An old friend of mine, Arturo Vega (or Artie as we called him) passed away this week in New York. Artie was one of the first people I met when I moved to the city back in the early 1990′s. I met him because my good friend Dave Aron used to stretch canvasses for him. Arty would invite us to parties at his loft where we would get to hang out with the Ramones and other icons from the generation before us. I was seriously like 22 at the time and my mind was blown. Artie was a real supporter of the arts and our scene and even though I haven’t talked to him in quite some time, I really do miss him. Instead of writing more, I’ve decided to post his obituary from today’s New York Times.
“Arturo Vega, who was often called the fifth Ramone for serving as spokesman, logo designer, T-shirt salesman, lighting director and omnipresent shepherd for the Ramones, the speed-strumming punk quartet that helped rejuvenate rock in the mid-1970s, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 65. His death was confirmed by his roommate, Lisa Brownlee. She did not provide a cause. Like the Ramones, whose real surnames were not Ramone and who were not related, Mr. Vega reinvented himself as a young man. Born in Mexico, he moved to New York in his early 20s to try to make it as an artist. He was living in a loft on East Second Street when a young man passing by peeked into his open door one afternoon in late 1973, remarked on the good music coming from the stereo and mentioned that he was starting a band. The man was Douglas Colvin, who a few years later would become known to punk-rock fans as the bassist and songwriter Dee Dee Ramone. His girlfriend at the time was living upstairs. By 1976, when the band released its first album, titled simply “Ramones,” Mr. Vega had largely set aside his fine-art ambitions and applied his design skills to all things Ramone. From 1974 to 1996, when the band broke up, he attended all but two of the Ramones’ more than 2,200 live shows. In the early years he would sell T-shirts before the concert, direct the lighting during the show, then dash back to his T-shirt display as the last song was playing to sell to people leaving. “They sold more T-shirts than records,” said Danny Fields, the band’s early manager, “and probably they sold more T-shirts than tickets.” The T-shirts featured Mr. Vega’s striking logo for the band: an eagle resembling the one on the presidential seal, except that one talon held an apple tree branch instead of an olive branch — “the Ramones were as American as apple pie,” Mr. Vega said — and the other held a baseball bat instead of arrows, because Johnny Ramone, the lead guitarist, loved baseball. The band members’ first names circled the symbol. “I saw them as the ultimate all-American band,” Mr. Vega, whose official title was artistic director, said in an interview in 1993. “To me, they reflected the American character in general — an almost childish innocent aggression.” In the early years, Mr. Vega’s loft served as a rehearsal space, a T-shirt design and printing factory, and the occasional home for band members, with the eccentric lead singer, Joey (Jeffrey Hyman), living there for several years. He often fed Joey and made sure he remembered to dress properly for wherever he might be going — particularly if it was CBGB, the nightclub around the corner that the band helped make famous. “He was kind of a mother figure to Joey,” said Legs McNeil, a founder of Punk magazine and the author, with Gillian McCain, of “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk,” who met Mr. Vega in 1975. After the band broke up, Mr. Vega continued to design and sell Ramones merchandise and to work with other musicians. He also focused more on his painting, which included Pop Art pieces that blended words and images. He completed his most recent project in March: a mural on Elizabeth Street featuring an image of Jesus and the words “Life isn’t tragic; love is just being ignored,” lyrics from a song by the Bronx, a punk and mariachi band. Eduardo Arturo Vega was born on Oct. 13, 1947, in Chihuahua, Mexico, and visited his family there frequently. Information on survivors was not immediately available. Within eight years of the Ramones’ breakup, three of the four original members had died. The only surviving original member is Tommy (Tom Erdelyi), the drummer, who left the band in 1978. Mr. Vega lived in his East Second Street loft for the rest of his life. In 2003, two years after Joey Ramone died of cancer, Mr. Vega played a role in having city officials erect a sign declaring East Second Street at the Bowery “Joey Ramone Place.” He said at the time that even as the Ramones had been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and embraced as civic symbols, they would forever be rebels.
“They never sold out,” he said. “No matter how hard we tried.”
I first met Tauba Auerbach years ago when she was working in a sign shop in San Francisco. This was an amazing place dedicated to producing only hand-painted signage for shops and restaurants in the Bay area. I actually didn’t go there to meet Tauba. I was meeting up with Jeff Canham, another amazing sign painter who I had recently become friends with. Fast forward a few years and this girl has completely blown my mind. If you have not heard of her then remember her name. Her work has evolved to such a degree that it would be impossible to describe it in just one small post. In my opinion, Tauba has single-handedly redefined the idea of “craft.” With the snap of a finger she has drawn upon all of her early roots in low-vernacular culture, rethought the entire process and created a fantastic metamorphosis. This is not to say that she has abandoned her roots. Quite the contrary actually. She has learned the lessons and used those talents and techniques to create something entirely new. I so wish others that have come from references similar to her’s could have learned the same lessons. Oh well, everybody has their path. In the meantime, if you like what you see here, Tauba has recently created a fantastic edition of limited edition buttons with five hand-cut grosgrain ribbons attached as a benefit for Will Brown in San Francisco. Oh, and they’re $40. They might be gone by now, but if not I highly suggest you do the research and get yourself one. Image below.
I feel like shouting out great people I’ve collaborated with over the years, and the first person that came to mind today is musician David Scott Stone. Dave and I have played music together over the years, and I can honestly say he’s probably the person who has taught me more about the craft than anyone else. Over the course of his career he has recorded and toured with artists like The Melvins, Unwound, The Locust, Jello Biafra, No Age and others. He is also a former member of LCD Soundsystem. His approach to music has always been experimental to say the least. He is a tinkerer and has built many of his own instruments including a massive modular synthesizer that he assembled completely from scratch. The sounds that I have heard come from that machine are like none other. They range from strikingly violent, to absolutely gentle. Mr. Stone is a musicians’ musician. This means that many times his work exists in the shadows behind other acts. However I urge you here to look deeper into not just his collaborative projects, but also his solo albums. I promise you will not be disappointed. I consider him one of the most important musicians of our generation.
Geoff McFetridge is a bit out of character for this particular series on The Breaks, but for some reason his work keeps coming back into my head. As the result of these nagging visual/cerebral interjections, I figured it was worth a share. If you’re not familiar with McFetridge’s work, he’s known primarily as a graphic designer and animator. I won’t go into his resume here, but he’s worth looking up. However in recent years he has shifted a bit from the graphics world and begun to put a larger focus on works created for the gallery. The transition to galleries has been a notoriously difficult task for commercial artists, but McFetridge has done it with aplomb. It is refreshing for me to see people expanding their creative horizons. Stepping into realms of innovation that take one out of their comfort zone. It’s a good lesson for all of us. The images below are selections of new oil on canvas works he exhibited at Ivory & Black in London a few months ago.
Last year I had the pleasure of writing a catalogue text for an exhibition called “Power Up: Female Pop Art” at the Kunsthalle, Vienna. One of the artists introduced to me through that exhibition was Kiki Kogelnik. Kogelnik was an Austrian artist who began her career in Paris in the late-1950′s before relocating to New York. She worked in a mode that combined aspects of European figuration and American Pop Art with an increasing feminist consciousness. Sometimes her style mimicked fashion illustration to comment on society’s depiction of women. At the core of her practice is a subtle understanding of how representations shape the identity of the individual self. Kogelnik also played with her own self-image in a public context. She occasionally filmed herself in her studio or on the streets of New York with her 8mm camera, and attended openings and parties in a wide variety of elaborate outfits and costumes. During the early 1960s Kogelnik began to use life-size cutout paper stencils of her friends to produce her paintings. In 1965 these prototype cut-outs became vinyl hangings, presented on the same clothing racks that she saw pushed down the streets in the vicinity of her studio in New York’s garment district. Later in her career Kogelnik began to focus on imagery related to depictions of women in advertising. She also directed a 16mm film, CBGB (1978), which starred Jim Carroll. Kiki Kogelnik died of cancer on February 1, 1997 in Vienna.
First I’d like to start off with an apology for posting two things in a row about guys with unique facial hair. I promise you, dear reader, that this wasn’t on purpose. Sometimes life just works that way. I’m pleased to introduce you to Rev. Daniel Higgs, probably most well-known as the front man of the legendary band Lungfish, and even more for being a highly sought-after tattoo artist (now retired) but his creativity hardly stops there. This post is not necessarily about his music (but I highly suggest you go buy everything!) or his tattoos (you snooze you lose!), this post is instead about his visual art. You see, Dan was my roommate in New York City for many years. At night, when Dan was finished tattooing, we would sit around our living room on the Lower East Side and doodle all night long. It was a great experience for me and he taught me quite a bit about art. When we were really bored I would sketch out a tattoo and then we would walk over to the shop and do collaborations where the outline of the tattoo was mine and the coloring was Dan’s. My body is covered with these strange things! As a painter, Dan rarely exhibits and if you’ve ever been lucy enough to see one in person you truly are blessed. His works are imbued with a wicked sense of intellect, spirituality, angst, and fantasy that are at once completely bizarre, yet instantly recognizable as his. And yes, he really is a reverend.
In keeping with turning you guys on to unsung heroes that did amazing stuff, I’m proud to introduce you to the work of Harold Krisel. Krisel was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1920. He studied architecture in Chicago at the New Bauhaus from 1946-1949 on the G.I. Bill after he was discharged from the army where he served from 1942-1945. He became a member of American Abstract Artists in 1946, and retained this membership for the duration of his life. He then worked as an architect at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill until 1966, when he joined the faculty of the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan where he taught architecture until his retirement in 1981. Once retired, Krisel pursued his life long dream of dedicating himself full time to the fine arts, where he worked on commissioned sculpture, fountains, and graphics in his studio in Bridgehampton, New York where he designed his own house and reportedly made all his paintings on the dining room table. In 1995 he died of Alzheimer’s disease. Krisel is represented in the collections of numerous museums including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Guggenheim Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Houston Museum of Art, British Museum in England, Bibliotheque National in Paris, Philadelphia Museum of Art. He has also completed numerous public commissions such as a mural for the Greenville/Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina. Here are a few examples of his work. For all you budding collectors out there, they can still be acquired relatively inexpensively. Enjoy!
Last weekend I finally watched “Public Speaking”, Martin Scorcese’s HBO documentary about Fran Lebowitz. If you don’t know who Lebowitz is, then I highly recommend you check this film out. Not only is she incredibly well spoken and has an amazing story, but Scorcese (as always) does a fantastic job. I cannot tell you how fresh it is to watch and listen to someone who is so unabashedly controversial. The wonderful thing though, is that she’s not trying to be. The debate that surrounds Lebowitz is rooted only in the fact that she is not afraid to have an opinion. The critical culture in which we live, at least from my viewpoint, has many times been neutered due to pressures of being politically correct. While I believe every person on earth has the absolute right to live the life they want to lead, and I would never advocate the purposeful defamation of anyone’s lifestyle, sometimes it is important to raise issues that might be controversial for the sake of human growth. This is Fran Lebowitz’ approach and I applaud her for it.
Some Fran Lebowitz Quotes:
As a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you.
Being a woman is of special interest only to aspiring male transsexuals. To actual women, it is simply a good excuse not to play football.
Contrary to popular opinion, the hustle is not a new dance step – it is an old business procedure.
Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.
Humility is no substitute for a good personality.
My favorite animal is steak.
Here is a little clip from the movie.
I’m sad to report that artist Leroy Neiman passed away last week at the age of 91. If you don’t know who Leroy Neiman is, then I highly suggest you check him out. Neiman was an interesting character in terms of how an art career goes. He never really gained widespread acceptance in academic circles, yet he still managed to work as a successful artist for over five decades. My personal fascination with him has to do with kind of a side note. As a teenager I grew up eating Wheaties cereal and Neiman did the illustrations of sports greats for all of those boxes. During my formative years, I would look at a Leroy Neiman painting each and every morning. I cannot underestimate the influence this had on me. I can honestly say that Leroy Neiman’s paintings were one of my first genuine exposures to art. Neiman proves again that there are many paths to artistic success. His autobiography, titled All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs was published on June 5, 2012. The book was released two weeks before he died. I highly suggest it.
There has been a lot of gab around the Los Angeles art scene recently with respect to the resignation of four important artists from the board of trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Over the last week, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie and Ed Ruscha have all left in protest of the dismissal/resignation of chief curator Paul Schimmel. Much has been written over the last days about this subject, mostly criticizing Jeffrey Deitch and MoCA for their current stance in terms of exhibitions and practices, yet I have not heard any from the industry, be it dealers, curators or artists speak out in Deitch or the museum’s defense. I’ve personally had the pleasure of working with Jeffrey Deitch in various situations – both in New York when he had his gallery and then again last summer at MoCA where we worked together on the exhibition Art In The Streets. Over the course of the years I have watched Deitch champion the work of some of the greatest artists of my generation, be it through exhibitions, financial support or the general facilitation of creative ideas. I must stress the words “My Generation” because mine is not the generation of Baldessari, Kruger, Opie and Ruscha. While I have great respect for what those artists have achieved, and I truly understand the walls each has broken down in their particular way, I must admit that for the most part they are not creating imagery that is relevant to the current century. Take for example, Helter Skelter, the 1992 exhibition curated by Schimmel at MoCA that was billed at the time as, “provocative art from a new generation of Los Angeles artists.” At the time of that exhibition that work was indeed provocative and the show was greatly successful as well as controversial. Part of this response was the fact that Schimmel was showing us what was “new” at the time. Many of the artists included in that show, which included names like Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon and Robert Williams, had histories in the low-art vernaculars of punk and car culture. This is exactly what Deitch & Co are attempting to do now…and it is controversial as it should be. As this world is changing it is important for young artists to speak for the time in which we live. While the MoCA served as that for many artists from previous generations at crucial moments in their careers, could it possibly be time to pass the torch to the next? Isn’t this the function of a contemporary art museum? A few years ago Deitch was brought in to invigorate a fledgling program. Under the previous director, visitor attendance was down as were financial contributions. He stepped in at a time when the institution was in a dire position and immediately went to work with a passion for progress as he quickly redefined what this new museum could and would be. For those of us in the younger generation this has been a very exciting thing. There is currently no major art institution in the United States that is attempting a program like MoCA. The modern world is changing very rapidly. An entirely new aesthetic and approach to cultural discourse has now been put into place. Contrary to the academic definition, the 20th Century, while important to preserve, might not be the most “contemporary” thing anymore. Maybe we are entering a post-contemporary world, and the MoCA’s new exhibition program is at the forefront of this new school of thought. While not every exhibition mounted since Deitch took command has been a smash hit, respect must be given for the attempts at experimentation and progressive thought that has gone into each and every show. Attendance numbers have almost tripled since he took the helm. When I travel the world from New York to Paris to Sydney to Berlin, the talk on everyone’s lips is about what is going on at MoCA. The museum is back on the world stage, and not in the eyes of the art world but for people in our creative culture as a whole. The art scene in America and around the world needs this new kind of thought and creativity desperately. While I am a big fan of each and every artist that has stepped down from the MoCA this week, as well as a student of Mr. Schimmel’s curatorial work, I can’t help but think that this is the price of progress. One of Ed Ruscha’s most famous quotes is that “Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.” From what I can tell that’s exactly the kind of art this new incarnation of MoCA is trying to cultivate…and it seems like audiences are responding. This is something that is not only good for the future of creative Los Angeles, but for the future of art.