Friday, February 29, 2008

Scooters and Art

Have I mentioned lately, how much I love my new job?
I'm sure I probably have, but today was the best day yet at work.

The day pretty much started with delivering a vintage Vespa to a customer in upstate New York. It was the first time I'd done a delivery, and I was very nervous about driving the shop truck with the hydraulic ramp. Plus, having just moved to New England, I'm not familiar with all the back roads and all that.
But Mapquest steered me right for once, and I had no problem finding the place. My problems began when I unloaded the scoot, and the customer asked me to start it up for her. The scooter was a mid 60s VBB Vespa that had been extensively restored in Indonesia. If you know much about Asian scooter restos, you probably know where this is going... On top of that, it was about 10 degrees out, not the best environment for any vintage two-stroke. Plus, the danged thing was flooded from the jostling of the trip.
Well, long-story-short, after about a half hour of kicking my left leg numb, and pestering Larry with stupid questions, hoping I was missing something obvious, I couldn't get the scooter to start. The customer, understandably, didn't want to accept delivery of a non-starting scooter, Larry even dishearteningly agreed that maybe I should bring it back to the shop.
I wasn't ready to give up though, having dealt with hard-starting vintage Vespas, and luckily the customer had a friend on-hand who'd had alot of experience with 2-stroke bikes. Between the two of us, and a can of starting spray, we got it to turn over.
Still, after taking it down an initial down the drive way, I wasn't confident. The bike was really cranky, and I wasn't confident enough in my mechanical analysis, or driving ability on a gravel driveway coated with icy compacted detritus of being snow-plowed, to really put it through the paces. I suspected the bike just needed a an "Italian tune-up", but really didn't want to drop it in the customer's drive way.
Luckily, her friend, who has probably been riding longer then I've been sucking fumes, decided to take it for a test ride, before we loaded it back on the truck. He kicked it over, and tooled out the long driveway onto the winding country road.
When he pulled it out of ear-shot, the customer and I both got a little concerned. We thought maybe it had died on him. But we got the opportunity to chat for a bit. Turns out, she is a portrait painter, and has a sidecar for scoot. Her plan for it is to load painting supplies in the sidecar, and use the scoot to paint on location.
Now, if you know the Dragon at all, you know this idea immediately made me very fond of this customer. I've have done extensive dreaming myself on how to tweak a scoot to be a Artistic Assault Vehicle. My current scheme, however involves an MP3 500 and one of these:

Oh yeah baby! Now that's $240 worth of pudding! Oh yeah!

Anyway, once the customer's volunteer test rider returned, he declared the scoot to be in good operating condition for what it is, a forty-year old 2-stroke Vespa on a cold New England day.

So I had a good time chatting with these folks. Especially the way the gents eyes lit up, and he did a little swaying dance when he talked about the possibility of getting a Mp3 500, sometime in the future. I hear ya, brother, I hear ya.

When I got back to the shop, another cool thing happened. A local architect, who's been in at least once kicking scooter tires, came in. Jim greeted him, and he asked Jim if he was "Psycho-Elf" on Modern Vespa. I poked my head up from what I was dinking with on the computer, and said, " Do you mean Punkelf?"
That's right, for the first time, somebody came into the shop looking for me, by internet reputation.
Needless to say, I was quite stoked.
Have I told you lately, how much I love my new job?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What Is One Life Worth?

Years ago when I sold art supplies, I came across pictures and a short description of one work of art that always inspires and humbles me. It has become a lodestone of sorts, a compass pointing in me in the direction of devotion to vision and to craft, and away from superficial distractions.
That work, just barely glimpsed above, in it's original installation in the artist's renting garage, is The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton.

By all accounts, Hampton was an unassuming man, a WWII era veteran, who returned stateside to work as a janitor in Federal buildings in D.C. . A lifelong bachelor, from a religious southern black family, descriptions of him by contemporaries sound like descriptions of recently apprehended serial killers. "Quiet," "Nice," these are the words that neighbors and coworkers would use to describe him. But secretly he was someone else. Yet instead of being the diabolical fiend, we might conjure up with images of such a loner... he was something else indeed...
Mr. Hampton created this installation, driven by what he perceived to be mystical visions, crafted out of detritus of modern life he gathered as a janitor. Much of the gilding and silver-plating you think you see on the surface of this work is in fact the foil inner wrapping of cigarette packs...
The Throne has for sometime rightly been on display at the Smithsonian. I first came across it in a book on contemporary African-American art. Many commentators regard it as Outsider art, citing Hampton's lack of involvement with the Art community overtly, and implicity referencing his mystical visions and religious motivation. Personally, I think all these attempts at categorization are limiting and ghetto-izing.
Like Notre Dame or Ankor Watt, the Throne is a great work of art. Simply taken on it's own. The fact that this is one man's lifework, using that phrase with a specificity which is rare in this day age, is only more awe-inspiring.

via Neatorama

Jake Von Slatt Interview: The Dynamics of the Personal Industrial Revolution

The blog Bostodelphia has a fantastic interview with Steampunk legend Jake Von Slatt.

Definitely worth reading, it explores some of his personal philosophy of how Steampunk could have economic as well as aesthetic and technological aspects...

CP: Is the essence of being a "steampunk(er?)" in the creation of steampunk crafts or in the mere consumption of them? How significant is the do-it-yourself model to steampunk, as opposed to something like goth where there's a ready market of fashion accessories, music, etc. to decorate one's self with, and thus no need for DIY? Relatedly, does the burgeoning market for luxury steampunk goods (JvS's keyboard can be purchased from another steampunker, Datamancer detract from the DIY, homespun air to most steampunk websites?

JVS: Not at all! Being an individual artisan making unique items and selling them to the non-player characters is very much in line with my view of what makes a Steam Punk. I firmly believe that all artists should be able to make a living wage plying their art and the internet has given us the platform to do so.

However, if a corporation starts manufacturing steampunk keyboards in large quantities it's likely that the Steam Punks will eschew them even if fans of Steampunk buy them up by the hundreds. That's OK too, we love our fans and understand that not everyone would want or can afford a handmade keyboard.

I myself sell nothing, I consider my product to be the entertainment my website provides to my visitors. In fact, I will shortly be publishing a licensing notice on my site which will state that my designs are licensed under Creative Commons, Non-Commercial Attribution, Share-alike license with a commercial exception for individual artisans. That is to say people are welcome to make copies of my work and sell them as long as they credit me for the design and the profits are supporting an individual or family.

CTI: On that licensing, do you see any affinity in the philosophy of Creative Commons, NCA, "share" licenses and the "gentleman tinkerer" steampunk may be a throwback to? A techno-romantic idea, as I'm really not sure how well this is supported by history, that technology is simply an expression of an open scientific community, so all technology should be fundamentally open, non-proprietary to better facilitate the exchange of ideas. This notion of course flies in the face of the contemporary model for "product development". Key to this is whether this is simply romantic (or hyper intellectually liberal) thinking, or can we really point to steam-age precedent.

JVS: Ah, it's a common mistake to think we care about what the past was. We're much more interested in what it should have been and what the future can be. I like Cory Doctorow's "reputation economy" concept a lot and I see something of it in the way the current crop of Steampunk enthusiasts interact on the net. A "gentleman" would not outright copy someone else's work, if only because the community would recognize it and his cred would drop.

As for the real world, I feel that there should be some patent protection to give companies the incentive to be first to market with a new technology, but it should reflect typical product development times, nothing longer.

Ultimately, desktop fabrication is going to eliminate much of manufacturing and then it will be only ideas that hold real value (see here. ) Recently an economist at Cambridge published a paper on optimal copyright length - his conclusion is that 14 years is optimal in term of economic benefit. That sounds about right to me.

via Brass Goggles

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Massurrealist Micheal Morris

In my new spree of art blogging, I would be greatly amiss if I neglected to post about Micheal Morris.

Micheal is one of the co-founders of the Massurrealist school, and perhaps more importantly, a pivotal figure in my decision to move to the East Coast. Not that he attempted to persuade me and Jes or anything, just that I first met him and his lovely wife on my first visit to Connecticut. His energy, warmth, and openness really tainted my impression of New England for the better.

Not long after we moved here, Micheal had a showing of prints which was written up here. (OK, so I've been horribly procrastinating this post, and you'll have to scroll down a bit on the page.)

A can of orange soda floats amidst breaking waves, a blue square pattern floats up from sand to sky, James Seehafer says, “That’s what I’m talking about.” It’s the early 1990s, he’s talking about Massurrealism, and he’s looking at Michael Morris’ painting “Orange Crush”. Seehafer, the artist who gave birth to the word “massurrealism”, has found the defining image of the art movement he christened in Morris’ eight-by-four-foot piece. The Massurrealist entwines images of the outside world with that of the internal world while incorporating the idea of mass and it’s many connotations: mass as an adjective, mass as a noun, and Mass, the proper noun. A massurrealistic piece may include themes of mass production, mass media and mass transportation, mass culture, and the collective Mass of the universe.

A movement without barriers, Massurrealism embraces any and all artistic mediums; it’s the artist’s natural answer to a world swamped with information, technology and product.
An emphasis on the elements is found in Morris’ paintings, and it was his experimentation with water that prompted him to pioneer the Massurrealist art movement 15 years ago.

“Painting water took a long time to learn,” Morris said. “I spent about six months on it before ‘Orange Crush’. Water is made up of secondary colors—green, orange and violet—and blue added on top for the reflection of the sky, then the foam…water is what got me started, it got me excited.
Morris also plays with concepts of time, physics, and the weight of human emotion. “We associate our feelings with mass,” he said. “We talk about being heavy with guilt, we tell people to lighten up.” His work fuses the intangibles of the human condition with the fact of our environment and culture, creating images that somehow make sense.

“Art is a science, a way of understanding the world,” said Ben Armstrong of Redding, who attended the show’s opening. “It’s extremely valid, though often overlooked.”

See, I told you I was at that show. Seriously though, after that quote was transcribed, I had a great conversation with Michael about his work. It followed a similar vein, though I wish I'd heard his comments about the elemental nature of his work. Because, from talking to him, I know that he does see painting as a philosophical/scientific/metaphysical means of inquiry into reality. By which I mean that art can be a way, perhaps the only way, to rectify the disparities between our scientific understanding of the world, with our subjective experiences, our philosophical ponderings, and our spiritual faith. And if you think a pursuit that can try and reconcile these disparate impulses is trivial, then you haven't been paying attention to the news lately.

In case you are interested, here is the best description of Massurealism I've found:

Massurrealism is the realization of a quest that explores the fertile ground that encompasses both reality and imagination -- the conscious and the subconscious. In Massurrealism the artists combine images from the outer world (the Mass) and inner world (the Surreal). Massurrealism thus brings disparate sides of our life into direct association, juxtaposing personal symbols with the imagery of mass culture, often combining the conflicts themselves -- the hard, pounding throb of a locomotive (mass transportation) charging forward and the soft, yielding form of a woman,swimming above and away; the trendy sophistication of a cocktail with the simple innocence of inquisitive goldfish. What is real, we might ask. What is imagined? These new images offer a glimpse into a universal hologram; a view that points at something beyond just images; a vision that may explain nothing -- yet might just explain everything. As such, Massurrealism pursues what is perhaps the ultimate realism.

OK, so that is a little nebulous, as are most artistic manifestos (except perhaps the Futurists, but then those who support Fascists are generally pretty concrete.) But there is something there, and if you Google Massurrealism, you will most likely find the claim that it is the first major art movement of the 21st century. And you know, I'll buy into that.

Seems like since art hit modernism, it has fractured into more sub genres than electronic music. I mean unless you are a devoted fan of dance music, you probably have no idea of the difference between trip-hop, jungle, dub, and industrial, any more than the layman knows the difference between Abstract Expressionism, Neo Expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction, or Unitary Urbanism. Since the mid-90s, it has pretty much felt like the only real categories for art were based on price and the geographic location of the gallery presenting it.

I wish I could find good quality pics of his paintings "Homage to Munch" and "Vitreuvan Barbie".... Those two works best of all portray the combination of skill, pop-culture savy, and humor that runs through all of Morris's works... But in a few years perhaps you'll see them in the art history books...

You can learn more about Michael Morris and Massurrealism in Massurrealism: A Dossier which includes some original essays by Morris.

Flaming Lips + Cat Power = "War Pigs"!!!

Oh man! This is fantastic!

Hmmm... makes me wonder if getting blood on the American Flag is considered blasphemous pinko desecration?

Think for a sec, afore ya answer that, eh, hoss?

I'll say one thing for Bush & Co., they have heightened my appreciation of Black Sabbath and Ozzy.

For many years I wrote Ozzy off with the typical art-fags disdain for stoner-metal. But the only competition this song has in pop-culture is Dylan's "Masters of War," another of my favorites, but "War Pigs" works on a populist, mythical level... which Dylan is little too high-falutin' to ever achieve.

Ah, but who am I kiddin'? I love me some trash-talking Dylan!
Especially when he's giving the powers-that-be the what-for.
And even more especially when that trash-talkin' is reinterpreted by Pearl Jam:

MP4/ MP3 400 Review

Cafe Moto Vespa Club has a great review of the MP4/MP3 400 up:

The first thing I noticed was the weight of the bike. It's a full 212 lbs. heavier than my GTS, so when rolling to a stop, you can feel the additional weight of the bike. Like every big displacement scooter I have ridden, there is a small vibration when starting out from a stop which goes away at about 15 mph, and from there the acceleration is smooth and the power available with just a slight flick of the wrist. The MP3 400 doesn't take off from a dead stop as quickly or smoothly as you would on a GTS, largely because of the weight, but there is plenty of power all through the power band.


Riding on the freeway I really understood the difference between the MP3 400 and my GTS. The MP3 is smooth as silk at freeway speeds, and there is power to spare. Here is where the extra 212 lbs. turns into a real asset, as you glide along without feeling buffeted by the winds. I can see riding this bike on long trips in total comfort.

Comments on the bike itself: The seat is comfortable, but then I like riding more forward than some people do. I like the fact that the low of your back makes a positive stop against the upper level of the seat, which gives you a little back support. I think that little positive stop in the seat also gives more control of the bike. The windscreen on the other hand is relatively useless. This bike was made for higher speeds, and it needs a proper windscreen to cut down on the wind and noise. ...

If you spend most of your riding time in town and in traffic, the 400 might be a little frustrated. But if you want a bigger bike with power for highway travel, and agility in the twisties, this may be the bike for you. Think of the MP3 400 and 500 as the scooter equivalent of a Sport Bike, and you'll have the idea.

Click the title link to read the whole review.

As far as I know we won't be getting the MP4 at Vespa Ridgefield, with the mere $200 price difference between it and the Fuoco/MP5/MP3 500, the owner figures that most folks here would just opt for the extra 100cc's.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Free Online Warren Ellis Steampunkish Comic: Freak Angels

I just read the first installment of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield's new steamy graphic work, Freak Angels, and I gotta say I am intrigued.
The art is simply lovely, the setting is a neat post-apocalyptic steampunkish world, and the writing, well it's Warren Ellis, innit, you sniveling human?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Online Tools/Resources for Visual Artists

So, like a relapsing junkie, or a backsliding Baptist, the Dragon has of late, resumed easel-painting in earnest. In fact, embracing this life-long obsession, has been one of the reasons why my posts have been so infrequent and brief the past coupla weeks.

To laundry list and extrapolate on the reasons for my seven year hiatus from my painting addiction, would an exercise in self-indulgence which even I am unprepared for. Let's just say that one time or another I've been guilty of the first eight items on the list above.

But, somehow pigments and binders are in my blood (probably literally, though I'm scared to take the tox-screens which might verify this.) My current proximity to NYC is inspiring, Jes is extremely encouraging of my creative endeavors, and she even says that I'm easier to live with, and seem happier when I'm painting.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of those artists who is content to paint solely for their own enjoyment. Someday I'd like to earn some recognition for what I do, and maybe even something resembling a living wage... In order to keep these hopes, and their inevitable shattering from once again interfering with or even halting my artistic growth and production, it is important to keep in mind "5 Facts Artists Have to Face to Succeed in Business"

1. You will not get "discovered."

Marketing your art is hard work. There are thousands of artists making extraordinary efforts to promote their work each and every day. Waiting for an angel benefactor or hoping for a patron, is just a way of procrastinating. You need to stop making excuses and put a plan into action to deal with the reality of the hard work it takes to get recognized.

2. You will not find a gallery that "understands your work" and feels as passionately about it as you do.

... artists have to stop dreaming about finding the one person out there who can be their "art soul mate" and realize that galleries are in business to sell art, and that is exactly what you are hiring them to do for you. They do not need to understand your work on every level, nor do they have to be emotionally moved by it...what they do have to do, is be convinced that they have the contacts and collectors that will like your work.

3. No matter how original you think your work is, it has been done before.

Originality does not define quality, quality defines quality. Regardless of whether or not your work is original, what makes art exceptional is the context in which it was made from an art historical point of view.

4. Just because your work looks just like Jackson Pollack, (or, fill in the blank) doesn't mean it's as good, or that you can price it the same.

The price of your art has very little to do with what it looks like, what it is made out of, or how big it has everything to do with what the market will bear, supply and demand, and your exhibition and sales history.

5. You will not be able to make a living off the sale of your work.

Sales are great and every artist needs and wants the positive feedback that comes from collectors buying your work. But, assuming that you want to live above the poverty level in the United States, to make a decent living you would need to sell over $150,000 worth of your art to net $75,000 before taxes. That would make your net approximately $50,000 before you deducted any expenses for studio space, art supplies, framing, advertising or promotion. Of course, it is possible. But, if you keep waiting for it to happen without accepting the reality of the odds, you are doing yourself and your work a disservice.

These are condensed from an article on Sylvia White's Art Advice website, which I highly recommend. Her checklist for making the transition to becoming a professional artist is also required reading, if you find yourself at that stage.

Fine Art's relationship with internet has been strange... I've been surfing since the mid-90s and of all my obsessions it has been the most difficult to research virtually. There is whole essay at the least, probably more like a doctoral thesis, waiting to be written about why that is... but for now let's just accept it as a given.

Recently though it seems that artists are really coming around to using internet tools for promotion and commerce, which is freaking awesome!

Empty Easel's 8 Must-Read Art Blogs for 2008. You should also check EE's articles on online art marketing.
In particular, Empty Easel is the best place I've found so far for comparison's of the various sites that have sprung over the last few years which sell paintings. If that's what you are looking for, their market analysis of these sites could be of real use to you. They also have a nice comparison of their features.

Noticable omissions here are Etsy and Absolute Arts.

Another interesting site I've come across recently is MyArtInfo, which is kind of life a Facebook, or MySpace for Visual artists. it's still in beta, but the design is clean and attractrive, and they are an off-shoot of ArtInfo, a site from the folks who publish Modern Painters, so it just might maintain some art-school cred.

Speaking of art-school cred, here are some links to to some resources for polishing yours up:

Links to Free Art Education Online

M.I.T.'s 20th Century Art

By way of an endnote, this disjointed rambling was greatly influenced by a recent IM chat I had with my friend Gretchen, who is trying to get a photography business going. You should check out her site:

German Steampunks Force Lionel Ritchie to Sing Under the Influence of Helium

I have recently been alerted to this Germanic Steampunk conspiracy to take over the world, beginning by forcing 80s R&B stars to sing their hits in Mickey Mouse voices:

Stage one: Force R&B Stars to sing after inhaling Helium.

Stage two: ????

Stage three: RULE THE WORLD!!!


Look out Peabo Bryson, you're next!

Seriously though, look at the raiment of some of the gentlemen on this show: Has Steampunk become High Fashion in Deutschland without anyone notifying me?

via Neatorama

Monday, February 11, 2008

Yes We Can

"There has never been anything false about hope."
You know the Dragon is always hesitant to post about political subjects.
But when it comes to the kind of hope Barack Obama is peddlin', I have only two statements:

I Kan Has?

Yes We Can!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

DIY Lap-Apron for Scooterist

Cara over at GirlBike, has a post up about how she crafted her own lap-apron, or scooter-skirt out of "a 60-inch round vinyl tablecloth, some scrap fleece material, a piece of nylon strap, some velcro, and several large stainless metal washers."

Pretty ingenious, and thrifty, as commercial lap-aprons start at around $100.

But you know I just can't bring myself to wear a scooter-skirt. I mean I'm confident enough in my masculinity to wear a kilt, and has accepted my geekiness enough to proudly ride a scoot (plus ya cannae ride a motorcycle in a kilt). But a scooter-skirt is just too much... it seems like I'd just be begging the Chess Club to beat me up, and I'd have a hard time getting anyone to play D&D with me.

Still, this is pretty cool. Maybe someone will come out with a pattern for an apron that attatches to a P-Series leg-shield... THAT, I would love!

Despite what those jerks in the Chess Club might say...

(has anyone else noticed that GirlBike has become like a scooter-blogging army, lately?)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Random Blather

Since I've moved to the East Coast, I've noticed that I pay a peculiar attention to TV shows and movies set in New York City. I'm starting to realize that somehow I've skipped a step in the East Coast artist development.
I mean, an artist is supposed to get established while living in the Bronx or the Lower East Side, and once they make it, they move to the country... better known as Connecticut.
Somehow, through the love of my gorgeous Jes, I've skipped a step, yet I still need to establish myself, artistically... Well, maybe that's another post...
Anyway... I guess maybe I just wanted an excuse to post this picture, Stargazing, which is by Kevin Kresse, who despite his lack of international notoriety is one of my top five living artists, and also happens to feature Craig Watkins, my best friend from high school. Needless to say, it makes me very happy... and despite my personal attachment to the painting, I think there is something special and unique going on with it. Something a can't really think of another example in Western art that really touches the same vibe... almost an illustration of Wilde's quote "We are all in gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." It doesn't quite capture the objective feeling of the painting, but it does encapsulate much of how I feel about Kevin and Craig.
So anyway, Kevin or Craig, if you are out there, and you are thinking about making a strategic strike on the Big Apple, I'd love to see you, and, well, I can offer you a peaceful base of operations in the country... Heck, you can even tell folks you are staying in Fairfield County, and play it off like you are the Big Shots we all know you really are.