Friday, January 26, 2018

things at the end of January

PPPPPP; a book art object.

a bady designed winter menu / cigar-tin stories number seventy five

For three nights running there is a big brown rabbit in our back yard. He bounds away to a safe distance when I step out onto the deck, then sits on a flower bed and digs away for something to eat (later, C tells me that she has herbs and mint in that spot). For no reason at all I feel much more benevolent towards the rabbit than I do to the squirrels, who attack our bird feeders in manic raiding parties, four or five of them racing around and leaping from the fence tops in a kind of demonic, fast-forward circus act that makes me dream about the different gauges of birdshot.

The New Guy is thinking (out loud) about buying an electric car. My first response works through the usual things –– cost, reliability, the psychotic ambition of Elon Musk –– but very soon afterwards I realize that it really comes down to one thing: how optimistic are you about the future?

An article in the New York Times about Steve Bezos making a very public charitable donation of 33 million dollars, and how he’s finally “ready for the spotlight”. How fantastic, how lucky for us. He is the world’s richest person, worth over 100 billion dollars. Is that really a number of any significance? It’s a number that belongs in a comic book, or in the vomitorium of a Roman Emperor, or a Mughal Khan. But mostly it’s a number that says more about us than him.

About to turn fifty next month and still making dumb mistakes –– like forgetting to check the flue before lighting a lovely, roaring fire. This kind of thing really smartens you up, as you stand there in the open front door, looking out over winter with watery eyes, and reminds you just how badly fashioned your brain can be.

Last Saturday it was the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump being sworn in as President. To me it seems like people can’t really think about this, not seriously or for any length of time, because the past year has been one of growing disorientation –– not bewilderment exactly but a kind of internal drifting, whereupon certain disquieting aspects of life become untethered, and clouded in thick, green-tinged darkness, signifying putrefaction and sickness, even as events and their signposts slip away from meaning. Really, he’s just a phantasmic crack addict sleeping on your couch –– someone who will do and say anything, and then deny that it’s his fault when dealers come in and murder everyone in the house.

I miss the old days of simple, simmering anger at the giant, brutal, mechanical edifice that was the neoliberal project. That all seems quaint now. But this is what happens when all the people at all the right parties keep telling you that this is the way the world is now, that really it’s for the best, and everything will work out fine, and besides there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, turns out there is. Turns out you can vote for Fat Joker.

Speaking of anger, the Germans still have a lot to answer for, because I almost choke on my cereal when I find Kevin O'Leary, our bizarro version of the Pillsbury Doughboy, on the last page of the New York Times Magazine, talking up his the-market-solves-everything faffle (yes, it does wonders for alcoholics, the homeless, Sears employees, and other damaged people) plus his love of Ayn Rand. A-Y-N  R-A-N-D. Jesus. That’s like admiring Idi Amin because he was hungry. And I blame the Germans for all this because they put Lenin on a train back to Russia, where he orchestrated the revolution, which later confiscated the Rand family business, and ruined her father, which made her hate the communists, and all socialism, and write books extolling the virtues of unhinged self-interest. So, yeah: the Germans.

The day I wrote this I was home with the Queen of the Goofballs, and we were at home because the day before had been a gong show of freezing rain and people driving like kale-and-fart-stinking-Toronto poets trying to get to an open bar (I’m looking at you, UK EXPAT vanity plate), and the driveway like it’s primed and ready for its luge event, and not today, Death.

Soon, very soon, the shadow will shake your hand,

p.s. This is a version of my Tinyletter –– a free personal essay about art and life I send out every Tuesday.

an alphabet for inner panic; collage on wood



Monday, January 15, 2018

the agent from the inner circle

an original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel

24 x 24 x 1 1/2 inches

ready to hang – wire hanger attached in back

sealed and protected with gloss varnish

Soon you will understand: she would not be here if things were going well, if certain plans had not degraded, if certain states were not in decay. She is urgency's pale representative. Skeptical, intelligent, somehow medical. Elegant, too –– in that cream-coloured coat, high at the collar, long to the knee, a swirling heart daubed to her chest. Black-handed, gloved in thin leather. Serious and Staring. A breaker of borders. A carrier of secrets and orders from a distant and unknown centre, saturated with lies and cold authority, a reader of signs, a calculator of efficiency and need, the on-site architect of control, or ruthlessness, or sudden mayhem, in the star-abraded cyan mint of early morning, in the waking light of that-which-must-be-done. Soon you will understand.

Part of a series I am doing on icons, archetypes –– characters that could be expressed on a card, like the symbols in Tarot. 

The horizontal lines you see are string, used to help fix the wood panel to the easel, then primed and painted right into the image. 

I wanted to be a secret agent and an astronaut, preferably at the same time. 
~ David Byrne

Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent. 
~ William Shakespeare

If quick, I survive.
If not quick, I am lost.
This is "death.” 
~ Sun Tzu

shipped with care –– with board and wrap

everything from my store comes with an extra art surprise


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

things, things made, things consumed // cigar-tin stories number seventy three

• Two librarians are arguing in French. Otherwise the place is deserted. There is new furniture the colour of old mustard; the couches curve in graceful, modern crescents while the chairs scoop you in, their sliding black writing trays a strange extra arm. I’m reading about Albert Schultz in The Globe and Mail, then about psychopaths in Harper’s. There is also some mention of gloomy octopuses and how the summer populations of flying insects have fallen by eighty percent in the past twenty-five years. The light outside reminds me of hospitals and unused bedrooms, that piling kind of slush grey, in successive washes.
• At the bank to put $100 on a separate credit card that I keep for my art business and to buy my wife presents (buying her things from our joint account feels a bit too much like Homer giving Marge a bowling ball, I'm afraid). I'm third in line when I arrive, but the person currently at the counter is doing multiple things with stacks of papers and scribbled-on envelopes and her mobile phone, which she has to hold at arms length to use, and the clerk looks to be about fourteen years old, and I know things will go badly when he starts taking crumply papers and going off to offices in the back to ask questions. Soon there are at least a dozen people in line, twitching like robots when their power goes out. Of course I could make my own transaction through the bank machine but: not today, Satan. Apparently the person at the counter has cheques that cannot be cashed, and the app on her phone won't tell her the things she needs to do with her life. Really, she is doing everything, all at once, like a trip to the doctor which starts with dermatitis and ends with full-blown Ausems Wittebol-Post Hennekam Syndrome. Sorry! But now I am next in line and only God with a handful of locusts and lightning can move me from this spot.
• In the studio on a Thursday night and there is no water –– the second time in the last week or so. Things get tricky without water, especially painting with acrylics and gels, and now I'm thinking of having an emergency supply on hand. They must be doing some kind of work in the building or area but this is downtown so who knows, things just stop or break occasionally, from age or cold or ghosts.
• Strangely warm in the morning but of course this is a joke; by evening there's a severe cold warning. The 501 Express is emptier than usual. As the bus drivers change shift, the new driver ribs his colleague about the chill on the bus, how he has "poor temperature etiquette". The floor is thick with water and melt and mud, and for the first time I notice that it has drains. It reminds me of a house our realtor once showed us; somewhere behind a hidden door in the basement was a circular room in smooth cement whose only features were rubber hoses and a large floor drain. They must have removed the chains and hooks for viewing, our realtor said.
• Walking home in my neighbourhood at night, in this severe cold, I might as well be on Mars, nothing but me and the sound of my boots, squelching in that echoing too-loud way, as if I was a little machine. All of this is infinitely preferable to my old neighbourhood, downtown, where there was always some badly bundled troll emerging from the darkness, dragging something half broken or trying to ride three bikes.
• About six times a day a fire truck roars into the parking lot at work. Are we having fires? God has never answered my prayers before. But no, they only hang around for a few minutes and then tear away again.
• Oona and I finish the illustrated children's Old Testament. It gets pretty crazy towards the end –– careening from good king to bad king, bad faith to salvation, with plenty of murders along the way. On to the New Testament!

things made
• A triptych, in miniature: three thickened blocks of paintings on cradled wood panel called all of this I did alone, without even your melancholy fire in my mind​.
• Five TOTAL MANIACS –– five ink-brush drawings on vintage library cards of history's bloodiest two-legged disasters –– Alexander the Great, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Hitler, and Napoleon. Not all totalitarians, not all dictators, but all drenched in whole buckets of depravity and terror and madness.

things consumed
• The fourth season of Black Mirror. The shiny, superlative strangeness of this series continues. Utterly clever, completely compelling ... and yet. And yet many of these episodes I would not want to watch again, either because I've already seen the rabbit pulled from the holographic hat or because they are so relentlessly bleak that I'm already wincing at the idea.
Molly's Game. I see this with C one night when Oona has a sleepover with Brownies (thank you, Brownies). C calls it a poker movie but it's really a bad men and a woman with a chip on her shoulder. We enjoyed it quite a lot, although Kevin Costner might be miscast.
Best Day Ever. Or rather: a very bad day with a psychopath who is unintentionally hilarious (this is the kind of character who would call himself "a very stable genius"). By Kaira Rouda. A quick read, nicely done, with a few problems of being too neat at the end. But most people seem to want everything tied up the end, whereas I'm happy just to see it all it flames, so what do I know.

It's already January 9th! Only three more months of winter to go. Stay off the highway, if you can.

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.