length and appended as a header, the tally list simply can be sorted to create an ordered list as above. But sometimes you want an up sort, sometimes a down, so ‘Tally’ leaves that for afters.)

This code is written in Texas Instruments Basic, which is pretty generic. The only custom function I used is td(n,c) which inputs a numeric value, n, and outputs a string that is of length c.

    td(5,3) = “005”

‘@’ is the TI comment character for inline comments.

. . . . . . . . . .



Local c,r,q,x,t,p

@ c = count of input list
@ r = return list of tallied values
@ q = count of tallied values
@ x = holding variable for item being tallied
@ t = tally value for the item being tallied
@ p = pointer into the input list

@ this gets the number of input elements

Dim(aList) -> c

@ first we account for an empty input list
@ we just return the empty list

If c=0 : Return aList

@ if the list isn’t empty we prepare
@ a return list big enough for the
@ worst case tally

NewList(c) -> r
0 -> q

@ we get ready to go by setting
@ the pointer to the start
@ of the input list

1 -> p


    @ here in the outer loop we set up the element
    @ to be tallied (we dereference it because
    @ the TI GetType routine needs a variable)

    aList[p] -> x
    1 -> t
    p+1 -> p

    @ the inner loop looks through the list
    @ finding the end of the list or
    @ finding a dissimilar item or
    @ tallying up the same items


        @ these must be separate lines because
        @ if p does point beyond the list end
        @ indexing into aList with p is bad

        If p>c : Exit
        If aList[p] ≠ x : Exit

        @ we know we’re not out of the list
        @ and we know the next element
        @ is not dissimilar so it must be similar
        @ tally it, return to the inner top

        t+1 -> t
        p+1 -> p


    @ here we’re either outside the list just
    @ saving the final element or we’re
    @ saving the current tally

    If GetType(x) ≠ “STR” : String(x) -> x
    q+1 -> q
    td(t,3) & “:” & x -> r[q]

    @ if we’re outside the list
    @ we exit the outer loop
    @ return the tallies and
    @ end the function

    If p>c : Exit

    @ if we’re not outside the list
    @ we return to the outer loop’s top


@ we only need the part of the
@ output list with values in it

Return Left(r,q)