Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hong Kong Born International Artist Simon Ma Now On Display In Miami

There are some great places in the world to see contemporary art. Based on the caliber of work being shown at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum, Miami must be one of them. Their current show features a Hong Kong-born artist who has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, MOCA Shanghai, Amsterdam's Leslie Smith Gallery, Taiwan's Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts and more. His name is Simon Ma and with his current exhibition making a U.S. debut (July 12 - October 19) I tried to catch up with him to learn a little more about what's behind his passion. The work itself, as you can see here, is quite striking.

Simon Ma has quite a resume. He's worked with Julian Lennon, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche, among others. He was appointed by the United Nations as a Cultural Ambassador and The Shanghai Tatler named Simon Ma "Crossover Artist of 2013"... plus named him "Designer of the Year."

EN: How did growing up in Hong Kong shape your life and art?

Simon Ma: I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the U.K. I started painting at 7 and began making music at 11. I was 13 years old when I left to live in the U.K. Chinese and western thinking and the methods of painting were things that I learned. Fusion and mix is something I was born with.

EN: How did you go from being a Chinese artist to showing your work internationally?

SM: I am a very hard worker. Many people in Hong Kong can't make art although some of the most famous artists are from China. What I believe is to let your art work and talk to people. Passion and purity are very important principles to me. My background and understanding of both cultures was very helpful in my getting into the Venice show.

EN: What is a “Crossover Artist”?

SM: Unlimited thinking and work. We are exploring (art aspect) new ways and new elements of expressing life. Nowadays we have too much information, technology and pollution etc… I think balance is a very deep and hard way of learning this. Yin and Yang from Chinese history is about balance.

EN: How do you view your work in the context of current philosophical trends?

SM: My philosophy for the Venice Biennale was about love and nature. 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse. My new show, the horse show, is about giving love to people. The whole world needs more peace and we need to slow down everything. We are all running too fast. I really hope the world can use my REN horses. I really want to pass on love throughout the world. Artists have social responsibilities, too, and that is what I would like to do. We should be more happy, or rather, not frightened in facing problems and pass on the right positive energy to the younger generation.

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I think you will agree that the young Mr. Ma is doing impressive work and will be someone to watch in the future. Click on the images to enlarge.

For more information about The Frost Museum of Art visit

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Midsummer Update on A Remarkable Tale

Two years ago I met a freshly graduated student from the UMD fine arts program whose pictures were on display at the PROVE Gallery here in Duluth. Ian Welshon's work impressed me. When I learned that his future ambitions included a desire to illustrate children's books, I probed his level of interest to consider illustrating one of mine. Thus began our two years together (thus far) to bring my little poem/story to print.

At this point in time the drawings are now complete. The next step will be the layout and manuscript prep.

Every step of the way involves decisions. And sacrifices.

One of the challenges was been working within limitations. He lives in Stillwater, MN and I am here up north. A second is that of trying to find a publisher, made especially challenging because children's book publishers like to be the ones who select the illustrator. This approach of the writer picking his illustrator is evidently taboo, or at least that is what I have run across in the literature and in experience thus far.

So, we're going with the publish-on-demand arm of, Createspace. My dealing with them thus far have been very good. Createspace published Unremembered Histories, my first set of short stories and we're currently working with them on this one. Unfortunately, the maximum size of the final product will be smaller that I'd originally envisioned. Nevertheless, there may be work-arounds and I am confident the final product will look good, and will be enjoyed.

The name of the book is A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd. I have yet to find anyone who hasn't enjoyed it. You can see more of Ian's illustrations for this book here.

Later this fall we're planning to have an art show to exhibit some of Ian's illustrations and to share the book. I will keep you posted.

Meantime... life goes on all around you. Make it remarkable.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Downsizing and Minimalizing: A Few Ideas

As they say, and most of us have experienced, junk accumulates to fill available space. Like house dust it just seems to accumulate effortlessly and perpetually.

Is clutter a habit or a disease? I know that many of the things that people acquire have behind them a tenuous justification that we tell ourselves, but if we were honest, all too often we really don't need it. The unfortunate reality is that if we don't learn how to assume responsibility for our clutter before we die, someone else will be having to deal with it after.

If I remember my history correctly, Robert E. Lee had to leave the army for two years (this was between the Mexican War and the Civil War) in order to deal with all the "stuff" that was left behind when his father passed away.

I have another friend whose wife, when her father died, had to make 28 trips from Minnesota to New Jersey to deal with all the "stuff" he'd accumulated over a lifetime.

A much better plan would be for us to assume responsibility and deal with our own "stuff" ... Why is this so hard?

My father-in-law was a role model in this matter. Twenty-five or so years ago I remember thinking to myself what a nightmare it will be to deal with all the "stuff" he had accumulated. He had a house, garage and eight outbuildings including a barn and a greenhouse, each with attic spaces full of various kinds of content. Over a period of years he determined to empty and dismantle one building per year. He would sell whatever he could in a big rummage sale and burn the rest for firewood or whatever. By the time he needed to move to a two room apartment, he was ready to go. It was, in my opinion, an astonishing achievement. No medals were given, no mayoral citations, but in his simple way he exemplified personal responsibility.

Yesterday on the radio a couple guys were taking about a book one or both had written about minimalizing, and how to reduce the clutter in our lives. For themselves they had come up with a game in which they would pick a month and on each day they would throw or discard that many things. That is, on the fourth, one would get rid of four things.

Because yesterday was the 19th, I decided to get rid of nineteen things. (Why wait till the First to begin?) It felt good so I kept going, and near-filled a large trash bin. Today I will try to get rid of twenty...

How about you? Are you wearied by wondering what will happen to all your things when you're gone? In high school I was in the play You Can't Take It With You, and guess what? You can't.

What I've observed about clutter is that it's essentially like weeds. Though it's somewhat time consuming, unless you deal with them they will overrun the garden and make it useless.

Here's a quote I liked on this matter:

“A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.” ― Victoria Moran, Lit From Within: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty

That pretty much sums it up. Bottom line: what is my life about? Once we realize this, streamlining -- at least in theory -- becomes easier. Wish me luck. I'm trying to break the habits of a lifetime. How about you?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Did Modern Art Dealer and Collector Ambroise Vollard Make Picasso What He Was?

"He did not like people to watch him when he was painting... as soon as he noticed her... he packed up his things in a rage and away he went."
~Ambroise Vollard, on Cezanne

This spring I was asked if I might be interested in contributing a lecture to the Tweevenings series which the Tweed Museum of Art has been hosting since last autumn. The essence of Tweevenings is that a speaker makes a presentation on one of the works from their extensive collection. From the beginning I've tried to attend as many lectures as I was able (sometimes I have been out of town) and not a one has been a disappointment.

Ambroise Vollard
For me, attending the Tweevenings lectures has not been simply to acquire more facts and names and knowledge. Rather it remains part of my lifelong quest to understand questions like "What is art?" and "What is the role of art and artists in our culture?"

In addition to learning about the Tweed collection I have also met some and heard some interesting people.  In October, I discovered the work of Charles Biederman through a lecture by Bill Shipley. In February Ann Klefstad gave a talk called Double Vision which very directly discussed the faultlines over which our art understanding has trod, specifically the notion of "art for art's sake" often being pitted against functional art instead seeing them as siblings. In all cases I have gained new insights which brought new understandings, as well as a deeper appreciation for the Tweed as a community resource.

My talk in 18 days will revolve around the Pablo Picasso's illustrations for Honore Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece, an 1832 story about three painters which went on to influence many future artists including Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso.

Researching the themes surrounding Picasso's drawings, which became a series of limited edition prints, has brought many rewards. One of these has been discovering the degree to which a single collector can have such extensive influence. It's a relatively small step to the conclusion that the Tweeds themselves have made an immeasurable contribution to our Northland which we often can take for granted. And in point of fact, these 13 Picasso etchings in the collection here were donated to the museum by the grandchildren of the late Alice Tweed Tuohy, an avid art collector along with her husband. Ms. Tuohy herself donated over 500 art works to UMD.

Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) must have had an astute sense of the times as he became integrated with the Paris art scene. Artists whose works he collected include Renoir, Gaugan, Cezanne and, famously, Picasso. The young Spaniard Picasso arrived in Paris in 1901. I can't say for sure when Vollard first noticed him, but in 1906 the collector purchased 27 canvases from the as yet undiscovered artist, which included all of his "Blue Period" works. Through 1911 Vollard made purchases twice annually from the young artist, a time transitional not only for Picasso but for modern art as a movement.

Their relationship last nearly forty years, during which time the artist did several paintings and drawings of the collector/art dealer, including an interest Cubist portrait of the Vollard. The patronage of Vollard and the Steins, Gertrude and Leo, kept Picasso financially solvent.

Because etchings were one of Vollard's passions, he leaned on Picasso to produce two series which may have been influential in elevating this craft to a fine art form. These were the illustrations for Balzac's Unknown Masterpiece and the 100 images known as the Vollard Suite, the last three being illustrations of Vollard himself.

Picasso ultimately became a household name far beyond the art circles where he established himself as a pioneer. Was this Vollard's doing? Unquestionably Vollard contributed to Picasso's succes. This might be one reason he was willing to "give back" by producing the Vollard Suite and the illustrations for Unknown Masterpiece. Then again, he may have simply relished the opportunity to explore new creative terrain, as he had with sculpture, theater, and ceramics.

Undoubtedly another factor in his success was his charm. To a public eager to embrace new ideas on the threshold of the Twentieth Century, he made for a good alternative to the somewhat feisty Cezanne or the ultra-sensitive Van Gogh. Picasso became an emblem of modernism, and went on to influence generations of artists in his wake.

By the time Ambroise Vollard died in a freak accident on the way to his chateau, he had collected more than 10,000 paintings and art objects. Had he not died when he did, he may have died a year or two later from a broken heart when the Nazis over-ran his homeland.

To learn more about this topic join us Tuesday, August 5, in the library of the Tweed Museum of Art, 6:30 p.m. ... Picasso, Storytelling and The Unknown Masterpiece.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Catching Lightning Without The Botte (A Book Review)

I hadn't read anything about Timothy Bouvine's Catching Lightning Without The Bottle when I first started reading it. A friend endorsed it as a good book so I set it on my "to read" pile this spring. When I finally got 'round to picking it up, it wasn't just the story that was compelling. The writing itself seemed to expertly set the hook so that the reader would be unable to swim away.

The central character in this story is Blake Benson, a superstar ballplayer whose fame has tested his character and found him to be lacking. Benson is a catcher for the Chicago Cubs, and though he's played a role in bringing their pitching staff to stellar heights, he himself has become so handicapped due to his behavior that he is a detriment to the team.

The first chapter describes another one of his benders, forgetting himself (losing himself) in another boozy night of women and excess after a remarkable last inning comeback earlier that day. This is not a random incident for Benson. This has become so routine it's begun to define him. Despite his fame and accomplishments, even his best friend Sandy has come to distrust him, but wants to help him anyways.

Blake makes promises but doesn't keep them and even when told this is the last time, he sneaks off and finds a way to get another drink. When caught he is told he can't fly on to the next game with the team and he's literally left behind.

It should be noted that the Cubs have a ten-game lead and are in first place in the second half of the season. They seem quite capable of doing the impossible for a Cubs franchise that has so many times come up short. Which makes the next plot twist so unexpected. A plane crash takes out the entire team and coaches, except their one superstar, Blake Benson.

Bouvine evidently researched what would happen should an accident like this occur today in the jet age. Everything is totally believable in how this might play out. The author achieves that wonderful quality all readers of good fiction seek: a vividly detailed telling of a story that is not interrupted by disbelief. That is, when the plane crash occurs, the events that follow are never interrupted by the internal voice that says, "Oh that would never happen."

In fact, all the details of the story seem plausible, even when implausible.

The book is a story about a man fighting to regain a measure of his dignity, overcome his self-destructive behaviors and mend his shredded life. Bouvine not only loves baseball, but also understands alcoholism and the mind games alcoholics play.

The book's title comes from a term coined by Leo Durocher, "catching lightning in a bottle." It means performing a difficult feat. Catching lightning without a bottle, then, is achieving the impossible. Which is more impossible, winning the pennant or overcoming his addiction which under extreme duress and in the public eye? Well, I would suggest that writing such a good book for a first novel might also come pretty close to catching lightning.

All six reviewers of the book have given it a 5-star rating thus far. This review sums up what I was thinking:

Whether you are a baseball fan or not, this is a great read that will appeal to everyone of all walks of life. We all have our faults and demons that torment us, but this book is an inspiration to face those negatives in our everyday life. Taking nothing for granted, personal redemption and improving relationships with loved ones and friends are front and center in this great story. You will not be disappointed in this book.

You can read the other reviews and purchase the book here.  Published by Savage Press, 2014.

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For what it's worth, if you're a fan of minor league baseball, the Reader is celebrating another birthday and publisher Bob Boone is giving away Free Tickets to Wade Stadium for next Friday, the 25th. (Make sure I have my facts correct; pick up a copy of the Reader and check it out.)

Take me out to the ballgame...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Bob Dylan's Linguistic Transfigurations

This blog post was written five years ago today as I was preparing for my first one-man art show in forty years. I remember bringing multiple carloads of paintings, drawings and such to hang, and my CD player to listen to music as I did so. Dylan's Together Through Life had just recently been released and I know that I listened to it multiple times as I hung the show. Hence the thematic blending of art and Dylan in more than a few of these blog posts. There is a sense in which the three of us -- art, Dylan and I -- have been "together through life."

Linguistic Transfigurations

"But for the sky there are no fences facing." ~ Bob Dylan

What set Bob Dylan apart when he first emerged on the scene was not simply the message he conveyed, but the manner in which he conveyed it. His words glittered over the surface of his songs and each movement of light caused spangles of delight in the brain that recognized what was happening here.

Mr. Tambourine Man is filled with language that explodes with imagery, carrying listeners through energizing whitewater rapids of emotion.

The message, to some extent, is an old one. The metaphor above is an original way of repeating a common maxim: The sky's the limit. Or to put it another way, there are no limits. But by putting the wine in different wineskins, Dylan rejuvenated the meanings for a new generation.

The culmination verse summarizes thus:

"Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea
circled by the circus signs with all memory and fate
driven deep beneath the waves, let me
forget about today until tomorrow..."

Having lived in Mexico a year, I have to believe these lines are, in essence, a linguistically luminous way of summarizing the philosophy of "Manana" which means "Tomorrow." For a moment in time, for today, for the now, let's just live for today, he sings.

Ultimately, becoming a mature adult means that we do have to carry burdens and assume responsibilities. For the young, the appeal of avoiding this yoke is rightly sensed, though adulthood also has its rewards. As we grow, however, let's not forget to make a place for dancing beneath diamond skies.

For some, music is the route to temporary forgetfulness. We lose ourselves in the sweet strains of the strings, chimes, rhythms. And for others, myself here, it is the act of creation which is my dance.

This month, some of my art is on display at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block in a retrospective of interpretations and transformations, both black & white and color, on surfaces of every kind. The Dylan painting at the top of this page will be on display, along with more than 130 other works. And maybe a few surprises.

* * * *

It is now five years later. The Dylan piece at the top of the page -- and a number of other pieces -- can now be seen at Goin' Postal in Superior.

Speaking of Superior, this coming Sunday July 20 is Lake Superior Day, an annual celebration of the Great Lake, the largest freshwater body of water in the world, and an inspiration to many of the artists and residents here in the Northland. The event takes place at Barker's Island, with music by the Boomchucks (among others) plus poets, artists, craftspersons and more. 

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Celebrate it...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Play Ball: All Star Game Memories

Cleveland hosted the 1954 All Star Game.
I've mentioned before how when I was born my parents named my four Teddy bears after the Cleveland Indians starting rotation. It was 1952 and these were indeed Stars -- Bob Lemon, fireballer Bob Feller, Mike Garcia and Early Wynn. Feller, who was an All-Star eight times and a Hall of Fame shoe-in, had a bad year in '52. He rebounded, however, and would ultimately be ranked #11 of all time amongst Hall of Fame pitchers. In 1954 the Tribe would be the first, and last, Major League team to have four 20-game winners on the squad.

Early Wynn, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, would later become a 300 game winner. I remember going to Cleveland Metropolitan Stadium to see him try to win his 300th game at age 43. His first and last game in the Major Leagues were both on September 13.

Add caption
Bob Lemon, a seven-time All-Star, was also later elected to the Hall of Fame. In short I was surrounded by a great set of teddy Bears. I can't remember whether Feller or Lemon was my favorite. Both were black and white, though I believe Lemon was skinny with a white torso and long black limbs and must have lasted the longest of this set of bears.

In 1954 the Tribe not only had four 20-game winners for a starting rotation, Cleveland also hosted the All Star game. What a contrast between the 1954 game of stars and the 1963 Cleveland-hosted game that I attend in 1963. In '54 the Indians had several stars, including my mom's favorite player Bobby Avila. In the '63 team, there were no real stars on the Cleveland team, but our home town team did get one representative, Jim "Mudcat" Grant.

All these memories were triggered by an interview I heard on the radio with Grant, who was later traded to the Twins where he helped lead Killebrew and Crew to the World Series. Meanwhile, the Indians were shamefully bad. The best way to understand the demise of the Indians would be to read Cleveland sports journalist Terry Pluto's The Curse of Rocky Colavito.

1965 was another year in which the team that hosted the All Star Game also went to the World Series. Both teams took it on the chin in the post-season.

Miscellaneous Observations 
A lot has changed since those early All Star Games, especially the salaries. Bob Lemon made $40,000 in a typical year once he was a star in 1950s. The average player today makes four million.

I still have this card.
Last night's Major League Baseball All Star Game was a night game. There's big revenue from television, hence these big games are played under the lights. You seldom hear baseball players complain about being overpaid.

The first All Star Game in Minnesota (1965) was played in the afternoon. The game I went to in Cleveland (1963) was also an afternoon game. The sun was bright and the weather pristine. I remember the American League had Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio at second base and shortstop. I thought they were so cool.

There were many Stars in that 1963 game, including Mickey Mantle. The starting right fielder for the American League was Rocky Colavito, who was back with Cleveland after being traded away at the end of a 1959 season in which he led the league in Home Runs. After retirement, the slugger went to Pennsylvania and had mushroom farms.

There were five Cuban-born players in this year's All Star Game.

Derek Jeter, now 40, is one of the baseball's all-time icons. In last night's game, his 14th as an American League All Star, he received an extremely warm, extended standing ovation from the Minnesota crowd. TV watchers heard a snippet from Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" as Jeter graciously acknowledged the crowd and hugged every player in the clubhouse. The song was selected because of the songwriter's connection to Minnesota.

The two baseball bats at the top of the page have the names of Ed Matthews and Pete Rose on them. Mathews was power hitter and all star with the Milwaukee Braves. In the old days they had a television show called Home Run Derby and guys like Eddie Mathews would go head-to-head (or swing-to-swing) against one another.

The current version of Home Run Derby, which started in the 1980's, is a once a year event held the day before the All Star Game. Like everything else it has a corporate sponsor, so it is called the Gillette Home Run Derby.

Pete Rose was one of the great hitters of all time, ultimately surpassing the Ty Cobb's unbelievable record. Sadly, he had a gambling addiction and was ultimately banned from baseball.

Two weeks ago I finished reading a really good book about baseball called Catching Lightning without the Bottle. It's a great baseball story, and also involves a superstar with an addiction problem. Great plot twists and insights into human nature as well as the game we grew up in love with.

Meantime... life goes on. Live it!