By on September 8th, 2020

Mami Kato’s Quiet Power


Mami Kato, Big Knot. 2019. Courtesy the artist.



It’s instructive that the the introduction* to the 2019 exhibit of Mami Kato and her husband Michael Hurwitz was written by the consummate artist Martin Puryear Mami Kato deserves his respect.



Kato seems disinterested in the chatter of the world. It seems that making objects is more a meditative practice for her than is plain image-making. She devotes time to build from bitty bits to forms with that gather meaning. (I’m not sure if she thinks of them as sculptures.) She was born in Japan and her working style reminds me of master netsuke carvers, with their disciplined ability to carve a swath of pattern unyielding in scale or style. Kato’s power is quiet like theirs.



For artists like myself there is the lure of variance, the urge to follow change, to find out what’s hidden behind the next hill. It’s important to see how different Kato’s practice is. Deliberate and disciplined. She can color inside the lines once she draws the lines. I would guess that slapdash feels substandard. She’ll concentrate for whatever time it takes to get her effect. The accretion of handwork into a formal statement.



I’ll focus on Big Knot here because it’s the first of Kato’s artworks that stopped me in my tracks.



I want to ask her things. Did she see the Big Knot form all along? Or did it teach her where it wanted to go as she built? Did she understand the scale as she began Big Knot, foresee the fat slow curves, the gentle asymmetry? She uses the same technique in other works at different scales and rates of curvature.. I want to ask why the knot is not exactly a knot and why it’s low, and only low, in the form’s expression.



There is a portrait of Kato and her husband with Umbilical Field in the foreground. It’s much bigger, much more primal than you think.





Mami Kato, Umbilical Field. Courtesy the artist.



I recently watched an interview with the author Margot Livesey about her new book The Boy in the Field. She said that at one point she realized that she was going to be able to pull off the novel she wanted, and stopped worrying.



Did something like this happen with Kato? You start building, having faith in an outcome but never assured — until the artwork tells you it intends to succeed.



Kato starts with coarse rice-stalk rope she buys from Japan. She unplaits the rope, cuts short lengths — which look precisely measured — and adds them bit by bit to a developing shape. There’s a wonderful story here with multiple decision-points, were she to tell it. From when she first holds the rope in her hands through the final furry-and-smooth resolved form.




Mami Kato. sample of cut rice stalks. Courtesy the artist.



The effect of these bristly tubular shapes is soft. Velvet pile. You sense you might rub your cheek against them. Don’t. The contradiction is part of the artwork.




Oddly I’d been struck by a Martin Puryear work that feels kindred to Big Knot. Oddly because I hadn’t read his introduction for the exhibition yet. I enjoy how the forms have a family resemblance without either one mistaken for the other.






Martin Puryear, Liberty. From the 2019 Venice Biennale. From AO (Art Observed)







Purity is another word that Kato’s work deserves. Purity of intention. Her website offers a look back at work that dates well before today. Kato has journeyed. Early her forms were full of question marks and pauses where a verb might go. She has grown herself up to clarity. Her more recent work shows the assurance of a mountaineer who can plot her own path in a forest.



Mami Kato, Egg Formula. Courtesy the artist.



Another view of Kato’s practice here. Eggshells, fragility spoken aloud.  Look at the tight snarl of the knot. You could not achieve that without experimenting to test the limits. With real eggshells, already emptied, wiped of yolk, bought with patient labor. See all those sacrificial shells when you contemplate this.



Compare the complexified curves of Egg Formula with the quasi knot in Big Knot. The ambling curvature of bulk. The complex flight path of the airy eggshells.




* Introduction by Martin Puryear. Unfortunately I need my biggest monitor enlarged to the max before I can read this.



On complexity (and a fine contrast to Kato’s work) Michael Hansmeyer and the Fourth Industrial Revolution







By on September 1st, 2020


The Heady Brio of Heather Ujiie

The Universe, by Heather Ujiie. Digital Inkjet print on cotton sateen 72×192 inches. Courtesy the artist.


A digital print on fabric,The Universe. The scale, the depth of color, the flourishes and design surprises. That elephant is no elephant, it’s composed of many beasts and figures. I love how the savage lion’s tail puffs out from the trunk about where tusks might show.



This is the rambunctious work of Heather Ujiie which delights with its shear galore-ness. Color, horror, erotica, humor — bursting with florals and animalia. This woman has never heard of staid and uses her unstaid for energized compositions that sprawl.



I enjoy the sense that she loves making images. You can’t imagine a dabbler attempting work so challenging. Or a nail-biter taking on anything this strenuous.


If you pay attention to details you’re rewarded for it.


Heather Ujiie, detail of design for the digitallly printed fabric, Battle of the Sea Gods. Courtesy the artist.



I’ve been a digital artist for decades; I work with free digital images from wildly differing sources. Never in my craziest dreams did I consider art of this caliber, without a whiff of digital about it, being printed on fabric of significant size. Heather Ujiie wows and delights me.



Heather Ujiie, Endangered Species, digital print on linen, 96×204 inches. Courtesy the artist.




See also Eric N, Mack. “Painter” for work with fabric

See Kehinde Wiley Paints Black for another artist’s take on florals



By on August 30th, 2020


WikiArts never heard of Kehinde Wiley



Nevermind the virtuoso talent, the social relevance — how about a simple count of museums who have invested in his work?



He recently remarked on the BLM protests that he wasn’t impressed yet. Same same WikiArts.



By on August 17th, 2020


Eric N. Mack, “Painter”



Tensile is a physics term you can understand when viewing many of Eric N. Mack’s artworks. If only to appreciate one of fabric’s finest features: it’s drape.



A tensile structure is a construction of elements carrying only tension and no compression or bending. …. Tensile structures are the most common type of thin-shell structures. Wikipedia: tensile structure.


(This lay person’s definition is more comprehensible than Wikipedia’s plain Tensile entry.)


Mack says he’s a painter but few painters play with the slinkiness of woven fibers. Or 3D for that matter — yet Mack is clearly visualizng the effect of viewpoint on your appreciation of his artwork. Some works seem more baldly conceived as squarish rooms with sides, exteriors, interiors. Others play with the relative transparancy of joined panels as they color-mix with fabric more and less visible behind.



Color-mixing example of work by Eric N. Mack



One thing I viscerally love in Mack’s work is his sensitivity to fabric’s innate variables. What’s called the hand, or the way fabric crumples crisply or folds softly in your tender grip. That grip is assessing tensility. This is a quality that few artists choose to deal with — vary, use to their advantage. Mack does. You see it plainly here. What’s the deforming function of that black strip at the bottom?



Eric N. Mack, Blue Duet II, Polyester and silk organza, from Simon Lee Gallery.



Eric Mack’s father owned a clothing store, hence his intimacy with fabric. He went to a prestigious art high school, on to Yale, and has had residencies with The Studio Museum in Harlem Artist-in-Residency Program and later a Rauschenberg Residency. If you see simplicity in his art, think again.



Were this a traditional paint-on-stretched-canvas it’s a composition I’d be drawn to in a fingersnap. But for the artist that’s not enough. You can’t ignore the slants and torques, the use of unfigured fabric for white space. You see it’s anchored twice to the rod and twice higher up on the wall. Every installation will be adjusted to its space, will alter how it hangs. You have to wonder if situations would force a mix of spaces that Mack wouldn’t like adapting to.



Eric N. Mack, untitled (set drape), Simon Lee Gallery.



As he’s gained reputation his palette has widened. A fabulous scarf, a pristine seemingly unused moving blanket. And his methods of display have widened out from clotheslines and curtainrods to more delicate or fascinating mounts. One looks like a professional stand for a microphone — draped with sheer fabrics in tones that women’s nylons might be woven from. Titled A Gift.



A Gift dates from 2015, the same year of a drawn/painted sketch, on pegboard, Black Cornucopia. It’s claustrophobically cramped, vague triangles of color in a certain array. You would bet good money that it wasn’t the same artist.



That’s worth pondering when you consider what an artist may deem to be an adequate sketch for themself.



Gezicht-in-Amsterdam-mogelijk-bij-het-Rokin-George-Hendrik-Breitner-1912, free from Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.



When Mack collages, he backs paper on a fabric hanging, not on a hard surface. They must be devilish to move and hang without damage to the fragile paper parts. Some are overtly political. Instead of abstraction you get frontal content. Anger, race, nameable pictures. In other collages he seems to be going for raw emotion, painted paper with gouges back down to the paper pulp, savage abstractions combined with typescript pages. This man’s work reaches here, reaches behind your back, reaches to the ground beneath his feet. He’s still finding ways to say.



(detail) Eric N. Mack, (Easter) The Spring / The Holy Ground, 2018.  Acrylic, dye and paper on moving blanket, from Simon Lee Gallery.



The most recent work I’ve seen eschews fabric. Dyes are directly applied to paper. The colors speckle like a birds egg, applied lightly– maybe in a spray, even a mist. The pigment has a sense of filmyness, nothing suggestive of a brushstroke. You see that resists have masked off areas while in other parts the color layers blend. Reminiscent of his color effects in hanging layered cloth.



I recommend Nick N. Mack’s art for its energy, experiments and gusto. Dive in.



Simon Lee Gallery has a generous page for Mack’s work.
Eric N.Mack, Black Cornucopia

Eric N. Mack in Conversation with Tim Marlow
Sloan Nota, Collected Works, “Sketchy,” Rijksmuseum

By on August 13th, 2020


agitrons from cartooning




word: agitrons




Keith Haring agitrons

Charles Burchfield agitrons


By on August 12th, 2020


Kehinde Wiley, humans and motifs assembled from various online sources


Kehinde Wiley Paints Black


Kehinde Wiley is realer than his canvases. He’s a profoundly adept painter, but I see more here.



His work is hanging in nearly every contemporary art museum that fields a budget. He’s intentionally and successfully heroic in scale, lighting, pose. Which happens to showcase his exquisite studio skills as a painter. I suspect him of having a big brain.



His habit is to create a decorative background against which to pose a Black person who feels regal, entitled, opinionated. No Egon Schiele neurosis here. Power, self-possession, aware of their condition in racist reality. They wear their street clothes. They do not back down.



It’s significant that this is the opus of a painter. We know photography too well to be smacked in the face by a flounder by a deadeye portraitist in paint. We have our Alice Neels, our Philip Pearlsteins, portraitists who stamp their sitters with their modern distillations of style. They catch an essence, you can name the face that came and sat.



Wiley rejects that. I think he’s understood since way back that as a Black artist he wasn’t tilting against modernism — notably a segregated ambition — but against the anonymizing lie of Whites who feel they can talk about Blacks and understand “a black person” as a mute cartoon Negro. No hairstyle choice, no fire in the belly, no bent finger from fielding a pitch. No vibrations.



Art history holds big sway over Wiley. He’s studied and felt the White domination dripping like sugar-coating on a hot day. Are there even a hundred canvases known in the canon featuring Blacks? Here comes a painter riding a warhorse of talent and painting Blacks into history’s poses. It’s not your normal modern irony, angst, self-reflective. It’s irony is blatant and historic. Ever so hard to evade.



I watch myself lionizing this artist. I have favorites, true. But this is political — Kehinde Wiley has made stylistic choices that emphasize how much Black Lives Matter. He paints real faces with personal details, he has models wear what they’re wearing, their costuming from life. He often poses subjects echoing the poses of Whites memorialized famously in paint. The only difference, as Wiley points out wordlessly, is the color of their skin. Which in the classic surrounds keeps asking Why are we not here?



In another piece I might detail his merits as an artist. The way his unexpected backgrounds of flowers and furbelows slyly curl out around his humans. But that’s another story. Today we’re all alerted to the uneasy state of our democracy. Here’s an example of someone using art as an effective political tool.



When I first saw Wiley’s art in New York I sniffed a trick. The formula of the backgrounds fooled my eye into ignoring the gallery of faces so expertly seen. I’ve grown. Kehinde Wiley has taught me that you can wield artistic decisions for political clout.




By on August 4th, 2020



Vertical cut from a news column, August 3, 2020,


Witch’s Brew

Trump’s Effect on My Reading Habits



George Saunders published CivilWarLand in Bad Decline in 1966. My world should have shook (I was Californian, so not a reach) but I didn’t even hear whisper of it. For decades. When I read the book I went and read five or six others. Here was a voice that tolled inside me like a bell made of heart muscle.



He got how off-kilter the world of humans is. How hilarious and sad, how un-said. Let others swoon over Hilary Mantel, George Saunders became my favorite living author.



I tell you this because I’m dismayed to find that something’s changed. In a funk I pulled out a couple of George Saunders’ books. Always good to read. Foundational as they say. Underpinning.



There are trolls in my bookcase. Or maybe in my head. George Saunders isn’t funny anymore. Wry doesn’t connect to any part I recognize.



I think of the news photo of a frenzied mob outside a subway car, faces shrieking invective at the Covid-masked faces within. Blond woman leading the pack at full bay. I remember the newspaper checked with several zombie movie directors who wished they could get that shot in their films.



Some newswriter noted these were the same people who, when seat-belts were mandated broke their vocal cords demanding their right to be smashed across their windshields. I was driving by then. I lived through the same experience and don’t actually remember it. Seatbelts were weird for awhile and then life rolled like a gentle wave over sand and life erased my noticing. I don’t think about brushing my teeth either but someone must be doing it.



A man yesterday shot at police with an automatic rifle because he didn’t want to wear a Covid-mask. Obviously he wasn’t black or he’d be dead.



Ever since Donald Trump aimed his belly at the podium on January 20, 2017 hate-hearted bipeds have been oozing like water through pebbles into my county’s psyche. They really do throw their passions at astonishing targets. They’re damned if you can make them wear Covid-masks. Actually you’re damned if you do. And if their leader scoffs at cataclysmic viruses, they’re ready and armed.



Is it any wonder that George Saunders rings all too true? Hey mister, your bent world is in my government, gnawing at the floorboards.



Gnawing on my brain.






By on July 23rd, 2020



detail from Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. Found on Public Domain Images; images courtesy the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Adults and children huddle around a brazier, or coal fire, to hear ghost stories.”






detail from Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. Found on Public Domain Images; images courtesy the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

“A man, perhaps the artist himself, has set down his calligraphy brush and reaches to extinguish a lamp. Once darkness falls, the demons will appear.”



To Signify: A Tincture of Pink



Night Parade of One-hundred Demons was created in 1890 by the great Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai. He is considered a father of modern Manga. Wildly inventive, energy on a high boil, a Mad Magazine sensibility with rampant gift. The Public Domain Review featured this work recently and I was struck by one of the tropes. Although this artist’s palette can often be robust, in this series of horrors he employs almost nothing but pastels. Notably pink, with a few blood-red exceptions.



Why? We can’t ask him but can still make observations. Maybe he’d agree.



I think it’s to slyly invoke creepiness via contrast. Where you’d expect garish you get pastel. But a monk with his eyeballs hanging down his cheeks? Pastel? Instead of robust primaries or blue-note tertiaries?*



The hundred demons we’re promised come with all manner of talons, claws, indefinitive blobbiness. Huge, bitty, flying, running, bludgeoning. Japan is rich in demons. But Kawanabe presents them in dressing-Cinderella colors.



Before the demons come there’s  first a scene of a winter family huddled around a brazier waiting for ghost stories. A mild pink cloud hovers toward the ceiling. Next we see an artist stretching in strange elongated posture to extinguish the last lamp. The pink cloud now droops directly above him, close to the  page bottom. (Both images above. I regret that the subtle pink clouds appear some degrees less telling here.)



Only now does the demon parade begin its romp.



The parade is a book, bound on the right, in which the postures on one page lead naturally to those on the next.



As with much of Kyōsai’s very best work, the luridness doesn’t come from any single source so much as the accumulation of fine, sickly details—like the pink, almost pornographic tongue dangling from the horse-man’s mouth. First these details creep up on you, then they overpower you.

detail from Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. Found on Public Domain Images; images courtesy the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Skeleton soldiers, a horse with the head of a man, and other monsters advance in the growing darkness.”


In the sweet tones of candied almonds.



A work of visual art.


Compare words. Words exist expressly for humans to signify to each other. Anyone who has diagrammed a gnarly sentence appreciates how grammar rules — like baseball rules — bring structure, stave off ambiguity. Not so in the visual arts. Imagine if English, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Bantu and Norwegian were used in one communication. To start — whose grammar would you use?



In art you can even throw in the kitchen sink. No one gets to cry out “That’s not what’s in the dictionary!” Art’s meaning can never be pinned down in a words. Even Moby Dick — because it’s words plus art.




Little truths are like artworks. They’re opinions, ways of seeing, possible but not ironclad Truths. Here’s another way to think about pink.







* Primaries are the familiar red, yellow, blue; tertiaries are  red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet.



They remind me of garden wind-chimes tuned to the moody blue notes. (Blue notes are used in many blues songs, in jazz, and in conventional popular songs with a “blue” feeling, such as Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather”.) Wikipedia




By on July 22nd, 2020



This is a double post. The reason will become obvious.




A scholar in his study (‘Faust’), anonymous, Rembrandt van Rijn, after 1652. free via Rijksmuseum

Knowers Knowing What Can’t Be Known


I looked out the window and saw a diagonal contrail aligned perfectly as if it was emitted by the edge of my closest dormer. In many times and places there were augurs, shamans, throwers of yarrow sticks or of piping fresh entrails. Their occupation was to explain portentous occurrences to the rest of society, who were not certified in the art.



Imagine the job security. White collar: you were a doctor, lawyer, high priest — not a wide-forearmed laborer. Not a cobbler or ditch-digger. Not a farmer. Unless you were in a very small town. There were witches too, that young modern women like to call crones.



They’ll outgrow it.



I wonder about the unintelligible people today who are fighting venomously for the right to be infected with Covid-19. A photo of a line of masked gun-toting protesters standing spraddle-legged in front of the Michigan governor’s official door. Heroes in their own fantasies. Remember the menacing weaponized gang who took over a bird sanctuary at Malheur Wildlife Refuge?



If you proposed this plot to Hollywood it could only be a comedy. But with no comedians. No one with an ounce of ludicrous-perception. Haw-haw, isn’t this ridiculous? A bird sanctuary! Their horses’ hooves clopping into it. No lives were lost in the taking.



I read that ancient Egyptian priests collected and perfected parlor tricks to awe their followers. And I’ve heard it worried like a dog toy — shamans know something, they pick up on things that others can’t feel. Or they’re charlatans. Which end of the chew-toy do you prefer?



But our age is oddly swept east and west by conspiracy theories. I personally believe that if you could cure hate you could blot out the belief in malicious others. Maybe even the concept of others as anything but physically differentiated skin enclosures.


Hate is a crime of poison. It can harm others but it inevitably weakens you yourself. Then they’re after you.










Both Sides Now

Believers Knowing What Can’t Be Known Either



A friend of mine has lived in a third-floor apartment for decades. One day her beloved cat went missing. She tried everything but  her cat stayed lost. So she called a psychic. She’s someone I’d trust to know the best. The psychic told her that the cat was still nearby outside and instructed her to leave the front door to the building ajar that night and put out some home-smelling food. Next day her cat was waiting for her outside the apartment door.


Of course I asked permission before relating a story belonging to someone else. My friend has added that her cat was terrified of the outdoors, that it rained the entire time, and that the psychic instructed her to keep imagining the cat coming to the steps, finding the food and continuing to her home.


The scoffer in me has a hard time pooh-poohing that. Try though I will. But credulity has elastic limits — you can only stretch it so far before you notice the effort it’s taking you.


The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Shakespeare, Hamlet


My mother and I have both had what’s called pre-cognition. A foreknowledge of something personally momentous which then occurs. Doesn’t even have to be momentous. My mother dreamt of an American Indian cadaver lying on a table. My parents were in college then. My medical-student father had a chore before they went about their earlier plans. He took her into the morgue and there was her Indian.



My mother’s aunt predicted who would win elections with eerie ease. Her psychic powers were a focus of her life. My mom and I have been rare receivers of such epiphanies but never cultivators, builders, practitioners.



The princess and the prince discuss what’s real and what is notBob Dylan, Gates of Eden.



But. But. But. How can I explain away the cat’s reappearance?



I recount these things because I take seriously the notion of a reality outside what we can actually grasp. Unrealism appeals to me because my sense is that the real world (real?) can’t be depicted without weirdness. Because we’re only human, well-clouded thinkers, snatchers after approximations because we think they can explain.



They can’t of course. We’re too flawed, too shallow, too muddied and muddled to aspire to Big U Understand. Our view of things is ringed with forest, we never sight horizons. Or how immense ALL is. We’re like mice in the walls of a palace.



We’re like humans of yore who saw the world as an island surrounded by waves. Flat.


Think about that. Humans (and prairie dogs) have no difficulty negotiating the 3D world. We don’t walk smack into a cactus. Yet it takes a separate leap to understand that Earth’s a sphere. OK, you’re sneaking through the Forest of Arden, flat makes perfect sense. But out on wide farmlands, out on the bounding main, you’re confronted with a constant horizon. The longer you clip-clop or sail on, the horizon unrolls before you. Even Marco Polo’s horizon never stopped unrolling unless mountains thrust up  in his way.



And yet shipping developed before Earth’s sphere coalesced in our brains.






As of this blog post I’m introducing a new feature that’s been nagging at me.. As the two pieces above say, there are truths and there are Truths. Do no harm is an easy Truth. Don’t rape babies is another. But “I think it’s significant that an artist used pink in this series” is my own little truth. I find it intriguing, plausible, egosyntonic.* But one needs to keep perspective. There are often legitimate arguments for another way to think about the same topics. So often that I intend to begin with the very next post to append material that points away from my argument.



Little truths are like artworks. They’re opinions, ways of seeing, possible but not ironclad Truths.



For Truths, no pointing away.




  •  Egosyntonic refers to the behaviors, values, and feelings that are …consistent with one’s ideal self-image.) (Wikipedia)








By on July 18th, 2020


‘Liberty Bell’ Tolls for Sites Where History Is Alive and Kicking, by Nancy Baker Cahill, via the New York Times


How Can You Augment Reality?


A conundrum ensnarled with an enigma. Reality is tub water too hot to step into, augmented reality turns the tub in your viewfinder pink. As far as I understand, augmented reality requires a viewport — technically-equipped goggles (you swim, the software counts laps in your field of view), the digital camera in your smart phone (responds to local wifi and delivers an artistic effect over your view of a whirlagigging wind farm. Lady Madonna? Cute kitten? Mobius strip?)

The turbines twirl, real wind energy is translated into real electricity. Reality. What plays out in your viewfinder at the same time? Dealer’s choice.

Or, a step into another level of consciousness, you the viewer get to choose whether the bathtub looks pink or pea green. Whether you are color blind leads to a maze that certain philosophers enjoy exploring. I leave it to them.

Humanity also recognizes visions that appear to certain people. Calls some miracles. If Mr Wobbles suddenly finds he’s in a field of sunflowers, then is he? Is he even though we’re standing and talking to him and we’re at the seashore?

Reality on the grass, alas. Gertrude Stein becomes apt here. Reality is reality is reality.

I imagine as humans get more used to augmented reality that some people will accept it the same way they do the experiences of psychedelics. They’ll lose the sense of separation between normal and created. I remember a friend talking about driving on LSD. Suddenly the car was driving along upsidedown so, ok, he figured he just had to keep driving. No other option.

Last I heard, he’s still alive.

Many of us have negotiated these metaphysic roadways. Castaneda, drug-augmented visuals, the soggy dormouse in the teapot. If we’re lucky we never have a bad trip. I was delirious for three days after surgery in 2017. I discovered that an artist had been in the room before me and left marvelously clever kinetic sculptures all over. Afterward I wrote:

Part of me (an itty bitty but real part) still believes in those artworks. In La-la land. In what I connected with. Like Dorothy and Toto after Oz. They knew the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch. They knew the Ruby Slippers. They didn’t make those up. But no one back in Kansas will buy it. They’re in a place of knowing what other people don’t, real people don’t. Because they can’t, they didn’t go there.


They stayed home.


As we stir augmented reality into our routines something has to shift. The credulous may start believing the inserted material. A horrible tale in recent news about a teen who attended a giant church party, contracted Covid, and was dosed twice by her parents with hydroxychloroquine. She’s dead. Some people will always drink the Kool-Aid.