Tag Archives: New York City

For the Love of the Game: On Artists Anonymous and Dan Witz

DB@OGN

“…many think of the Art world as a sort of free-for-all, where anyone of any level of mental stability, at the slightest whim and for any reason, can jump in and call himself an artist.  We sometimes fail to remember how extremely important high skill, craftsmanship, and passionate dedication were to painters of earlier times.  Those attributes were far more than just admirable qualities.  Art was a noble vocation and a way of life.  Their skills were assumed to be divinely infused.  Being an artist was their very identity, their reason for existing.”
– Richard Schmid, from Alla Prima II

When viewing certain contemporary art, you might say to yourself, “I could do that.”  But if you visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York City this month, I promise that you will have a different reaction.

For the rest of April, and into the first week of May, Jonathan LeVine Gallery is hosting solo exhibitions by Artists Anonymous (“AA”), titled Old Game New, and by Dan Witz, titled NY Hardcore.  I am not an art critic, but it is fair to say that both AA and Dan Witz remind me of all the qualities that Richard Schmid thought were reserved only for the best painters of the past.

In the Archive section of AA’s website, they state, “Digital reproductions of our works, especially reproductions of paintings are not representative.”  In a post last year, I wrote that I had a Stendhalian moment when I saw online images of AA’s paintings.  I wish I had reserved that comment for when I walked into Old Game New, and saw AA’s paintings and afterimages in person for the first time.

From a technical perspective, AA is a talented group.  In his letters to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “It is impossible to attach the same importance to values and to colours.”  It’s clear AA thinks otherwise, as their works demonstrate their ability to capture form and light while using vibrant colours.  And after seeing AA’s art, I am even more astonished by their method of painting in the afterimage.

AA_Borderlands_LBorderlands, oil on canvas, 78.75 x 149.63 inches

For example, in their multiple canvas painting, Borderlands, it looks like AA uses simple brush strokes of white and two shades of yellow to create the eyes of the woman on the viewer’s right of the painting.  Yet when seen in Borderlands Afterimage, those same eyes are a realistic and piercing blue that stare straight into you.  And that’s just the eyes of one model – the rest of the painting is equally as impressive, and AA must have taken great care in creating it.

AA_BorderlandsBorderlands Afterimage, digital C print, 59.05 x 110.24 inches

When I first saw the images of Dan Witz’s mosh pit portraits on the Jonathan LeVine website, I thought, “Wow, those are unique photographs.”  Then I clicked on one of the images, and read the text next to the image: “Oil and digital media on canvas.”  Dan’s paintings are impressive, and as with AA’s paintings, the online images don’t do justice to the real thing.  When I saw Dan’s skills staring back at me from a six foot long canvas, I couldn’t help but appreciate, not only his attention to detail, but also his ability to paint in a realistic style without sacrificing the energy of the scenes he captured.

DanWitz_VisionofDisorderlyVision of Disorder, oil and digital media on canvas, 40 x 64 inches

But it’s not just AA’s and Dan Witz’s painting abilities that have sunk their hooks into me, it’s also their commitment and passion.  You don’t get this good by treating art as a hobby.

Dan Witz has been painting street art in NYC since the late 1970s, and his studio work encompasses a variety of subjects, including lamps, “nightscapes”, and portraits.  At the end of one of Dan’s videos on his website, he jokes, “That’s all I have to say about being old and doing street art.”  But you get the impression that there is nothing else he would rather be doing.

AA begins its artist statement with, “Art is always an A [Grade], otherwise it’s no art; you are either very very good, or you fail.  There are no shades of grey in art, no acceptable.”  That is a demanding standard, one I think they point at themselves more than they do at others.  Once you are that good, you set your own standards, and you don’t display anything less than your best.  As Jony Ive, the head of Design at Apple Inc. said, “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”

Most people will see Old Game New and NY Hardcore and appreciate AA’s and Dan Witz’s talents.  But I draw and paint, so I now know how wide a chasm exists between me and them.  It would be easy to be discouraged, knowing what it would take to be that good.  But AA and Dan Witz don’t paint to haunt me.  They paint for the love of it, and they are an inspiration for those of us who also love it.  So instead of packing up my paints and brushes, I’ll admire the dedication that AA and Dan Witz pour into their art, and I’ll take the advice of another inspiring person,

“Modern man is conditioned to expect instant gratification but any success or triumph realized quickly, with only marginal effort is necessarily shallow.  Meaningful achievement takes time, hard work, persistence, patience, proper intent and constant self-awareness.  The path to such success is punctuated by failure, consolidation and renewed effort.  It is wet with the tears of emotional breakdown.  Personal reconstruction is art.  Discovering one’s self, one’s talent and ambition and learning how to express it is a creative process so may not be rushed.  What’s the hurry?  Pressure to succeed according to a particular timeline comes from outside.  If the goal is selfish self-improvement there is no schedule, no deadline.  One’s rate of progress is influenced by the intensity used to address the task.  Hard, intelligent work speeds us along the path.  Neurotic obsession and compulsion may steepen the trajectory but usually lead to illness and injury.  In the end, the process takes as long as it takes — you can’t push the river.”
– Mark Twight, from “Why

P.S. For a more detailed discussion on AA’s art, read this recent Studio International interview with Maya van Malden, a member of AA and their spokesperson.  And for an overview of Dan Witz and his art, read this Village Voice article.  But this blog post and those articles are just words.  For the real thing, visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery this month.

P.P.S.  As part of their exhibition, AA intended to have a screen that displayed a live recording of visitors as they walked through the Alice in Wonderland themed installation.  Instead of a standard feed, the screen would display the negative image, so that people would “see ghostly negative versions of themselves, while the video reverses their surrounding inverted environment into the positive.”  Unfortunately, when I visited, the monitor wasn’t working.  But Malena, who works at the gallery, offered to take my picture with my iPhone.  She then inverted the colours in the picture using an app called Negative Me.  The picture above is the “ghostly version” of me standing in front of AA’s installation.  Thank you for being such a kind host, Malena.  And thank you, AA and Dan Witz, for sharing your ideas and talents with us.

Banksy Plays the Violin

Banksy

Earlier this year, I read an article about Joshua Bell, a violinist who played at a Washington D.C. subway station during the morning rush hour. Unlike most buskers, this musician was one of the most accomplished virtuosos in the world. Three nights before, Joshua Bell played in Boston’s Symphony Hall for patrons who paid over $100 a ticket. And the instrument he played? A violin from 1713, handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari, that cost Bell $3.5 million.

You would expect that one of the best musicians on the planet to garner some attention. But during his 43 minutes of playing time, only seven people stopped to listen, and he earned a total of $32.17.

This experiment, the brainchild of The Washington Post, raises all sorts of questions, including: Can we appreciate beauty in unfamiliar settings? Are we able to recognize talent without signposts? And how do we know when we are in the presence of true art? Banksy must have considered these questions last weekend, when he set up a vendor stall in New York’s Central Park.

You may be wondering, “Who is Banksy?” But like Joshua Bell in symphonic circles, Banksy, in the art world, is a household name.  We don’t know his real name, but Banksy is an English artist, who has literally taken contemporary art to the streets. Yes, he’s a graffiti artist, whose primary tools are spray-paint and unsuspecting walls. Banksy is known for painting socially conscious and politically poignant images, mostly with dark and satirical undertones. And while his art can be viewed for free in various locations around the world, his original stenciled prints have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So when Banksy set up a stall in Central Park to sell 25 pieces of original art for only $60 a piece, you would expect that at least one or two people would have gobbled up his signed works, particularly in such an art conscious city. Instead, he sold only eight pieces for a total of $240 (one woman bought two works, but she haggled the vendor down to half price).

Like Joshua Bell’s musicianship, people either did not appreciate Banksy’s art, or it was passed off as fake. Either way, these experiments force us to consider some unsettling ideas: that our opinions are not our own, that circumstances may be more important than talent, and that everyday things we take for granted, may be more beautiful and valuable than we ever considered.

P.S. When you stand on the Northeast corner of Columbus and Broadway in San Francisco, look toward the Transamerica Pyramid, and you will see this original Banksy:

Banksy photo

Fette Sau

Fette Sau

Vincent: Want some bacon?
Jules: No man, I don’t eat pork.
Vincent: Are you Jewish?
Jules: Nah, I ain’t Jewish, I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: Pigs are filthy animals.  I don’t eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Yeah, but bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.
– A conversation from Pulp Fiction

This week, for my departing colleague’s farewell dinner, he took our team to Fette Sau, which Zagat voted the best BBQ in New York City.  I can hear people in Kansas City and Texas giggling, but Fette Sau was exceptional.

With a rolling loading bay door for its entrance, and rows of picnic tables, Fette Sau resembles a garage more than it does a New York restaurant.  Their “less is more” attitude is obvious.  For convenience, the food is served on metal trays and paper plates, and the beer is served in glass gallons and mason jars.  The food is prepared behind the counter, and we watched while one of the cooks cut slabs of pork that were thrown onto a simple wooden table (see the sketch above).

At Fette Sau, they focus on three things: BBQ, whiskey, and beer (the cider was pretty darn good too).  I tried brisket, pork shoulder, sausage, and a variety of BBQ sauces, including a spicy one that I was tempted to slip into my coat pocket, it was so good.  Unfortunately, they were out of the Berkshire Belly (bacon), which my colleague assured me was worth the flight back from San Francisco.

So if you are in New York, and are deciding on which of the countless restaurants to try, skip the white table cloths and cabernet, take the Subway to Brooklyn, and visit Fette Sau.  Because Vincent is right: pork tastes gooood.

P.S. We’ll miss you, Andy.

New York City

A few weeks ago, my wife and I traveled to New York City to attend a friend’s wedding.  We had a great weekend catching up with family and friends, and walking around Manhattan.  It was also the first time that I brought my sketching tools on a vacation, so I finally had the chance to capture a few scenes in my sketchbook.

We visited The Frick Collection, which includes renowned paintings from Old Masters, including Turner, Renoir, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Whistler.  But I was most taken by John C. Johansen’s portrait of Henry Clay Frick.  You are not allowed to take photos in The Frick Collection, but they encourage sketching (the membership brochure actually includes a picture of people sitting and sketching the paintings).  So while Stacie was in the gift shop, I sketched Mr. Frick’s portrait (above).

It’s rare that Stacie and I get to spend a long weekend alone without our kids, so I didn’t want to spend the entire trip drawing.  But I figured that if I drew quickly, I could complete a few sketches.  They’re not my best, but I’m glad I did them.

The Standard Hotel, New York

In my last post, I wrote that I would add some sketches of the High Line.  The Standard Hotel is a unique boutique hotel in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan that straddles the High Line.  The sketch below was my view of The Standard Hotel as I walked north from the south entrance of the park.

If you travel to New York, check out the High Line.  It’s a great walk, and you will be treated to fantastic and unusual views of lower Manhattan.

The West Village

Earlier this year, I visited my brother and his family in NYC.  On the weekend, we walked The High Line, which is an old elevated rail line that the City of New York and a group of generous donors converted into a public park.  On our way to the High Line, we walked through the West Village, where I snapped a couple of pictures that I thought would be fun to draw.  I finally got around to sketching one of those pictures.

Below is the first stage of a sketch of some apartment buildings that are situated across the corner from where Greenwich Avenue runs into 8th Avenue.

I liked this ink on paper sketch, but I have been wanting to add watercolors to my sketches, so I figured I would begin with this one.  I have never painted with watercolors, so I would like to thank Patsy Taylor for giving me an introduction in “how to.”  I am taking a drawing and painting class one night a week that Patsy teaches, and she has been a huge help in pointing me in the right direction, particularly with media I have not tried before.

Below is the same sketch after painting over it with watercolors.  I am just scratching the surface of painting, but I enjoyed working on this sketch, and I look forward to adding watercolors to more of them.  Thanks for all the help, Patsy!

I took some other pictures during our walk, so I will likely add some sketches of the High Line to The Hipping Post soon.

Midtown Manhattan

I was in New York the week before last for a conference.  It was a short and busy trip, but on my way to lunch, I walked by my favorite building in the city, the GE Building in Rockefeller Center.  I didn’t take any photos of the GE Building this time, but I used my Blackberry to snap a few pictures of some nearby sites.

I used a photo of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a guide for the sketch below.  I am intimidated by fine detail, so I decided to draw this one quickly, focusing on the basic shapes and values (light and dark areas) of the Cathedral.  I added a touch of color for the sky and for where the trees entered my frame.  I sketched this one on the plane ride home.

I also took a photo of the statue of Atlas, facing Fifth Avenue.  When I got home, I saw that my photo did not turn out well.  Instead, I used an image from Google Images as the basis for the sketch below, so I can’t take credit for the composition.  I have continued playing with the markers that I used in the Joplin sketches in my previous post, and I like how this one turned out.

Rule #1 of the Urban Sketchers manifesto is, “We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.”  With a young family and a full-time job, I don’t have much time to draw on location, so I don’t follow the USK manifesto.  I just enjoy sketching and drawing.  But I appreciate the other rules, particularly, “Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel,” and, “We show the world, one drawing at a time.”  You can see the rest of the manifesto and a description of Urban Sketchers here.  It’s a great blog – check it out.