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Saturday, September 1, 2018

R.I.P. THE VILLAGE VOICE NEWSPAPER 9/1/18

I bemoan the passing of The Village Voice - a true voice for those who were the underdog in New York City. I read it for local NYC news, arts, and entertainment. The cheapest apartment rentals were listed as were the WORST landlords in the city.
I got the best review of my work that I ever could imagine in 1993 for a show I had in Soho titled BOY WITH A GUN. Arlene Raven was the Arts critic for The Village Voice and she wrote this personal and poetic article about my artwork which I would like to share. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

CALL THE MIDWIFE - A BBC PRODUCTION ON NETFLIX 8/31/18




I am a woman who never wanted children. I don’t coo at babies, I don’t desire to interact with them until they are about 2-years old when we can communicate and giggle together; but admittedly I marvel at their soft skin unmoved by time’s implacable hand, reminding me how, as a young girl, I would intentionally bump into women wearing glistening  black, silky fur coats on the streets of NYC, covertly trailing my hand along the velvety down, for a fleeting caress. So when my sister, among others, told me to watch CALL THE MIDWIFE a BBC series on Netflix I scoffed at the idea. 

But I  was mistaken - this series is not only about babies brought into the world assisted by nurse and nun midwives working in the poverty-stricken East End of London (Poplar) in the 1950’s and 1960’s  - an area that was beginning to recover from the devastation of World War II, which still cast a long shadow on the lives of the people at a critical time of historical change - each episode chronicles a pressing issue that impacted women then and even today.



Every conceivable birthing situation is addressed along with a diverse group of expectant mothers who come to the bustling clinic with toddlers, teens, and family in tow. Movingly the women are seen as individuals many of whom are struggling with poverty, abuse, and often unwelcome pregnancies at a time when contraception was not available. Women stayed home and had babies the choices made for them by society’s strictures.  Some critics might regard CALL THE MIDWIFE as a sentimental look at the status of women in the mid-20th century, but the bleak realities of economic and spiritual deprivation are spotlighted with a penetrating lens.





The nuns and nurse/midwives live at Nonnatus House which is a convent dedicated to interacting with the Poplar community;  a place that salvages the neighborhood’s wounds and is a sanctuary for the populace to escape their hardship and engage with one another. I embraced each of the extraordinary kind and generous caregivers. Despite being idealized we see the flaws, insecurities, and childhoods imprinted on their psyches. Every person has a story that is shunted into darkness; many have secrets that could not be revealed for fear of isolation and expulsion. There is a breadth to the scope of this series’ view of humanity which is not often brought to light. CALL THE MIDWIFE addresses the goodness in society —even if that goodness is just a kernel dreamily floating in the universe.

Monday, August 20, 2018

BLACK KkKLANSMAN AND CRAZY RICH ASIANS 8/20/18


I saw two movies that got great reviews from the critics. Both were disappointing - Spike Lee’s BLACK KkKLANSMAN and Jon M. Chu’s CRAZY RICH ASIANS.

John David Washington as Ron Stallworth and Laura Harrier as Patrice 

Spike Lee did almost everything right in his latest movie,  BLACK  KkKLANSMAN and this could have been a great film; his baring of the scope of rampant racism and anti-semitism throughout history is on the mark, but there is often a shield of empty and tired dogma shrouding his characters. The power of fresh, convincing expression is rare and hard to come by; language that feels both natural and emotionally gripping is sacrificed to the altar of ideological protest-speak.

The visual imagery and Terry Blanchard’s music were gripping; if only his actors spoke to one another less self-consciously, not as scripted and predictably. When Lee inserts documentary footage, he does so brilliantly - taking clips from what many consider the classic racist 1915 film, Birth Of A Nation right up to the 2017 white supremacist's protests in Charlottesville Virginia.  We see the same faces of hatred and contempt - not much has changed.

Topher Grace as David Duke

I was once told that when it comes to racism and issues of poverty and hate, people have to be “hit over the head” continuously for them to see and talk with one another - perhaps that is what BLACK KkKLANSMAN is trying to do. Alas, my heart was not moved, though my intellect was ever-present.
Adam Driver and John David Washington

Henry Golding and  Constance Wu


CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a stereotypical re-imaging of “generational divide’ taken straight out of Hollywood/Bollywood and moved to Singapore with exaggerated and at times outrageous characters, cavorting in glitzy, tacky celebrations of the seductiveness of wealth’s “glamor” with the starring couple’s disavowal of those “trite” values while embracing them. 
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We see a well-meaning tale of love overcoming parental “class” disapproval performed by an all Asian cast. The movie included the run-of-the-mill parodies of a goofy family, a ridiculous gay man, and a bitchy ex-girlfriend; the tear-jerking Cinderella story was updated for our 21st-century era so that the leading lady is an educated, independent woman who is a Professor. Alas, this over-production lacked originality and charm which would have made CRAZY RICH ASIANS more bearable.

Constance Wu



Monday, July 16, 2018

LEAVE NO TRACE 7/16/18



LEAVE NO TRACE, a film co-written and  directed by Debra Granik opens with an aerial shot of dense green foliage, a beautifully constructed spider web catching the sun’s silken rays of light, and hanging wet moss dripping water as the camera caresses nature’s exquisiteness in the Pacific Northwest landscape - a few miles outside of an alternate world - Portland Oregon. And then we glimpse a man and young girl almost camouflaged among the lush fronds - invisible as they wish to be. 

A father named Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are “survivalists” who have tamed a small area of this wild beauty into a home. Their relationship with “nature” is respectful; they are both comfortable with living outdoors - cooking, tending to a fire, and getting clear water from the canopy of foliage that envelops them. The relationship with one another is both tender and loving but not equal. Tom, is clearly a teenage girl who is deferential and appreciative of the father who raised her but longing to know more about her mother who died when she was very young. We soon glean that Will is a veteran with PTSD symptoms whose dreams often jolt him awake shaken, gasping shallow breaths against the vast ceiling of stars in the deep black umbrella of space.



The beginning of LEAVE NO TRACE depicts how Will and Tom live day-to-day gathering food, playing chess, caring for a garden - all done with a delicate affection that one cannot help but envy, both tending to what is needed to live a life “off the grid” - untouched by contemporary life’s amenities. Suddenly everything changes when Tom is spotted by a Ranger and police with dogs arrive, violating their intimate island in the midst of the vast protective forest. 

The outside world has finally permeated their lives, including the assignment of a social worker who gets them situated in pre-fab housing complete with a television, a stove, electricity, and warm shelter. The film is replete with people touching Will and Tom’s  lives who are very kind, concerned individuals, but are unable to comprehend living a “homeless” existence under the light of the moon; an existence which demands nothing from civic institutions, where self-reliance and the ability to live isolated from others is a form of freedom - no matter the cost.

Thomasin McKenzie portraying the daughter is a lovely young actor with her pale face and sharply curious dark eyes who adores and understands her father’s psychological frailties, however once she comes into contact with the world around her she, unlike her father, embraces all living creatures with an innocence and compassion that is exquisite to observe. 



Ben Foster gives a moving performance as Will whose wounded, shaken psyche, torn apart by the brutality of war, softens immeasurably whenever he is with his daughter, who he has raised to be self-reliant, strong and gentle - a captivating mixture. As for the rest of society, Will’s close-set suspicious eyes reveal the inner turmoil of an untamed colt, jittery and ready to bolt at any unwanted intrusion.


All the characters that Will and Tom meet on their journeys, exhibit a sensitivity that belies outward appearances. Director Debra Granik is almost idyllic in her view of community and humanity’s goodness all nestled under the light and ambiance of the majestic Pacific Northwest. LEAVE NO TRACE is an honest, unpredictable, quiet film - a coming of age story that touched me to the point of stifling audible sobs while viewing the vulnerable delicacy of human fragility.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

SOUTINE EXHIBITION "FLESH" at JEWISH MUSEUM, NYC 7-14-18

Soutine, Carcass of Beef, oil on canvas

GREAT Soutine show aptly titled FLESH at The Jewish Museum, NYC running through September 16th. Chaim Soutine is a major 20th-century artist who I consider a ghostly mentor. As a painting student, I constantly looked at his work feeling the force of his tension with paint - like an elastic band about to snap - imagining his malleable body slashing away at the canvas with visceral intensity. 
Whenever I view Soutine's work I intuit deep inside my person the pulling and scraping of paint; the distortion of an image to make a painting that mirrors the raw impalement of the flesh.

Soutine, Still Life With RayFish, oil/canvas

Soutine, The Great Pheasant, oil/canvas, 1926/27

Detail: Soutine, The Great Pheasant, oil/canvas, 1926/27
Soutine: The Salmon, oil/canvas

Detail: Soutine, The Salmon, oil/canvas


Soutine, White Duck, oil/canvas, 1925


This small exhibition of still-lives contained images of slabs of beef, twisted and wrung chicken heads, fish heads, and hares with anthropomorphic forks writhing on the plate ready to penetrate the hapless creature.
Soutine, Hare With Forks, oil/canvas, 1924

Detail: Soutine, Hare With Forks, oil/canvas, 1924

Ahhhh I loved the show!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

THE STAIRCASE on NETFLIX 7/8/18




Justice is a word that has lost its original meaning: the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness in the American judiciary system. A trial is so costly that only the very wealthy defendant can afford investigators, “expert” witnesses, travel expenses and a high-profile lawyer to even stand a chance to argue a viable defense. Bail alone is often not affordable to many people who languish in jail for months at a time - a terrifying and horrific place where one awaits trial in the dark pit of innuendo and suspicion. 

The Staircase is a 2004 documentary originally made into an 8 episode miniseries by French Director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade based on the 2001 death of Kathleen Petersen, wife of novelist Michael Peterson, whose dead body was found at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood with lacerations to her head, and splatters all over the floors and walls. The police soon takes her husband, Michael Peterson into custody, and as soon as he is indicted, Lestrade and his French film crew are given access to the accused, his family, the defense attorneys and the court to document the judicial process which surprisingly covers 17 years in the lives of all those involved as the series was updated in 2013 and then again in 2018 when new evidence comes to light. To this day Michael Peterson unwaveringly proclaims his innocence and does so with great eloquence asserting the belief that his wife fell down the stairs and violently hit her head bouncing off the balustrade. The “blood spatter” scientific expert witnesses create a credible case for Kathleen Peterson’s cause of death to be ruled as an accident rather than a homicide.

The bulk of the series gives us an inside view into the mechanism of preparing for a trial which will change the trajectory of your life and all the people who care about you; the trial itself and the criticality of procedural decisions made by the Judge which can alter your chances for a fair hearing; how circumstantial evidence can be twisted to fit the prosecution’s preconceived theories, and most damaging irrelevant personal secrets brought to light through one’s emails, etc. that the prosecution intentionally injects into the proceedings to prejudice the jury. 



Kathleen and Michael Peterson’s marriage was by all accounts an idyllic one - though not conventional in that Michael was bisexual and had occasional trysts with men for sex - a revelation found in graphic emails. He claims that his wife “in some sense” was aware of this, but this fact shattered the illusion of the perfectly loving marriage and “shocked” many in the courtroom including the jurors. Throughout the Court dealings, Michael Peterson maintained a very loving relationship with his adopted daughters and his two sons and we observe many scenes which include playful bantering and distressingly ironic laughter. The attachment of the children to their father is very touching and the poignancy of the pain that the trial inflicts on them is heart-rending.


Over the 17 years of filming, we witness the physical deterioration of a vital man - his gait becomes unsteady, he shrinks before our eyes and his recurring, self-deprecating smile is more forced as the stress of the uncertainty of a life that has been determined by a corrupt justice system almost breaks the resolve of a thinking man who is a writer who values the delicacy of words; a man who is comforted by the consoling strains of music, and a man who in later years is mournful - his red eyes weep tears of anguish remembering the loss of the person he adored most in his world - the loss which the State attributed to his hand.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

MOTHER'S DAY 5/13/2018

Massacre of the Innocents, 54"x48",oil/alkyd/canvas, 1998 

It has taken me a lifetime to comprehend and feel compassion for my mother.  Now that I am the age when her hair turned a radiant white, I finally can relate to her carefully led life. As careful as one can be in a world of lurking ambushes amidst the delights of a clear day with just enough breeze for your hair to tickle your face - a gentle reminder that you are not living in a vacuum - the outside world inevitably finds the cracks to enter your being.

I finally understand the stifling control my mother maintained in order to navigate the end of life - from the oft-handled, disintegrating black portfolio filled with instructional papers - the Will, lists of banks, insurances, the deed to the house, the keys to the safe where her coveted (only silver) jewelry was stored, and other innumerable directives written in an upright handwriting evincing her European roots. Today, I too am beginning to send loved one's lists of where the “important” documents of my life are to be found;  being an artist - my not-too-distant future will consist of archiving the decades of making art in the hope that the work will not be thrown into the barren wasteland of oblivion.

I used to watch my mother place items at the foot of the stairs - waiting to be brought to the second floor, her legs no longer bounding the steps with agility as muscles and bones have morphed into a tired stiffness, in contrast to the alacrity of her still agile mind. Her implacable will propelled her when the body no longer had the strength. I have begun to do the same thing.

On my visits to our house in the Bronx where we moved in 1958, I often went downstairs to the basement where my mother still had her sewing machine, boxes of threads, beads and sequins, closets filled with evidence of her career working as a “seamstress” which in my self-absorbed youth is how I would  derisively describe her; but  in reality she designed exquisitely crafted embroidered gowns, working 12-14 hours a day in a small room in our apartment in Washington Heights where her wealthy Park Avenue clients were chauffeured to pick up the delicately fabricated clothes. The divide between rich and poor could not have been more obvious as the limousines were double-parked with the arrogance that often comes with privilege. In her later years, I would thread 7-10 needles poking them into a cushion with various length strings curling like vines waiting to be picked up and used if only to hem skirts or fix a dangling button about to drop off never to be found.

Though I am not a person with regrets, I wish I could gulp back time and spew out admiration and say thanks for infusing me not only with your genes (good and bad) but with values that respect the humanity of others, and your generosity in helping those whose lives were lived on a tightrope of need. I would tell you how much I miss your food, even if I teased you about the pies that were so wet we could drink them. The enticing scents of home cooking that floated into each room creating desire and solace - a comfort that will never leave me;  in contrast, my home is a studio without a stove, smelling of oil paint and mineral spirits. Perhaps my love of diners is an indication of how much I still miss a meal which consists of a salad, meat and potatoes preferably mashed, and desert.


So Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who left my life 11 years ago. I never thought that you would still hover over each day; I never thought I would become my mother being both fearful and resilient.