Fred W. McDarrah: The Artist’s World at Steven Kasher Gallery. McDarrah took photographs of the Beat and Abstract Expressionist scene in New York City.
The summer 2014 issue of Resource features an article I wrote that I’m extremely proud of. I interviewed the founder of Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit that takes photographs of children with cancer, to talk about how the portraits empower these children. The professional portraits also serve as lasting mementos for the families of the 25% of the children photographed who don’t survive. The nonprofit shows just how powerful art can be.
Cancer is a personal subject for me. This summer I did a few readings from a chapter I wrote called “Grief Gone Wild” about the summer I lost both of my grandmothers to cancer a month apart from each other. I was glad to likewise get to put my creative nonfiction to positive use to write this article on Flashes of Hope and show that moments of strength, beauty and even joy can be found even in the midst of trying times.
That’s Cute that You Think You’re Subversive: How the CIA Promoted the Radical Arts During the Cold War29 Jul
During a recent writing workshop that I’m part of with two female writers, our conversation rambled along to the topic of how the CIA had advanced abstract expressionism. That weekend one of the writers asked if I’d pass along the article I had referred to. I did a quick search for it online, and realized I’d actually read several articles about how the CIA had been involved in promoting artistic and intellectual communities that many people tend to think of as nonconformist, liberal, and subversive.
Here’s a quick roundup of articles about the CIA promoting nonconformist art and literature:
- The article I was thinking of was The Independent‘s “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’” about how the CIA used art to show how free-thinking the US was in comparison to Russia during the Cold War
- The Chronicle of Higher Education published “How Iowa Flattened Literature,” which shows the CIA’s involvement with the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop
- Work in Progress’ “George the Gentlemanly Ghost,” references the CIA being involved in The Paris Review. It’s worth noting that Jack Kerouac’s first clip from On the Road was published in The Paris Review. (You can read more about that in my book Burning Furiously Beautiful.)
- Encounter Magazine, the UK lit mag founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol in 1953, was funded by the CIA
I’m sure there are more, some we know of and some we don’t. Please add your stories and links in the comments section.
There’s a lot to be said here, but it raised a few questions for me:
- Without the CIA’s help in funding and promoting modern arts, would these works have remained obscure?
- Is modern art a scam, and traditionalists correct that it’s not real art?
- Is the art and literature of the 1950s and ’60s a reaction to or a product of its times?
- Can something be subversive even if it’s a political ploy?
Whole books could be written in answer to these questions. They’re important topics to consider and discuss, but I want to take a far less Big Brother approach and ask:
- What are you trying to accomplish by being subversive?
- Why do you want to be different?
- Where do you get your information and how do you evaluate it?
- Who is challenging you to think outside of your own box?
I’m all for dancing to the beat of your own drum. But is that what you’re really doing?
Move over, Ben Affleck! Maria Fragoudaki‘s Superheroes opens tonight at New York’s One Art Space (23 Warren Street; Street level—Gallery 1; Manhattan). Fragoudaki explores issues of identity in New York City. Her larger-than-life works of mixed media shine like the bat signal, exposing the fast-paced, fragmented lives we lead here in Gotham.
Born in Athens, Greece, Fragoudaki has shown her work in New York as part of groups shows in the past, but this is her first solo show in New York City . Tonight’s opening reception begins at 6.
From the press release:
The inspiration for this body of work came in New York during the last two years. The artist explores issues of individual identity in a fast-changing world where anchoring points are disappearing. These themes, familiar in Maria’s work, take a new twist here as emotions are amplified by the uniquely fast-paced rhythm of the archetypal metropolis, New York.
At the center of this whirlpool where anxiety is constant and uncertainty the norm, the need for stable references, strength and reliance become more acute. This prompts her to reach to the world of superheroes, which in addition has direct references to New York. Drawing on the collective unconscious of pop-culture the artist creates immediate associations that facilitate a casual and direct communication with her audience.
In the creative process the superheroes become abstracted moving the focus to the notions they represent. Deceptively simple messages, with child-like directness, are superimposed at times as statements, at time as cries, while the medium of collage enhances the feeling of the fragmented self in the process of constructing identity and meaning.
Maria Fragoudaki’s first solo show in New York induces the public to connect with their emotions and conflicts. This exhibit allows each of us the opportunity to discover our own personal Superhero.
From Fragoudaki’s website:
Maria Fragoudaki was born in Athens in 1983. She studied chemistry, pharmacology and business management in London where she subsequently worked for a few years. She started painting systematically in 2008 and over the last 4 years she attended various courses and seminars in painting & fine art in New York and London. Her work utilises a wide variety of media such as oils and acrylics on large canvas surfaces and she has also produced other mixed media works incorporating the technique of collage. Over the last 4 years Maria has participated in numerous group exhibitions in New York, Belgium and Greece and has also presented her first solo exhibition in Skoufa Gallery in early 2011. She is currently working on her forthcoming solo show in London. Her work has been acquired by private and corporate collections in New York, London, Greece and Belgium.
Superheroes will run at One Art Space through October 24.
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Burning Furiously Beautiful is now available as an ebook! You can download your copy here.
Larry Closs and I took a mini road trip to attend the opening of Jonathan Collins‘ Beat-inspired paintings at the Paterson Museum (2 Market Street, Paterson, NJ). It turned out to be quite the adventure. You may remember Larry as the author of Beatitude, a book I stayed in on a Saturday night to read because I was so captivated by the story I couldn’t put it down. Larry also happens to be a great conversationalist with fascinating stories about the writers’ life, bumping into Beat authors, and his own world travels. I got so caught up in our conversation on the way over to Jonathan’s show that I didn’t pay enough attention to the train directions, and, well, if you want to know what happened, check out Larry’s blog.
The first time I ever saw Jonathan’s paintings, when he’d brought his portfolio down to Cornelia Street Cafe when I was reading with David Amram, they were so realistic I thought they were photographs. Seeing them in person for the first time I was even more impressed by their beauty. From Kerouac’s Moody Street Bridge to neon-lit bars, Jonathan’s watercolors evoke nostalgia. Larry put it this way on his blog:
The paintings illuminate—and celebrate—the sometimes hidden beauty and “mystical qualities” often overlooked in the ordinary, the everyday and even the dreary.
The show runs at the Paterson Museum through October 6.
Photo of Robert Falcon Scott’s failed exploration via The Smithsonian‘s article “The Doomed South Pole Voyage’s Remaining Photographs,” which states: “Their return trip would become one of the most dismal failures in the annals of polar exploration.”
Burnside published my latest art post in the “A Time to…” series. It’s
In case you missed the previous posts in the series. They are:
Remember a while back when I did an interview with painter Jonathan Collins, who created stunning works of art featuring Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts? Well, starting this weekend, he has an exhibit up at the Paterson Museum!
Here’s the press release:::
The Paterson Museum is pleased to present “Beat Traveller: New Landscapes By Jonathan Collins.” This collection of works will be his first solo show at the Museum. The opening reception of Beat Traveller will be held the museum on Sept. 7 from 7 to 10 p.m. The exhibition will be on view through Oct. 6.
The works of Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac and poet and Paterson native, Allen Ginsberg, inspired the paintings. Collins journeyed to San Francisco, California, Lowell Massachusetts, and Paterson, New Jersey and returned depicting striking landscapes, glowing in bold sunlight, hazy sunsets, and moody night scenes.
According to Collins, “Both Ginsberg and Kerouac spawned from supposedly dreary mill towns, but I found each place to have areas of great natural beauty, vast historical interest, and even mystical qualities. Also, my father was from New England, my mother from Paterson, and they met at the foot of the Great Falls in 1951. Consequently these areas have great familial and artistic significance for me.”
Collins’ paintings are highly detailed watercolors that have won him numerous grants and scholarships, enabling extensive travel throughout the United States and Europe.
The Paterson Museum is located at 2 Market St. in the former erecting shop of the Rogers Locomotive Works in the heart of the Paterson Great Falls National Park. The Museum’s visiting hours are Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. For more information contact the Museum at (973) 321.1260 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check it out!
The first time I went to Disney World in Florida, I remember being spectacularly impressed by the topiaries. I was in fifth grade. Oh, sure, the rides were fun, and it was exciting to have costumed Mickey and Minnie sign my autograph book, but I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting were the small details Disney took to create an enchanted kingdom. Sometimes the most amazing moments in life come in the tiny, unexpected details.
Yet ironically, to become whimsical works of landscape art, these topiaries couldn’t just grow free and wild. They had to be pruned and grow within strict guidelines.
Read the rest of my article and see 10 amazing topiaries here.
Spoiler: Johnny Depp is included.
I learned via Gregory Pappas, founder of the Greek America Foundation, that artist Stephen Antonakos passed away this weekend. I had the great privilege of attending an exhibition of Antonakos’ neon sculptures at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art gallery here in New York City when the abstract artist was honored for the Gabby Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. You can read about that here. Antonakos attended the event, and I remember him being a quiet, humble artist. Yet his work speaks volumes.
Captivated by the neon lights of New York City, the Greek immigrant—Antonakos moved to the US when he was four years old—the artist began incorporating neon into his art in 1960. In an interview with Zoe Kosmidou, he explained the symbolism—or lack thereof—in his neon work:
My forms do not represent, symbolize, or refer to anything outside of themselves. Such specific correspondences would limit the work’s meaning, whereas pure abstraction, liberated from any external references, is capable of saying so much more. My neons relate formally to architecture and space, but they do not represent anything outside themselves.
Even so, raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, the artist’s work did have spiritual subtext. He created crosses and “chapels.”
Earlier, in the mid 1950s, Antonakos was creating collages. In a 2007 interview with Phong Bui for The Brooklyn Rail, Antonakos said:
And since oil painting was too slow for me to keep up with all of the ideas that were racing through my mind, I felt the physical and spontaneous process of putting various objects together was more suitable to what I needed to get done in those years.
His desire to work fast, engage in a spontaneous process, and collage disparate found objects together resonates with the postmodern aesthetic. We hear the same vision in the works of the abstract expressionist painters and the Beat Generation writers. Antonakos revealed that although he admired the work of the abstract expressionists, he felt he could “get more out of” the Italian artists Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana.
Antonakos went on to have more than 100 solo shows around the work.
For artists of any discipline, one of the great takeaways from Antonakos’ life is that one can have a day job and still be an artist as long as one perseveres. Antonakos worked as a pharmaceutical illustrator during the day and then would work in his studio until 2 in the morning.
Here are a couple of links to celebrate the life and work of this inspired artist: