SIGN EXCHANGE 1993-98
JANUARY 8–FEBRUARY 7, 2016
OPENING RECEPTION: FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 6–8PM
NOAM RAPPAPORT: DOGLEG
January 16 through February 27January 7th, 2016
Untitled, glazed ceramic, 10 x 8 x 6 inches (25.4 x 20.3 x 15.2 cm)
January 9 –
February 13, 2016
Saturday, January 9th,
5 to 7 pm
Two fourteen foot shelving structures, nearly flush to the ceiling along two walls,display, un-encased, a fully stocked arsenal of ceramic vessels and pots. At the center, is a long low-lying table of new ceramic discs presented like inverted earthen boils or blisters. Twenty years of ceramic work by the Los Angeles artists’ artist Roger Herman encompass the space of Richard Telles. Roger Herman is an inventor of the present. His ceramic output reveals an exuberant embrace of the chance event while yielding the confident and discerning gesture of the hand.
Not quite installation, not quite retrospective, and antecedents aside – Herman, a regarded UCLA professor – the entirety of this work hovers. The individual pieces, in no chronological order, engage techniques of wax resistance akin to the artist’s woodblock prints or blue underglazing exposed as a final gouache-like painted surface. In some he bypasses trimming in favor of ruggedly cutting the
wheeled excess from the bottom of the pot and applying it instead as a finger-pinched handle. Some larger pieces are in fact two wheeled works adjoined on top of each other. Others, begun as wheel throws, are later given hand-coiled additions, or interjected with rhombus-shaped holes and overlaid glazings. There is no intentioned composition. While some works’ pictorial imagery operates like an ‘exquisite corpse,’ Herman following the line of one image around the body of the pot into un-inscribed territory, in others the face of a female or a feline fills to the scale of the vase’s surface. Few pieces in his output are ever entirely
abandoned, often being reworked with a second glazing, a new appendage, or slit cut, that in fact makes the inside of the vessel into the achieved surface itself. In all processes, Herman maintains a curiosity that transcends vogue trajectories.
His ceramic work, begun after his established painting practice, informs the latter, as equal. From Xeroxes, printouts, and accrued art books, Herman’s ceramics draw inspiration from such disparate influences as Japanese manga; the French writer and brother of Balthus, Pierre Klossowski’s idiosyncratic drawings; 16th century artist Hans Baldung Grien, whose name appears on some of the vessels’ etchings; the anti-paintings of Miro; and the lesser-known plaster sculptures of Schwitters. There are no prescribed or presupposed readings of gender or history. Despite the heavy medieval, obscure, or erotic references, the lack of horizon line on the large discs renders the pictures more of the material than encoding it.
Perhaps the most compelling truism is that no one in particular, among the prolific output of Roger Herman, behaves the same. All can be empathically imbued with a distinct character, yet as a whole, the work resists a notion of separate narrative bodies of work. In this, just as the experience of the maker in making, we are generously allowed to respond to and fixate on particulars that incite our individuality. As such, the ceramics directly communicate the present by way of one’s experience of them. Roger Herman, prior to even his handling of a fifteen-pound block of clay, perpetually creates a condition in which his artworks can maintain this sense of presence hovering.January 5th, 2016
A Beautiful Confluence: Anni and Josef Albers and the Latin American World presents the art of two of the greatest artists of the twentieth century in tandem with the pre-Columbian objects they collected passionately from the time they moved to America in 1933 until Josef’s death in 1976.
Anni Albers was a weaver, print maker, and writer on aesthetic theory; she is considered by many to have been the most innovative and influential textile artist of the twentieth century. Josef Albers was a painter, print maker, teacher, writer, and maker of furniture, glass constructions, and metal work; his exploration of color behavior continues to effect the way people see and work in every visual field. Born in Germany, the Alberses met at the renowned Bauhaus School shortly after it opened its doors and remained there until the Third Reich forced its closing. When they were forced into exile in the United States, they accepted their move happily, in part because of the ancient Maya and Inca treasures they had discovered in a Berlin museum; they knew that by going to the united States, they would be near to Mexico and South America, and might come to know those cultures better. In fourteen trips south of the border, they discovered a world they loved. They believed that in Mexico and in other countries in Central and South America, “Art is everywhere.” They felt a complete emotional camaraderie with stone cutters and potters and weavers whose names they would never know, some of whom lived centuries ago, because of a shared interest in line and color and artistic technique, and a mutual feeling for the joy and emotional well being offered by visual experience.
With little money, the Alberses amassed a fantastic collection, and the exchange between what they bought and their own work became powerful. This exhibition reveals the very similar visual and artistic interests and personal passions of Anni and Josef and the native people of the world that became their haven. A Beautiful Confluence has been created for the Museo delle Culture above all to provide pleasure to the viewer by showing art executed by individuals of extraordinary talent and presenting the unexpected relationships that can exist because of qualities intrinsic to all human beings who love to look and see.January 2nd, 2016
By Dexter Thomas
Los Angeles Times Published: January 2, 2016
“White people, come get your boy.”
Depending on how you read that line from comedian W. Kamau Bell about Donald Trump, you might take it as a joke. Or you might take offense.
But Bell meant it as a call to action – because Trump is not a Republican problem. He’s a white-people problem.
For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on “getting your boy.” First, you need to tell said “boy” that he is making you look bad in front of polite company. This is a familiar practice to people of color: Whenever a black or brown person does something unsavory in public, members of their community know that it will – fairly or not – reflect on them.
Trump is a particularly embarrassing figure because of whom he purports to represent. His rhetoric might appeal most to white nationalists, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, but his target is not the fringes. Instead, as Duke says, Trump’s campaign is an appeal to “the values and interests of the European-American majority.”
White people should feel insulted by this. They should feel ashamed – as white people – of Donald Trump. Whites need to stand up and say that they will not allow Trump to hijack their culture, or to conduct his racist politics in their name.
Still, that’s not enough.
The second part of “getting your boy” goes beyond distancing yourself from him. A community must take responsibility for any damage that has been done, and take steps to correct it.
White America hasn’t gotten to this step yet – but it needs to, says Tim Wise, a speaker and author who has written extensively on racism. A recent study shows that Trump may actually have more support than previously estimated, but Wise doesn’t think that Trump stands a chance to win the election.
This makes Trump even more dangerous.
“Trump is unleashing this sense among a certain group of white men that violence is acceptable,” he said, referring to recent attacks at Trump rallies. “They’re afraid that their country is being taken away from them by immigrants and people of color, and that Trump is their last chance to take it back. If they discover that they can’t win at the ballot box, the question becomes: What do we expect these angry white people to do?”
“Some of those people,” he says, “might turn to terrorism.”
One sign of a possible shift from anger to action has already emerged: last week, a Richmond, Calif., man was arrested on charges of making explosives with the intent of harming Muslims. A post on his Facebook account said that he would follow Trump “to the end of the world.”
Racism and intolerance have been topics of debate this year, among people of all hues and hashtags. Beginning with the protests in Ferguson in 2014 and throughout 2015, protest movements (though mostly black-led) had a major impact on the national conversation. Black Lives Matter is now a household phrase – in fact, it was even the clue for a “Jeopardy!” question Wednesday night.
Whites, however, have a particular strategic position in the push for social justice, said Kamau Bell in a phone interview with The Times.
“Just being realistic,” he says, “white people listen to other white people better than they listen to anyone else.”
In fact, many whites may not even have anyone else to listen to. “Fully three-quarters of white Americans report that the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely white, with no minority presence,” according to a report by the Public Religion Research Institute.
This phenomenon is underscored in a viral video of a self-described “redneck” named Dixon White. Speaking from his pickup truck, White delivers an impassioned, expletive-laden rant – aimed at other white people. He minces no words: “Let’s take a little bit of white racial responsibility,” he said. “I’m saying we’ve got an evil called white supremacy in this culture.”
“If you hear something racist … stand as a white American, take some … responsibility,” he said.
White’s drawled speech may well have had the effect of throwing some white people off balance just long enough to actually listen to his message.
Conversations about racism in the white community don’t always go so smoothly. Last week, rapper Mac Miller, who is white, posed a challenge to his followers. “Dear White People who listen to rap music,” he asked, “what have you done for the #BlackLivesMatter movement?”
Responses ranged from appreciation to sarcasm. One: “I faved some tweets.”
We should expect some growing pains as this process develops. Mac Miller has had some early trouble galvanizing rap’s white liberal fan base. Even Dixon White came under scrutiny for simply repeating things that people of color had been saying for years. Well-intentioned white liberals are often taken to task for speaking over people of color in conversations about race.
Nonetheless, whites must continue to speak – and listen. Dara Silverman, the national coordinator for Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), says that for white activists, carefully listening to people of color is crucial. SURJ is a national network that encourages white people to “act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice,” and sometimes works in support of groups such as Black Lives Matter.
“We don’t have to be at the center of things,” Silverman said. “But we have the ability to do productive work in our own communities.”
One of the group’s goals for 2016 is to reach out to other largely white groups. “We want to engage a bigger base – churches, unions, environmental groups that are mostly white,” she said. “We can have an impact on elections, on white society in general.”
In order to have that kind of impact, the movement will need numbers – and Silverman has one in mind.
She needs 7 million white people.
According to Silverman, SURJ aims to organize 7 million whites who will pledge to combat racism in their daily lives. That amounts to just above 3.5% of the non-Latino white population of the United States, according to the most recent census projections. That’s her other magic number – according to political scientist Erica Chenoweth, once 3.5% of a population are actively participating in a movement, it can succeed.
There’s a long way to go. The network has grown rapidly over the last year, according to Dinah Ferlito, a Los Angeles-based activist who works with SURJ, but still its database is in the tens of thousands, not millions.
One of the biggest barriers may be apathy. Too many whites are satisfied with things as they are – probably because the system seems to work for them. Even as recently as July, after the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, 40% of whites said in a Pew poll that “our country has made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights with whites.” Some want to take things further. In another poll, taken after Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the United States, 40% of whites said they would support requiring Muslims to register in a national database.
Even for whites who find Trump’s rhetoric repulsive, joking about him, or even rejecting him, will not be enough. They now need to turn their focus to the society that allowed him to come to prominence. Particularly among whites who prefer to view themselves as “color blind,” there is a dangerous attitude that the best way to make racial injustice go away is to not talk about it.
Historically, that has shifted the burden of working for civil rights onto people of color.
As Trump’s rise shows, it is possible for whites to organize around a political and cultural ideal. This year, a community has begun to organize around their whiteness and a desire to return to a (largely fictional) vision of what used to be, to “make America great again.” The challenge now is for whites who care about social justice to create an alternative movement.
They’ll need to vow to work with their neighbors – for many of whom America was never particularly “great” – to make America better.January 2nd, 2016
December 02th 2015 –
January 30th 2016
Ellsworth Kelly in 2012 at his studio in Spencertown, N.Y. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
By HOLLAND COTTER
NY Times Published: DEC. 27, 2015
Ellsworth Kelly, one of America’s great 20th-century abstract artists, who in the years after World War II shaped a distinctive style of American painting by combining the solid shapes and brilliant colors of European abstraction with forms distilled from everyday life, died on Sunday at his home in Spencertown, N.Y. He was 92.
His death was announced by Matthew Marks of the Matthew Marks Gallery in Manhattan.
Mr. Kelly was a true original, forging his art equally from the observational exactitude he gained as a youthful bird-watching enthusiast; from skills he developed as a designer of camouflage patterns while in the Army; and from exercises in automatic drawing he picked up from European surrealism.
Although his knowledge of, and love for, art history was profound, he was little affected by the contemporary art of his time and country. He was living in France during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism in New York and only distantly aware of art in the United States.
When he returned to America in 1954, he settled on what was then an out-of-the-way section of Manhattan for art, the Financial District, and had little interaction with many of his contemporaries. The result was a deeply personal and exploratory art, one that subscribed to no ready orthodoxies, and that opened up wide the possibilities of abstraction for his own generation and those to come.
Born in Newburgh, N.Y., on May 31, 1923, Mr. Kelly studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston after his discharge from the Army in 1945. But his formative years as an artist were in Paris, which he had visited briefly during World War II, and where he returned to live in 1948 with support from the G.I. Bill.
The seven years he subsequently spent there had continuing emotional resonance for him throughout his life. In a 1996 interview with The New York Times, he recalled his early days in the city:
“Paris was gray after the war. I liked being alone. I liked being a stranger. I didn’t speak French very well, and I liked the silence.”
The Influence of Paris
When he arrived, he was painting figures influenced by Picasso and Byzantine mosaics. But he quickly immersed himself in museums, adding both Asian art and Matisse to his eclectic store of influences.
He also spent time outside Paris visiting Romanesque churches, and the relationship between art and architecture remained important to him, evident in the many public commissions he completed late in his career.
As isolated as he may have felt in Paris, he met extraordinary people. Some of them, like John Cage and Merce Cunningham, were Americans passing through. Others were resident legends.
He visited the studio of the abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi, whose simplification of natural shapes remained one of Mr. Kelly’s formal ideals. He was introduced to the Surrealist Jean Arp, whose use of chance as a compositional device Mr. Kelly adopted. The sculptor Alexander Calder became a friend, as did the young American painter Jack Youngerman.
Within a year of his arrival, Mr. Kelly was painting his first abstract pictures using a mix of chance elements and references to nature, which he defined as everything seen in the real world.
“I started to look at the city around me, and that became my source,” he said.
The early paintings and drawings were derived from patterns found in sidewalk grates, or configurations of pipes on the side of a building. A gridlike field of black and white squares was inspired by the play of light on the Seine. A painted wood cutout, “Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris” (1949), corresponded in dimensions and form to the title object.
“I realized I didn’t want to compose pictures,” he told The Times in 1996. ”I wanted to find them. I felt that my vision was choosing things out there in the world and presenting them. To me the investigation of perception was of the greatest interest. There was so much to see, and it all looked fantastic to me.”
Mr. Kelly’s use of found elements went beyond just letting his eyes wander. It led him to create purely abstract paintings composed of randomly arranged and joined colored panels, a radical move even for him.
“I wondered, ‘Can I make a painting with just five panels of color in a row?’ I loved it, but I didn’t think the world would. They’d think, ‘It’s not enough.’ ”
It did take time for the art world to catch up with him. Although he had a one-person show in Paris in 1951, there was scant response and he was turned down for several group exhibitions. A piece he submitted for one exhibition, a relief painting, was rejected on the ground that it wasn’t art. Meanwhile, his G.I. Bill support was coming to an end, forcing him to seek jobs as an art teacher, a textile designer and a custodian.
Although he had been away from America when the great tidal pull of Abstract Expressionism was in full force, he was aware of it enough to know that it wasn’t temperamentally for him. “I didn’t want an art that was so subjective,” he said. “I wanted to get away from the cult of the personality.”
Finding Favor Back Home
The anonymous role of the Romanesque church artist remained a model. But in 1954, after reading a favorable review in ARTnews of an Ad Reinhardt show in New York City, he began to think that his own fairly spare abstract work might find favor there, and he returned to the United States.
Short on cash when he arrived, he ended up living in a half-deserted section of Lower Manhattan near South Street Seaport, in a 19th-century sailmaker’s loft on Coenties Slip.
His neighbors there eventually included the artists Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Lenore Tawney and Mr. Youngerman, as well Mr. Youngerman’s wife, the actress Delphine Seyrig. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg had arrived in the area earlier; Barnett Newman had a studio on nearby Wall Street.
Their lofts were spartan. Few had kitchens or hot water, and there were constant threats of eviction. The rewards were abundant space and light, as well as removal from the Abstract Expressionist scene farther uptown.
For Mr. Kelly, the open skies of the harbor and the streets paved with stone blocks that had been whaling ships’ ballast softened the culture shock of shifting from Old World to New. And just as he used the shapes of Parisian architecture in his earlier paintings, the grand arches of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge appeared in his New York City work.
Despite his remote location, the art world found him. The dealer Betty Parsons, who also represented Reinhardt, visited Mr. Kelly’s studio and offered him a solo exhibition in 1956.
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That same year he received his first sculptural commission, the mural-size “Sculpture for a Large Wall,” for the lobby of the Transportation Building in Philadelphia. In 1957 the Whitney Museum of American Art bought a painting, “Atlantic,” which depicted two white wave-like arcs against solid black. It was Mr. Kelly’s first museum purchase.
In 1959 Dorothy C. Miller, the influential Museum of Modern Art curator, included Mr. Kelly’s work in “Sixteen Americans,” an important survey of emerging artists that included Johns, Rauschenberg and Youngerman, as well as Frank Stella, Louise Nevelson and Jay De Feo.
By the early 1960s, Mr. Kelly’s career was firmly if quietly established, although it would be decades before he gained the high profile enjoyed by some of his contemporaries. This was partly because his work was basically contemplative in spirit, and partly because — during a period defined by movements like Pop, Op and Minimalism — he fit no ready category.
In addition, he worked in several media, experimentally combining at least two. Along with paintings, drawings and collages, he produced free-standing and relief sculptures. In addition to making cut-out wood and steel panels that functioned as monochromatic paintings, he composed works from two or more overlapping canvases, effectively creating a hybrid of painting and sculpture.
In doing so, he made some of the first shaped canvases of the postwar period. And stressing the object quality of his works led him almost seamlessly to free-standing sculpture. The simplicity, flat color, bold scale, and especially his cultivation of a geometry full of flexible organic undertones formed a crucial example for the Minimalists.
In 1965, after nearly a decade with Parsons, he began to show with the Sidney Janis Gallery. A year later he had work selected for the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale; in 1968 he was in Documenta IV in Kassel, Germany. He would subsequently be included in three more Venice Bienniales and in the 1977 and 1992 editions of Documenta, the international exhibition held every five years in Germany.
In 1970, after living for several years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he moved permanently to the upstate town of Spencertown, where he eventually built a large studio and designed a parklike garden to display his outdoor sculptures.
In 1973 he had his first American retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; his second, in 1996 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, traveled to Los Angeles, London and Munich. His first major European retrospective was at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1979.
Other surveys focused on specific bodies of work. These included a sculpture retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1982; a retrospective of works on paper at the Fort Worth Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1987; and a print retrospective at the Detroit Institute of Arts, also in 1987.
In 1992 “Ellsworth Kelly: The Years in France” was organized by the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris and the National Gallery in Washington.
In recognition of his close early relationship to France, Mr. Kelly was given three awards by the French government: Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1988, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 1993 and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2002.
‘Forever in the Present’
Mr. Kelly’s importance in American postwar art was increasingly acknowledged from the late 1970s onward, in part thanks to strong gallery representation. In the 1970s and 1980s, his work was handled jointly by Leo Castelli and Blum Helman. In 1992, he joined the Matthew Marks Gallery in Manhattan and the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London. Along with gallery and museum shows, those decades also brought numerous public and institutional commissions.
A characteristic permanent installation might consist of a series of large single-color painted canvases or steel panels in varying shapes — wedges, arcs, triangles, trapezoids — cartwheeling across an expanse of wall.
One of his most moving installations, though, was one of his quietest. Made for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, it consisted of a plain white fan-shaped form floating opposite a triptych of three rectangular white panels. Suggesting the image of a great bird lifting upward over closed windows, the piece distilled the rigorously refined visual vocabulary Mr. Kelly had developed over a long career.
In 2013, Mr. Kelly received the National Medal of Arts, considered the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence, from President Obama.
He is survived by his husband, Jack Shear, and a brother, David.
Mr. Kelly was as adamant about what his art was not as about what it was. Unlike the work of the early European modernists he admired, it was not about social theory. It was not about geometry or abstraction as ends in themselves. And although he derived many of his shapes from the natural world, his art was not about nature.
“My paintings don’t represent objects,” he said in 1996. “They are objects themselves and fragmented perceptions of things.”
Although he was interested in history and concerned about his place in it, he spoke of his own work as existing “forever in the present.”
“I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living,” he said. “This is an illusion, of course. What I’ve tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing.”December 27th, 2015
Vija Celmins, Untitled (Web 1), 2001, mezzotint.
Vija Celmins has been known since the 1970s for memorable subjects—seas, deserts, nocturnal skies, spider webs—she renders in a variety of media. Celmins’s retrospective at the Secession is her first solo exhibition in Austria, for which she has selected over seventy works of graphic art from five decades; it surveys this strand of her oeuvre from work she created as a student in the early 1960s to several recent editions that have never been on public display.
Celmins uses images from photographs and found printed matter, stripping the sources of their original contexts and reassembling them in a new medium. The repetitive interpretation of a small number of motifs shifts attention from the image to the material for a probing examination of its specific qualities and effects. Printmaking thus occupies a central position among the many media Celmins works with, on a par with drawing, painting, and sculpture.
The prints, for which Vija Celmins scratches copper plates, incises wood surfaces, and draws on stones, illustrate her abiding interest in the various processes and making things by hand. Her exploration of traditional printmaking techniques and their potential is sustained by her outstanding skills. In the 1970s, she started with lithography, a planographic process that a strong affinity to drawing; starting in the early 1980s, she focused on intaglio processes: etching, mezzotint, and woodcutting. The most prolific genre in her printed oeuvre is the mezzotint, for which white areas are scraped out of the printing plate—the deeper the brighter—to produce a wide range of velvety halftones: an ideal technique for Celmins that allows her to translate her black-and-white photographic sources into subtly nuanced shades of gray.
Celmins’s prints are products of time-consuming craftsmanship; she works hard to achieve results that hide the labor that went into them. One must examine them carefully to discover the rich nuances and appreciate the intimate and patient engagement in which the artist has taken possession of her sources. As Celmins said of Ocean Surface (2000), a woodcut on which she worked intermittently for five years,
“… when you look closer you can see my mark is not so mechanical. I hope it’s a work where stillness and movement, flatness and depth are held together in a delicate balance. I like to hide things behind looks, so that the work looks like a photograph but when you get close you see it’s something handmade and carved from wood: a kind of surprise.” (The Prints of Vija Celmins, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002, p. 43)
Celmins’s art maintains a delicate balance between abstraction and depiction, between surface and proportion, between the suggestion of movement and stillness. Their small formats belie their expansiveness. Many of the pictures evoke boundless spaces and actions that have crystallized in novel physically manifest and immutable forms. Structured by the equipollence of multiple elements and without perspectival vanishing points, the pictorial spaces withhold any sense of orientation, confronting the viewer with the total experience of sea, desert, or starry sky. That impression is gently undercut along the margins, where the support medium—paper—comes to the fore; the placement of the printed motif on the sheet is of particular significance. In an earlier interview, Celmins observed:
“Because my images tend to run on, as if they went on forever, they have to be carefully ended. At the edges one breaks the illusion of continuous space and sees the making process and that the work is really a fiction.” (ibid., p. 14)
through January 31, 2016December 27th, 2015
The calm, cold waters of Tenaya Lake in Yosemite’s high country on Aug. 16, 2009. (Los Angeles Times)
By Daniel Duane
LA Times Published: December 24, 2015
To grow up in a California family like mine — backpacking and beachcombing, sympathetic to social justice and environmental causes — is to grow up eternally grateful to John Muir, California’s secular patron saint of wilderness worship and outdoor adventure.
Muir was born in Scotland in 1838, and he died 101 years ago today, on Christmas Eve, in Los Angeles. In between he helped his violently abusive father hack a farm out of old-growth Wisconsin forest, walked through the American South after the Civil War, and wound up in Yosemite, where he emerged as a preacher for the saving power of nature.
In my own childhood, with my parents, I spent weekends hiking over wind-swept headlands to Muir Beach, near Muir Woods National Monument. Summer days passed in streams and meadows in Yosemite, where Muir worked in a hotel as a young man, wore wildflowers in his shirt buttonhole, courted married women and, later, advocated for the creation of national parks.
When my father scared me witless on my first rock climb, in 1987, on white granite overlooking bright blue Tenaya Lake where Muir once camped, I felt as if struck by a thunderbolt: At that instant, Yosemite became what it remains, my heart’s chosen home.
And yet I do not know how to square my love for this landscape with the bloody imperial conquest of Yosemite — and of California, more broadly — in the decades before Muir arrived.
The story goes more or less like this: Before Europeans got to North America, California was the most densely settled place north of Mexico, with an estimated 300,000 inhabitants. Yosemite Valley itself had a permanent year-round population numbering in the thousands; Tenaya Lake, at 8,150 feet above sea level, was their summer village.
A plague swept through Yosemite in the early 19th century, probably introduced to California by Spanish soldiers. The survivors abandoned Yosemite, but years later, under a leader named Tenaya, they recolonized their homeland. This community was thriving when, in 1851, a group of heavily armed foreigners calling itself the Mariposa Battalion rode into Yosemite Valley with the intent of killing or incarcerating everyone who lived there.
This was standard operating procedure. The Gold Rush was bringing hundreds of thousands of foreign prospectors, most of whom — to borrow a phrase from Ta-Nehisi Coates — believed themselves to be white. They trespassed in nations up and down the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, among a diverse range of peoples whom the prospectors considered members of another homogenous race, which they called Indian.
The California Legislature did not recognize Indian land claims; Indian property was free for the taking and Indian bodies were free for the killing. The first American governor of California, Peter Burnett, openly advocated for Indian extermination. State and town governments offered cash rewards for evidence of the killings — scalps and severed heads. The federal government tried to slow the genocide by negotiating treaties and creating reservations, but the state refused to ratify these treaties and, as a result, thousands of Californians who were not killed were incarcerated.
This is not a secret or contested history. In Yosemite in 1851, Tenaya knew what the Mariposa Battalion was about. He and his people ran for their lives. Soldiers set fire to homes and food stores, then caught Tenaya’s youngest son and executed him. They captured Tenaya and dragged him over to see his beloved child bleed out on the valley floor. Those soldiers then led Tenaya on a leash, like a dog, up to the lakeside summer village where the battalion captured his extended family.
Lafayette Bunnell, a member of the battalion, later wrote about the “discovery” of Yosemite. He claimed to have proposed, on the spot, naming the lake Tenaya “because it was upon the shores of the lake that we had found his people, who would never return to it to live.”
Tenaya himself was visibly disturbed by Bunnell’s idea, because the lake already had a name: Py-we-ack, meaning River of Glistening Stones. But existing names were meaningless to the invaders. “Tenaya Lake” wasn’t offered as an honorific; it was a celebration of a successful imperial campaign.
Muir was not personally responsible for this, any more than you and I are, although if you put a number on that responsibility it’s probably not zero. Muir was depressingly conventional on matters of race, afflicted with a garden-variety Victorian white supremacism. But he was an otherwise harmless and decent man; my point is really just that Muir experienced Yosemite as God’s empty paradise only because armed men stole the land by violence 17 years before he arrived in 1868.
Twenty years later, the western frontier closed and Americans discovered a passion for the preservation of wilderness. To some degree, it was a passion for a fantasy that had justified conquest in the first place, a fantasy of an uninhabited North America, free for the taking. As Mark David Spence documents in a book about the making of the national parks, ancient communities were often evicted to make reality conform to that fantasy — a process that continued in Yosemite until 1969, when the National Park Service destroyed the last of the Yosemite “Indian villages.”
I don’t know exactly what to do with all of this, because I remain deeply grateful for the existence of Yosemite National Park, the John Muir Wilderness, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and all the other protected wild lands and open spaces throughout our beautiful state. I use these public lands at every opportunity, and in our hard economic times, when the notion of a decent middle-class lifestyle feels archaic, I think of urban greenbelts and rocky point breaks and forest campgrounds as the least elitist and most democratic of American institutions, a modern miracle vital to the health of the planet and our collective sanity.
I think I would have liked Muir. I certainly applaud the cultures of both wilderness conservation and outdoor hedonism he helped create. Once Muir found himself in the Sierra, after all, he was mostly chasing a good time: climbing a tall tree during a windstorm just to feel it sway; crawling behind Yosemite Falls at night just to see the moon through all that spray. Hikers, surfers, skiers, anybody who loves to picnic in a pretty place — we’re all playing Muir’s game.
I felt this acutely on a late-summer Friday this year, when I surfed head-high waves in the morning and then drove to Yosemite and slept in a friend’s driveway. Before dawn, we parked at Tenaya Lake, walked though the site of the apocalypse for Tenaya, tied into a climbing rope and scrambled up the granite slabs on a mountain called Tenaya Peak.
I do not wish for anything more grand out of my remaining time on Earth. There is not a resort hotel on this planet that I find half as alluring as a day under the Sierra sky. Looking down from the summit, and knowing that descendants of the people who summered here are my fellow Californians — entitled, in other words, to live in a place that does not vacillate between denying and celebrating the violent conquest of their ancestors — I couldn’t help but wonder whether it’s time to change the name of that lake back to the one preferred by Tenaya himself, Py-we-ack.
I admit that’s not much of a fix, but it might be a step in an honest direction.December 25th, 2015
By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: December 25, 2015
In Star Wars, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs; in real life, all the Falcon 9 has done so far is land at Cape Canaveral without falling over or exploding. Yet I, like many nerds, was thrilled by that achievement, in part because it reinforced my growing optimism about the direction technology seems to be taking — a direction that may end up saving the world.
O.K., if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Falcon 9 is Elon Musk’s reusable rocket, which is supposed to boost a payload into space, then return to where it can be launched again. If the concept works, it could drastically reduce the cost of putting stuff into orbit. And that successful landing was a milestone. We’re still a very long way from space colonies and zero-gravity hotels, let alone galactic empires. But space technology is moving forward after decades of stagnation.
And to my amateur eye, this seems to be part of a broader trend, which is making me more hopeful for the future than I’ve been in a while.
You see, I got my Ph.D. in 1977, the year of the first Star Wars movie, which means that I have basically spent my whole professional life in an era of technological disappointment.
Until the 1970s, almost everyone believed that advancing technology would do in the future what it had done in the past: produce rapid, unmistakable improvement in just about every aspect of life. But it didn’t. And while social factors — above all, soaring inequality — have played an important role in that disappointment, it’s also true that in most respects technology has fallen short of expectations.
The most obvious example is travel, where cars and planes are no faster than they were when I was a student, and actual travel times have gone up thanks to congestion and security lines. More generally, there has just been less progress in our command over the physical world — our ability to produce and deliver things — than almost anyone expected.
Now, there has been striking progress in our ability to process and transmit information. But while I like cat and concert videos as much as anyone, we’re still talking about a limited slice of life: We are still living in a material world, and pushing information around can do only so much. The famous gibe by the investor Peter Thiel (“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”) is unfair, but contains a large kernel of truth.
Over the past five or six years, however — or at least this is how it seems to me — technology has been getting physical again; once again, we’re making progress in the world of things, not just information. And that’s important.
Progress in rocketry is fun to watch, but the really big news is on energy, a field of truly immense disappointment until recently. For decades, unconventional energy technologies kept falling short of expectations, and it seemed as if nothing could end our dependence on oil and coal — bad news in the short run because of the prominence it gave to the Middle East; worse news in the long run because of global warming.
But now we’re witnessing a revolution on multiple fronts. The biggest effects so far have come from fracking, which has ended fears about peak oil and could, if properly regulated, be some help on climate change: Fracked gas is still fossil fuel, but burning it generates a lot less greenhouse emissions than burning coal. The bigger revolution looking forward, however, is in renewable energy, where costs of wind and especially solar have dropped incredibly fast.
Why does this matter? Everyone who isn’t ignorant or a Republican realizes that climate change is by far the biggest threat humanity faces. But how much will we have to sacrifice to meet that threat?
Well, you still hear claims, mostly from the right but also from a few people on the left, that we can’t take effective action on climate without bringing an end to economic growth. Marco Rubio, for example, insists that trying to control emissions would “destroy our economy.” This was never reasonable, but those of us asserting that protecting the environment was consistent with growth used to be somewhat vague about the details, simply asserting that given the right incentives the private sector would find a way.
But now we can see the shape of a sustainable, low-emission future quite clearly — basically an electrified economy with, yes, nuclear power playing some role, but sun and wind front and center. Of course, it doesn’t have to happen. But if it doesn’t, the problem will be politics, not technology.
True, I’m still waiting for flying cars, not to mention hyperdrive. But we have made enough progress in the technology of things that saving the world has suddenly become much more plausible. And that’s reason to celebrate.December 25th, 2015
View of “Diane Simpson: Sculpture + Drawing 1978–2009,” Chicago Cultural Center, 2010. Photo: Diane Simpson.
ARTFORUM Published :12.16.15
I GREW UP IN THE MIDWEST. Never really left it. Virtually all of my working life was spent in the Chicago area. Directly out of high school I majored in art for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I got married at that point and soon afterward was pregnant with my first child. I continued to attend classes until my ninth month but missed the last quarter for my BFA. Ten years later, in the late 1960s, when the youngest of my three children entered first grade, I returned to SAIC and completed that final quarter.
By the time I went to grad school in 1977, two children were in high school and one was entering college. I was in my forties. It was great. I had been so isolated from other artists and the art world in general, though I never stopped making art on my own. In grad school, also at SAIC, I was in the painting department, but I never actually painted. I was primarily making drawings of utilitarian objects on large sheets of graph paper. I developed my own spatial system using forty-five-degree angles to visualize three-dimensional forms. Toward the end of graduate career, I was encouraged to start building these forms. With these first sculptures, I was curious to see what would happen if I applied the same rules of perspective—the forty-five-degree angles I was using in my drawings—to actual space. For these early works I used Tri-Wall, a triple-layer corrugated cardboard. It was the perfect material for someone who had never had a sculpture class. The material was cheap and only required a jigsaw and knife-edge blade to cut. For several years I worked with only corrugated cardboard; later, I ventured out to MDF and other materials.
Being an artist in the Midwest versus, say, New York, has advantages and disadvantages. Midwestern artists seem more likely to develop their own individual and idiosyncratic ways, less influenced by current trends. The disadvantage is limited exposure and less critical press.
Throughout the years, I always had opportunities to exhibit my work in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. This exposure was all the motivation I needed to continue developing as an artist. Now I am amazed by all the attention my work is suddenly receiving beyond the Midwest. It’s really strange and I don’t quite understand it. I’m honored and thrilled, but, you know, I’ve been working for a long time. Making art is what is most important to me. All the rest is a bonus. The most gratifying part of all this is that young people seem to be relating to my work. Maybe it’s the craft that appeals to them? There is a lot of sculptural work that is not carefully made, and maybe seeing the care I put into details and my materials speaks to them.
As told to Alex Jovanovich
the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, will include fifteen sculptures and twelve drawings made between 1980 and 2014. The exhibition opens December 16, 2015, and runs through March 27, 2016.December 23rd, 2015
An Oakland nonprofit, Creative Growth has a startling track record for helping
developmentally disabled adults become prolific — and profitable — artists.
From left: William Tyler, Monica Valentine, George Wilson, the creative director Tom di Maria, John Martin and Dan Miller. Credit Jeff Minton for The New York Times
By NATHANIEL RICH
NY Times Published: DEC. 16, 2015
The artists arrived at the Creative Growth Art Center shortly after 9 a.m. Most come on East Bay Paratransit buses, which bring them from Alameda, Castro Valley and San Francisco, but a few travel independently. William Tyler takes the orange line BART from his group home in Union City. In 37 years, he has almost never been late. Terri Bowden takes the BART from Fremont, accompanied by a life-size matboard Fred Flintstone. It is a familiar sight to commuters in Oakland’s 19th Street BART station: the legally blind woman with a mohawk and her inanimate sidekick. Bowden periodically replaces the doll’s face; before Fred Flintstone, it was Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, Robert Plant and, at some point, nearly every Creative Growth staff member. John Martin, who lives with his aunt 20 blocks away, walks to work, but not in a straight line. He stops at coffee shops, which fill his empty Gatorade bottles with coffee; at churches, which hand him donated cans of food; and at trash bins, where he rummages for plastic toys, sunglasses and flip phones.
The artists gathered at long tables in the cafeteria. They hung their jackets and stored their lunches in the communal refrigerator. There was a lot of waving and hugging. ‘‘I miss Classie,’’ one of the artists said. It is a common sentiment, even four months after the death of Classie Rozier, the staff nurse for 30 years. On the wall above the tables hang two portraits of her: a framed painting by John Martin and a collage, made by several artists, with three photographs of Classie’s head glued over a red heart.
Dan Miller placed a blue hockey helmet on his head. Tyler sat alone with his head resting in his palm, half-smiling. ‘‘I don’t have any money,’’ Martin mumbled. ‘‘Nah. I don’t have any money.’’
A Creative Growth staff member overheard him. ‘‘You have a lot of money, John,’’ she said.
‘‘I don’t know nothing about that,’’ Martin answered.
‘‘Trust me,’’ she said, laughing. ‘‘You have a lot of money.’’
In June, Facebook bought 35 of Martin’s tool sculptures — cutouts of scissors, hammers and switchblades — for $8,000 and installed them in its enormous new Menlo Park headquarters. Facebook has recently commissioned Martin for 20 more. Martin was invited to the opening but declined to go. He usually doesn’t attend his own exhibitions; at one recent show, Martin ignored the work on the wall and examined the contents of a toolbox that had been left behind by the gallery staff.
Facebook’s acquisition is the latest but not nearly the most impressive of a recent series of market successes for Creative Growth, which was founded in Berkeley in 1974 and has since relocated to a former auto-repair shop in downtown Oakland. Creative Growth has capitalized on the surging interest for work by self-trained artists or, as The Wall Street Journal has put it, ‘‘artists who don’t know they’re artists’’: work that in less sensitive times has been referred to as outsider art, naïve art, Art Brut and art of the mentally ill. Such art has experienced a boom during the past 15 years. The work of the field’s most prominent figures — Henry Darger, William Edmondson, Martín Ramírez and Augustin Lesage — has sold in the mid- and high six figures by Christie’s and other auction houses in New York and Paris. The Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have acquired work by these artists for their permanent collections.
A majority of the most famous self-taught artists are dead. In many cases, their work was not discovered until after their deaths. It has become difficult to find their art for sale, and what exists is expensive. Collectors and galleries, eager to satisfy the market’s demand, find themselves in an odd position. Typically dealers in search of new art stars comb M.F.A. programs and the studios of established masters. But where might they discover ‘‘artists who don’t know they’re artists’’? Increasingly, these dealers are swarming to this converted auto-repair shop in downtown Oakland.
Creative Growth was born in the garage of Florence Ludins-Katz, an artist and educator, and her husband, Elias Katz, a psychologist who had worked for years at the Sonoma State Home. The Katzes were alarmed by the mass closure of psychiatric hospitals in California, where half of all patients had been deinstitutionalized during the 1950s and 1960s. Shortly after Ronald Reagan assumed the governorship in 1967, he signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which blocked involuntary hospitalization and resulted in most of the remaining patients being turned out. Few accommodations were made for them after release, leading to an exponential rise among the mentally ill in homelessness and imprisonment.
The Katzes decided to create a center for former state-hospital patients with developmental disabilities, primarily Down syndrome and autism. Their goals, as stated in their 1990 book, ‘‘Establishing the Creative Art Center for People With Disabilities,’’ included not only therapeutic support and vocational training but also ‘‘creation of work of the highest artistic merit.’’ They wrote: ‘‘Even though a human being may be handicapped or disabled, this does not change his need to fulfill himself to the greatest of his capacity.’’
This was not an altogether iconoclastic notion; arts and crafts were offered in many state facilities. What was novel at the time, though, was the Katzes’ insistence that Creative Growth sell artwork to the public. ‘‘The students gain by feeling their art is worthy of being bought and perhaps reproduced,’’ they wrote. ‘‘The Art Center takes pride in the recognition that the art of persons with disabilities is much sought after and has value to society.’’
In 1978, after moving the studio to a storefront in Oakland and receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Katzes opened an adjacent gallery, the first in America dedicated to art by people with disabilities. In 1982, Creative Growth expanded further to a 12,000-square-foot, two-story brick automobile-repair shop on 24th Street. The main open space is occupied by long worktables visible from the sidewalk through a row of large plate-glass windows. There are discrete work areas for drawing and painting, woodworking, printmaking, ceramics, rug making, textiles and mosaics. Teachers assist but are under orders never to guide or instruct, unless asked to do so by an artist. Next door, connected to the studio, is the gallery, which holds seven exhibitions a year. For decades these openings were mainly attended by families and friends of the clients, and occasionally local professional artists, who might buy a painting or sculpture for a nominal price. They had the quality of a local flea market or open mike.
This began to change in the late 1980s, when the work of Dwight Mackintosh, who came to Creative Growth after spending 56 years in mental institutions, was noticed by John MacGregor, a Bay Area art historian. MacGregor was a popularizer of Art Brut, the term coined by the artist Jean Dubuffet to describe work created in solitude by untrained artists. At the time, Dubuffet’s Collection of Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, founded in 1976, was the world’s only such museum; after learning of Mackintosh’s work from MacGregor, the museum gave the artist a one-man show. The few American gallerists who collected outsider art, like Phyllis Kind in New York and Judy Saslow in Chicago, began to buy Mackintosh’s drawings. A Warner Brothers executive noticed his work in Michael Stipe’s personal collection and commissioned the artist to illustrate a Lollapalooza concert poster. The sudden critical and economic success caught Creative Growth’s board by surprise. They knew how to sell work to members of the local community but were unprepared for Manhattan gallerists, rock stars and international dealers.
Collectors began to visit the studio regularly, and work by other Creative Growth clients started to appear in group shows devoted to artists with disabilities. But it was not until 1999, when art critics began to praise the unusual, intricate sculptures of Judith Scott, a deaf and mute artist with Down syndrome, that Creative Growth’s board decided to change its mission. There was major interest in Scott’s work; there might also, it seemed, be a major market for it. If the professional art world was going to come to Creative Growth, the center needed to handle itself more professionally. It needed someone who understood the art market. It needed someone who knew how to sell.
Tom di Maria, who has been the director of Creative Growth since 2000, toured the studio at 9:30, greeting the artists as they entered the studio. Roughly 160 artists work at Creative Growth, but not everybody attends each day. Some, like William Tyler, have come every day for decades; others visit infrequently. Most are introduced to Creative Growth by the Regional Center of the East Bay, a nonprofit organization contracted by the state to provide services to people with developmental disabilities. Applicants do not need to express any artistic ability, inclination or even interest.
Di Maria often invites visitors to the gallery, and on this day he hosted an art collector and his wife, an interior designer, visiting from Santa Monica. The designer introduced herself to an artist named Monica Valentine. When the designer went to shake Valentine’s hand, she realized that Valentine was blind. Her eyes are prosthetics.
‘‘Can you see a little bit?’’ the interior designer asked.
‘‘I’m totally blind.’’
Valentine was dressed entirely in green: mint sneakers, lime socks, olive shirt, dusky green puffy jacket, emerald glass stud earrings, neon plastic sunglasses and a headband made out of interweaved strands of harlequin and laurel fabric. Around her neck hung, from chartreuse nylon, a green bicycle reflector.
Valentine covers foam packing forms with sequins and beads, held in place by sewing pins. The current piece was shaped like a cinder block. She called it ‘‘A Piece of Cake.’’ She hoped to be finished in time for her 60th birthday later that week. Before Valentine on the table were three plastic boxes, each with a half-dozen compartments. One box contained sequins, another beads, the third pins. With the dexterity of a veteran crocheter, she selected a pin, stuck it through a bead and a sequin and punched it into the foam. When a work is completed, the whiteness of the foam is almost entirely obscured beneath bright fields of color. Creative Growth’s gallery guide describes Valentine’s densely sparkling creations as ‘‘crown jewels of a lost disco civilization.’’
‘‘How can you tell the difference between colors?’’ the interior designer asked.
‘‘I feel them,’’ Valentine said.
‘‘Like … they have different temperatures?’’
‘‘Blue is cold,’’ Valentine said. ‘‘Yellow is warm. Green is cool.’’
‘‘It’s so incredible that you can feel that. Because people who have eyesight can’t — ’’
‘‘Do you ride bicycles where you live?’’ Valentine asked.
The designer paused. ‘‘Where I live it’s really hilly, so I don’t,’’ she said. ‘‘I’m not strong enough.’’
Valentine showed the visitor her reflector necklace. ‘‘Do you like the reflector? What does it remind you of? Grass?’’
After the couple from Santa Monica left, Valentine called over one of the staff members, Kathleen Henderson.
‘‘What things are green, Kathleen? Can balloons be green?’’
‘‘Sure they can.’’
‘‘Can cars be green?’’
‘‘Yes, Monica. Cars can be green.’’
‘‘What things are red?’’
‘‘When the opportunity exists,’’ the Katzes wrote, ‘‘we have seen the creative impulse burst forth like a surge of floodwater when the dam has been removed. We have seen people cry when viewing their own work. We have seen the joy in their faces. … We have seen, and we believe.’’
There is no better example of a dam being removed and a creative impulse bursting forth than the case of Judith Scott, who was brought to Creative Growth in 1987 by her fraternal twin sister, Joyce. The sisters were born outside of Cincinnati in 1943 and were reunited in California after 40 years apart. Judith never learned to speak, having lost her hearing in infancy from scarlet fever. Her deafness went undiagnosed for decades, so she never learned to speak or sign. Her muteness was attributed to low I.Q. Doctors advised the Scotts to institutionalize Judith and cease all contact. When the sisters were 7, their parents took Judith in the middle of the night from the bed she shared with Joyce and left her at the Columbus State Institution. Joyce, violating her mother’s wishes, visited the institution as an adult and found her sister distraught, living in near total isolation. When Judith showed an interest in creating art, her crayons were confiscated. According to Joyce, Judith was declared ‘‘too retarded to draw.’’
During her first two years at Creative Growth, Judith Scott appeared unengaged, occasionally making drawings but more often sitting blankly, or napping, at her worktable. It was not until she was placed in a textile course taught by the artist Sylvia Seventy that she began to wrap. She roamed through the center’s storeroom, gathering objects — a broom, a broken chair, a tissue box, bamboo slats — that she wrapped in twine, thread and yarn. The first sculpture she completed looked like two small human figures tied together. ‘‘I understood,’’ Joyce writes, in a forthcoming book about her sister, ‘‘that she, too, knew us as twins, together; two bodies joined as one. I wept.’’
Scott’s sculptures grew more elaborate with time. They attracted the attention of MacGregor, the art historian, who made her the subject of a 1999 monograph, ‘‘Metamorphosis.’’ The next year Creative Growth decided to hire di Maria as its new executive director. His chief duty would be to promote Scott’s work. Board members told di Maria that they thought her work might be important but didn’t know what to do with it.
They also explained that they now wanted their clients to be thought of not as artists with disabilities but as ‘‘contemporary artists.’’ Di Maria, who previously worked as assistant director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, didn’t have to be convinced. He was immediately taken by the merit of the work being produced at Creative Growth, he said. The center, he felt, also offered an escape from the pretensions of the art world. ‘‘It was pure,’’ he says. ‘‘I don’t mean to fetishize that word, but it’s true. They are using their work as a means to communicate.’’
Shortly after di Maria was hired, he received a visit from Lucienne Peiry, the director of Lausanne’s Collection of Art Brut, which had given Dwight Mackintosh his first major show. Peiry wanted to determine whether Scott fit Dubuffet’s definition of an outsider artist. After observing her closely for several days, Peiry concluded that, though Scott worked in a studio with other artists, she did not respond to them — preserving the sense of isolation and imperviousness to influence that was crucial to Dubuffet. Peiry made Scott the subject of a 2001 show, which later traveled to New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
With Joyce Scott’s blessing, di Maria increased the price of her sculptures from $200 apiece to $5,000, putting it in line with sculpture by other emerging contemporary artists who had appeared in a museum show. When the pieces sold quickly, he increased the price to $15,000. (Creative Growth, like most professional galleries, splits every sale evenly with the artist.) Scott’s work was the subject of a 2002 show at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and was featured at the Outsider Art Fairs in New York and Paris. Judith Scott’s heart gave out in 2005 while on a weekend retreat with her sister; she died in Joyce’s arms. Di Maria was never certain whether she understood that her work was being sold or even exhibited.
‘‘I was with her at two or three exhibitions of her work,’’ di Maria said. ‘‘She wasn’t so interested. If she’d see one of her sculptures, she would do this thing where she’d kind of pat it on the head, as if it were her little kid. She was interested when people came to the studio and watched her work. She would shake hands. I feel that she knew that people were paying increasing attention to her. I don’t know if she made the connection to the sculpture.’’
As William Tyler worked on a drawing, a touring group from a center for people with traumatic brain injuries paused to observe him. Tyler’s method is patient, glacial, precise. He pauses often to think, his head resting in his hand in a dreamy pose. He draws in black marker on white paper, creating ordered landscapes and portraits, many of them depicting him and his brother, Richard. The brothers worked at Creative Growth together until seven years ago, when, according to staff members, it was discovered that Richard was abusing William. They have not seen each other since, but in William’s drawings, Richard continues to appear as a smiling, beatific presence.
Tyler’s canvases are often dominated by lines of neat text, framed in black boxes, that reflect his obsessions: geography, crime news, dates and times, his fear of swimming, his love of magic. A storefront occupied the bottom left corner of his work in progress, beside a series of flags of his own invention. The rest of the canvas was taken up with text:
BAD MAN WAS SHOT A GOOD MAN AT LAKE MERRITT FOR GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS / PARADE IN DOWNTOWN IN OAKLAND, CA, ON FRIDAY, JUNE 19, 2015. /
BAD MAN IN JAIL IN PRISON FOR RIGHT NOW FOR BAD PEOPLE. /
POLICE OFFICER WAS TAKE A GUN FROM BAD MAN IN PAST FOR NOW.
Tyler is a dedicated watcher of television news. In the news that week was the mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., as well as a shooting during the victory parade for the Golden State Warriors’ N.B.A. championship.
‘‘You heard about the nice people in Charleston, South Carolina?’’ he asked me. ‘‘Man shot them. He’s a bad man. They put him in jail. Things happen for a reason.’’
I asked where he got his news.
‘‘Channel 11 news,’’ Tyler said. ‘‘Channel 7 news. Channel 71 news. Channel 72 news. Channel 75 news. CNN. Fox News. Weather.’’
ALL SWIMMINGS FOR BAD FUNNIES ARE AT POOLS AND BEACHES FOR RIGHT NOW. WHY! / DON’T LET HAPPEN AGAIN ABOUT SPORTS FANS AND SWIMMINGS FOR RIGHT NOW / AT ALL. / NO BUSINESS FOR BAD SPORTS FANS AND SWIMMINGS FOR RIGHT NOW AT ALL.
Tyler spoke about a trip he took with his brother to Hawaii. It was financed by money earned from his artwork. ‘‘Eight-day vacation,’’ he said. ‘‘Me and Richard went in 1988. We went to the National Memorial Cemetery. Pearl Harbor Museum. We had lunch at the pineapple field. I drank pineapple juice. At Hawaii Island we had pancakes with butter and banana syrup. We took Aloha Airlines to the Big Island, Hawaii. Ate lunch on the airplane.’’
NO NEWSPAPERS FOR RIGHT NOW WERE GOT THROW AWAY IN PAST. / DON’T FORGET A RECEIPTS FOR RIGHT NOW FOR EVERYONES. / BE HAPPIES FOR RIGHT NOW AT THIS REALITY FOR EVERYONES.
Tyler said that he was born on April 23, 1954, a Friday. He said that he grew up in Berkeley and lives in Union City. ‘‘Don’t get lost on this planet Earth,’’ he said. ‘‘Things happen for a reason.’’
Writing 20 years ago in The New York Review of Books, the British critic Rosemary Dinnage described the allure of outsider art as ‘‘the fantasy that over there, on the other side of the insanity barrier, is a freedom and passion and color that were renounced in childhood.’’ Underlying 20th-century art, wrote Dinnage, was ‘‘the longing for a return to something direct and strong and primitive.’’ You can see this longing in the art of Paul Gauguin, Alberto Giacometti, Marcel Duchamp and André Breton — artists influenced by the work of indigenous tribes, children and patients of mental asylums. Max Ernst assembled a 1919 exhibition in Cologne, Germany, in which Dadaist work was set beside art by the clinically insane. The African tribal sculptures at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris fascinated Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and led to transformations in their style. Paul Klee declared children, mental patients and North African tribesmen his artistic idols. ‘‘Neither childish behavior nor madness are insulting words,’’ he wrote. ‘‘All this is to be taken very seriously, more seriously than art of the public galleries, when it comes to reforming today’s art.’’ When the trappings of artistic fashion have come to be seen as restrictive, artists have sought the work of those ignorant of fashion.
Jean Dubuffet’s ‘‘Art Brut’’ designation was not an embrace of self-taught art so much as a rejection of its appropriation by conventional artists. Inspired by the Heidelberg psychiatrist Hanz Prinzhorn’s 1922 book, ‘‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill,’’ Dubuffet formulated a set of criteria to distinguish artwork made by society’s outsiders from work derivative of it: A true outsider artist had to work in total isolation, impervious to influence and unmotivated by any hunger for fame, status or profit. Over time Dubuffet saw reason to expand his criteria, however, and today no definition of ‘‘outsider art’’ withstands scrutiny; the two art worlds, outsider and insider, increasingly tend to bleed into each other. Even so, the fantasy of the notion of purity persists. It does more than persist. It sells.
The recent bull market for self-taught art has coincided with di Maria’s directorship of Creative Growth. Whether di Maria saw this market change coming or helped to bring it about, he understood that Creative Growth was poised to benefit from it. But first he had to establish the integrity of all the artists under his care — not just Judith Scott. He realized, as soon as he was made director, that major things would have to change. The studio space, for instance: After 18 years, it still looked like an auto-repair shop. ‘‘If the building doesn’t seem contemporary, the artists won’t seem contemporary,’’ he informed the board of trustees, shortly after he began. He began a $1.8 million fund-raising campaign and in 2008 hired the architect Anne Fougeron to create a more contemporary design, emphasizing natural light and clean lines. The gallery, which previously resembled an overstuffed attic, with unframed artwork covering every inch of the walls, was painted white. Exhibited works were framed and hung professionally, surrounded by plenty of blank space, as in a Chelsea gallery.
The center had long been staffed by local art teachers, but state budget cuts in 2010 terminated that program. Given the opportunity to hire a new staff, di Maria selected exclusively professional artists and art administrators. ‘‘From me to the bookkeeper, we all went to art school,’’ he said. ‘‘No one has a social-services background or a psychiatric background. This is an important part of our philosophy: Artists should work with artists.’’
The final step was to gain prestigious institutional support for Creative Growth’s artists. As Scott’s work grew in renown, di Maria donated sculptures to the American Folk Art Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Collection of Art Brut, forming relationships that would benefit his other artists. He organized a widely attended conference in Oakland and pursued partnerships with collectors and galleries, like Matthew Higgs’s White Columns, which regularly includes Creative Growth artists in its exhibitions. In 2008 Creative Growth even opened a gallery in Paris, Galerie Impaire, to sell work more easily to European collectors. Di Maria also continued to raise prices. ‘‘In the contemporary art world,’’ he says, ‘‘if a work is priced too low, certain collectors won’t buy it. They assume that price is a signifier of value.’’ He learned that at his first Outsider Art Fair. The pieces on sale for $50 went unsold. Those priced at $1,000 sold out.
More recently Creative Growth entered a phase that di Maria refers to as ‘‘the Hollywood stuff.’’ The center collaborated with Marc Jacobs and Paper Magazine. Cindy Sherman and David Byrne hosted fund-raisers. T-shirts designed by Creative Growth artists have been modeled by Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Michelle Vawer. The Museum of Modern Art, after acquiring work by Scott for its permanent collection, has purchased paintings by Dan Miller and William Scott, who paints idealized portraits of African-American leaders, San Francisco and women from his church. This year Judith Scott was the subject of a major exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Her sculptures have now sold for as much as $45,000, and di Maria has declined offers more than three times as high.
It is not advertised, but the Creative Growth studio is open to the public. Most visitors who ask permission are allowed to observe the artists, and many of the artists welcome visitors. One recent afternoon, two white-haired collectors watched John Martin as he drew a tractor with a black Sharpie. Martin is tall and solidly built, with large hands and a friendly smile. On the table beside him, a small boombox played Ice Cube’s ‘‘It Was a Good Day.’’
‘‘Do you have a tractor like this?’’ Martin asked the couple.
The woman, supporting herself on a cane, pointed at Martin and whispered his name to her husband.
‘‘You can buy this tape,’’ Martin said, gesturing to his boombox. ‘‘You can put it in your car. I can’t tell you where you can get the tape.’’
He drew a man on the tractor, wearing a backward cap. He said it was Ice Cube.
‘‘I like his music,’’ Martin said. ‘‘I saw him on the TV set. I don’t have enough money for this man’s record.’’
Martin opened a Chinese magazine written entirely in Mandarin. It contained features on technology, business and culture. The elderly couple scrutinized his every movement, as if observing a living artwork.
‘‘It’s a book on Chinese food,’’ Martin said. ‘‘Let me see what they got on sale.’’
He flipped the pages. There were photographs of men giving speeches.
‘‘Where’s this restaurant? This says it’s in Chinatown. Let me see how much it costs.’’ He continued flipping until he came to images of food; a restaurant review, perhaps. ‘‘Stir-fried shrimp, $10,’’ Martin said. ‘‘I think they got shrimp, red lobster, stir-fried fish. Chicken chow mein. Meatballs, pasta, rice. Tomato sauce.’’
He returned to his drawing. He drew a single letter on each of Ice Cube’s teeth, copying the letters from a subscription form that had fallen out of Flash Art magazine. The letters were ‘‘v,’’ ‘‘d,’’ ‘‘w’’ and ‘‘f.’’ I asked what the letters stood for.
‘‘Music,’’ Martin said.
Visitors to Creative Growth, whether professional artists, collectors or curious passers-by, are invariably astonished by the amount of high-quality work being produced. ‘‘The best work made here is absolutely no different from the best work made anywhere,’’ says Lawrence Rinder, the director of the Berkeley Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archive. ‘‘I was the dean of an art school for four years. If we had the same percentage of success, we’d be the best art school in all of history.’’
What accounts for this unusual rate of success? Rinder credits ‘‘the character of these studios and the methodology that somehow inspires creativity at a consistent and high level.’’ The center does offer ideal working conditions. Stephen Beal, president of the California College of the Arts and former board president of Creative Growth, also cites them: ‘‘The flexibility they have, how they support an artist’s evolving way of working, who sits where, all those small things contribute to the quality that comes out of there. Maybe you’d get similar kinds of things out of everybody if you supported them that way.’’
Would you? Would you have the same results if you offered a Creative Growth residency to the next 160 people who walked down 24th Street? Creative Growth’s clients are not preselected for artistic talent. Many have never tried to make art before. Might it be possible that the work’s originality has something to do with the fact that those creating it have led unusual lives, under unusual pressures, which have caused them to view the world in unusual ways?
The question yields uneasy responses. Rinder rejects the idea forcefully. ‘‘Both instinctively and intellectually I try to separate that out.’’ Di Maria, however, acknowledges that a connection exists. ‘‘The culture of disability informs the voice of the work,’’ he says. ‘‘I’ll be in Japan, working with artists with Down syndrome, or I’ll be in Finland, working with artists on the autistic spectrum, and I’ll see similarities in style or form to artists with similar disabilities in other cultures. So maybe that’s its own culture, too.’’
Yet Creative Growth and its supporters tend to minimize the artists’ disabilities wherever possible. When asked to describe the center’s artists, di Maria even resists ‘‘self-trained artists.’’ ‘‘Work that doesn’t relate or respond to art history,’’ he says, ‘‘that’s how I describe what our artists do.’’ Di Maria routinely turns down invitations for exhibitions that emphasize the disabilities through artist photographs or biographical statements. Nor does Creative Growth participate in exhibitions that carry the label ‘‘Outsider Art,’’ with the notable exception of the annual Outsider Art Fair in New York, the field’s most prominent showcase. An extreme example of this approach was a recent show at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, ‘‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,’’ which included no wall labels whatsoever. It was only by reading an informational pamphlet, available by request, that visitors could determine that some of the artists were from Creative Growth.
The effacement of biographical information avoids the danger of aestheticizing the disability or exploiting the disability to sell the work. But it also contravenes a dominant trend in the contemporary art scene. The artist’s biography and artist’s statement have become major marketing tools. Strong narratives sell. And Creative Growth artists tend to have profound, heartbreaking stories. Nearly every review of Judith Scott’s art, whether in The New Yorker or Artforum, leads with her life story. Di Maria is therefore put in the awkward situation of trying to de-emphasize the artist’s disability while recognizing that, for many collectors and critics, the disability is central to the work’s appeal.
Dan Miller was spending the afternoon in an action-painting class, in which the artists stood in front of upright canvases. Miller’s paintings are composed of words written on top of one another, creating dizzying palimpsests that bear some resemblance to Cy Twombly’s scrawled glyphs. He wrote the word ‘‘Grainger’’ in blank acrylic across the canvas. His uncle owned a Grainger hardware store. Words like ‘‘socket,’’ ‘‘pineboard’’ and ‘‘electrician’’ recur in his paintings.
‘‘You have character,’’ the instructor said. ‘‘That’s what’s great about your drawings. I can always tell it’s you. You have a signature style.’’
Over the black words, now a smudged nimbus, Miller painted, in green, ‘‘Home.’’
‘‘Home?’’ the instructor asked.
‘‘Home Depot,’’ Miller said.
When he finished a canvas, which took about 20 minutes, he chanted the word ‘‘paper’’ until the instructor brought him a new canvas, at which point Miller immediately began again.
Downstairs, Peter Salsman, an amiable former racecar driver who bears some resemblance to Kurt Vonnegut, was showing slides of his flowerpots on his iPad. The ceramic pots are decorated with irises, passionflowers and roses.
Salsman’s voice lowered. ‘‘I’m one of God’s angels,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve been dead three times. I go to work at nighttime for God. I put people in the right place.’’
‘‘God calls on me when I’m sleeping. If someone dies, I have to go collect them. Like when Classie passed away here, I went and picked her up in my ’55 Chevy.’’
Salsman pressed one hand to his temple.
‘‘I really take them to heaven and to hell. I have to go wherever I’m sent. It’s a lot of responsibility. Too much.’’
Miller appeared on the other side of the studio, accompanied by a staff member.
‘‘Costs a lot of money, right?’’ Miller said.
‘‘Yes,’’ she said. ‘‘It costs a lot of money.’’
‘‘Costs a lot of money, right?’’
‘‘Yes, Danny, it does.’’
Though some artists at Creative Growth do not understand that their work is sold at all, many know exactly how much their work is selling, or not selling. This introduces a new motivation into the studio. One artist mentioned that he had begun to paint trees because they were selling well. Another, disappointed by the quality of her ceramic sculptures, recommitted herself after she sold one. A third was so discouraged when her paintings didn’t sell that she gave up the medium. John Martin lies somewhere in the middle. He looks forward to the first of the month, when he receives his check for art sales, and complains about being broke. But the physical check itself means nothing to him. ‘‘What am I supposed to do with this?’’ he says. Sometimes he tears the check up.
What does the money do to the artists? The romantic view of a self-trained artist is one whose work, like Henry Darger’s, is not discovered until after his death. But when artists understand that their work is being appraised and sold in a marketplace, is such an arrangement still ‘‘pure’’? Does the artist’s awareness of the market compromise the value of the art itself?
To answer the question, you must first decide whether people with disabilities deserve special treatment — whether they should be shielded from the anxieties, frustrations and injustices of adult life. Disability theorists tend to agree that this sheltering impulse, while well intentioned, is a form of infantilization that denies its subjects’ humanity. The awareness of an art market that judges your work, subjectively and perhaps unfairly, can only cloud the motivations that lead Creative Growth artists to do the work they do. It leads to greed, disappointment and envy; also to affirmation, encouragement and pride. It leads, in other words, to life.
‘‘When you see a Creative Growth artist at an opening, they’re beaming because they’re accepted,’’ Beal says. ‘‘If you didn’t have that, would the engagement be as focused and sustained as it is?’’
Every artist receives a quarterly check from a common pot funded by sales of Creative Growth T-shirts and other items, an effort to counter money anxieties and to create the sense that all art has value. But some checks are bigger than others.
‘‘Money changes everything,’’ di Maria says. ‘‘But it’s also not my choice. It’s the artists’ choice, and I would never make decisions for them. If some of them want to enter the market and sign with commercial galleries or rent their own studio, it’s not my job to stand in the way. It may be that Creative Growth was a nice 40-year experiment and, in the future, it won’t need to continue.’’
It was the opening night of a new Creative Growth exhibition, ‘‘Parting Is Such Sorrow Until We Meet Again Tomorrow.’’ Included were elegiac portraits of Classie; paintings of trains and buses and bridges; a bright drawing in Prismacolor pencils by George Wilson of a crowd waving to a departing cruise ship; and several of John Martin’s flip-phone sculptures, made of wood.
Several artists had been asked to stay later than usual so that they could discuss their work. In exchange, they received envelopes containing $25. The attendees — among them professional artists, Berkeley art historians and wealthy collectors from San Mateo County in matching pastel outfits — inspected the work and chatted with di Maria. Occasionally a patron approached one of the artists (‘‘Show me which of these are yours.’’ ‘‘How did you get the idea to do that?’’), but most of the time the artists stood around uncertainly. Wilson, whether out of excitement or agitation or joy, began dancing to the music in the middle of the floor. It was a swaying, jittery kind of dance, like hula-hooping without the hoop.
Finally, it was too much. Wilson shot through the crowd, out of the gallery and into the darkened studio. A staff member followed him. Wilson sat at the nearest worktable and waited. The staffer retrieved Wilson’s current work in progress and his Prismacolor pencils and set them before him. For the next two hours, while in the adjacent room the music played, glasses of wine were poured and patrons discussed the art and the artists, Wilson drew.December 20th, 2015
One Week to see Robert Barry’s “Bethlehem Baptist Church Installation”
Exhibition: Days: Thursday-Sunday, Hours 11 am- 4 p.m.
Thomas Solomon Art Advisory
Bethlehem Baptist Church
4901 Compton Ave.
Los Angeles, C.A. 90021
watercolor and paper
8 x 10 inches
Bella Foster, Kelly Marie Conder, Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
0pening Reception: Sunday, December 13. 2-4 PM
December 13 through January 15, 2016December 10th, 2015
The Pépin family in front of their restaurant in Lyon, France. The author, far left, with his young brothers Roland and Bichon; his mother, Jeannette; Aunt Aimée; a family friend and Uncle Marcel. A restaurant patron kneels before Roland. Credit Courtesy Jacques Pépin
By JACQUES PÉPIN
NY Times Published: DEC. 8, 2015
Jacques Pépin, who will turn 80 on Dec. 18, exudes an air of perennial youth. Having worked his way up the rungs of rigorous Paris kitchens before coming to New York, he became the youngest in a circle of influential cooks (including Julia Child, Pierre Franey, James Beard and Craig Claiborne) who helped ignite a new enthusiasm in the United States for food and dining. In this essay, taken from a piece Mr. Pépin wrote for a birthday celebration in October, he looks back to his earliest years.
There is something evanescent, temporary and fragile about food. You make it, it goes, and what remains are memories.
But these memories of food are very powerful. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.” Lin Yutang, a Chinese philosopher, tells us that “Patriotism is the love of the dishes of our childhood.” Yes, the dishes of our childhood stay with us forever.
My earliest memories of food go back to the time of the Second World War. My mother took me to a farm for the summer school vacation when I was 6 years old with the knowledge that I would be lodged and fed there. I cried after she left and felt sad, but the fermière took me to the barn to milk the cow. That warm, foamy glass of milk is my first true memory of food and shaped the rest of my life.
I also remember as a young child helping my mother in our family restaurant, washing bottles for the wine and peeling potatoes. I began my formal culinary apprenticeship in 1949 at age 13 in the kitchens of the Grand Hôtel de l’Europe in my hometown, Bourg-en-Bresse, near Lyon.
Going back as far as my memory can take me, I see a kitchen in my vision of my mother, my aunts, my cousins, and I visualize a specific dish for each of them.
For my mother, what comes to mind first are the small fingerling potatoes, fresh out of the garden, with skin that would slide off when rubbed by your fingers. These potatoes were simply sautéed in butter to a crisp exterior and served with an escarole salad dressed with mustard, vinegar and peanut oil scented with garlic.
I recall that in my Aunt Hélène’s chicken in cream sauce with morels, she actually used dried gyromitras, the false morels with intense flavor that are designated as poisonous in most books on mycology. These never did any harm to us. Remembering my Aunt Aimée brings to mind a shoulder veal roast made in a cast-iron pot. Browned in butter and flavored with onion, it created incredibly flavored natural juices that I have never been able to duplicate.
Remembering my cousin Merret reminds me of her amazing chicken liver flan served with a tomato concassé, olives and mushrooms. I can envision my cousin Christiane with her incredible fresh white cheese (fromage blanc), covered with the thickest, unctuous cream and flavored with chives and garlic, and I see my niece Nathalie serving her boudin noir, or black pudding, with buttered sautéed apples and fresh mashed potatoes.
I can visualize myself with my father in the cellar drawing wine, tending the garden with my brother, mushrooming with friends or cooking with my wife, Gloria, or my friend Jean-Claude.
My cultural identity is always related to food, and that gastronomic culture includes a whole set of rules and habits that define my way of life. In this culture there are rituals, like the special events of playing boules, having a picnic or going frogging or mushrooming. These rituals are made up of traditions, which are the ways rituals are implemented, such as the preparation of traditional recipes and specific ways of doing things.
The majority of people can live well with 20 or 30 recipes and, in fact, all of their family traditions and rituals are expressed through those recipes. For most people, the dishes that matter are the dishes that have been cooked with love, dishes that are part of a family’s structure, passed down from a grandmother, mother, spouse, aunt, uncle or cousin. Those dishes remain much more embedded in our taste memory than the recipes and dishes of great restaurants, even for a professional cook like me.
Dr. Urbino, a character in “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez, is served a dish that has been cooked by an indifferent new housekeeper. He pushes it back uneaten and declares, “This dish has been cooked without love.”
In the famous passage where he writes about the small scalloped cake named madeleine, Proust in his “Remembrance of Things Past” develops his theory of “affective memory.” The affective memory, or memory of the senses — smell, taste, touch, hearing and eyesight — is different from conventional memory.
If I reflect on a specific moment of my life, my brain can take me there and, hopefully, I will remember the moment, the occasion and the people. Affective memory works in a different way. When Proust dips his small madeleine in his tea on that fateful afternoon, he may have been talking about the events of the day, but suddenly the taste of the cake troubles and disturbs him.
Tasting it again, he realizes that this specific taste reminds him of the small cake his aunt always had for him when, as a child, he spent his summers in the small town of Combray on the coast of Normandy. By association of ideas, he sees the teacup, the kitchen, the cook, the garden and, as he says, eventually the whole town of Combray comes out of his cup of tea.
With the memories of my brain, it may take me a few minutes to summon up and review a specific event of my life. Conversely, the affective memory is immediate and very powerful, often overwhelming. I may be walking in the woods with my dog, not thinking about anything in particular, when the smell of a wild mushroom brings me back instantly and powerfully to my childhood and hunting mushrooms in the woods with my father or brother.
Affective memory assails you when you least expect it and is felt more profoundly than conventional memory. These memories are essential for the cook, the food critic and the writer. They enrich your day-to-day life and your relationships with your family and friends. When I smell or see certain recipes, I also see my family — wife, daughter, brothers, mother or friends; there is no separating food from the visual. When I eat a small spring salad, I see my father’s garden or my gardens in upstate New York or Connecticut.
Other things embedded in my food memories are markets and seasons. The Marché St.-Antoine, along the Saône in Lyon, or the market in Antibes, where I remember a little woman from whom I bought maybe the best apricot jam I ever had in my life. I recall the Wednesday market in Bourg-en-Bresse, and markets in Provence: Arles, Avignon and St.-Rémy.
My recipes are always closely linked to my markets in Madison, the Connecticut town where I live, as well as Bishop’s in the neighboring town of Guilford, Ferraro’s in New Haven and the little farm nearby where Nathalia, a vibrant young woman from Jamaica, has the best eggs you could find anywhere. I go to a farm on the Hammonasset Connector to get fresh peas and corn in the summer, and the Lobster Landing in Clinton, where I buy lobsters.
When I think of all the markets I have been to in this world — from the fish markets in Tokyo and Portugal, and the West African markets of Dakar, as well as markets in Marrakesh, Fez or in Progreso in the Yucatán Peninsula, my travels are always associated with local products and restaurants. I’ll never forget the fish restaurant on the beach in Málaga, Spain, where all the freshest seafood, just off the boat, is cooked on an immense grill fueled with the roots of olive trees and where the grilled sardines are unforgettable.
I visualize markets throughout the year, according to season and specific dishes that celebrate the seasons. In the spring, there is a sweet smell to the earth when I plant my garden, and when those tiny seeds start emerging from the ground, it is still a miracle every year. Nothing compares each April to the wild dandelion salad greens that I pick along the edge of the road, the tiny fresh peas from a nearby farm and sweet baby carrots.
In summer, I like drowsing in the hot sun or walking in the cool grass, conjuring up mushrooms in the woods and picking up little fish along the shore in Madison to fry whole, like French fries. I dream of steamed lobster, juicy and sugary corn, creamy new potatoes and picnics with fried chicken, lukewarm plum tomatoes, and cool white wine along the Hammonasset River.
There is a sweetness and gentleness to the fall. I love the fragrant smell of apple tarts, making cider, roasting a duck with sweet potatoes, the bursting yellow and red of the maple trees, the tanginess of the Concord grapes, and, finally, the turkey of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.
Winter in America will always call to mind the brilliant sun and blue sky, with piercing cold and crisp air and the smell of chestnuts in the streets of New York City when I first arrived in 1959.
In Connecticut, winter is the smell of burning wood in the fireplace, comforting bean stew and split pea with ham soup, cheese fondue and the feasts of the holidays, which we celebrate with oysters, capon or goose, foie gras and chocolate truffles. This is the best time for small children, and I can see myself and my daughter, Claudine, making caramel candies in the snow.
I recall lazy afternoons with a good book by the fireplace, and long walks with my dog along the deserted beach battered by cold wind under a gray and black sky.
The greatest taste for me may be a perfect crunchy baguette slathered generously with the very best sweet butter, and the greatest dessert, besides dark, bitter chocolate, may be the succulent apricot or strawberry jams made with very ripe fruits and spread thickly on pieces of warm brioche.
My greatest ritual is sitting every night at the dining-room table with my wife and sharing our meal and one, sometimes two, bottles of wine and discussing the events of the day. Throughout the last five decades, this daily ritual has been ingrained so profoundly within us that we could not live without it, and this is how food memories are made.
In the words of Voltaire, “Imagine how tiresome it would be to have to eat three times a day if God had not made it a pleasure as well as a necessity.” I hope that you enjoyed traveling with me along my memory lane, and that you will share your table in a daily ritual with your loved ones and enjoy life to the fullest.
Happy cooking!December 9th, 2015