Here are more photos from Paris. You can click on them to enlarge them, then backspace to return to this post.
To be continued/ Watch this Space. Good Luck in 2017!
This is part 2 of 3 parts.
My trip to France was a game changer. All thanks are due to my good friend Jacques Karamanoukian. It’s difficult to believe that it’s been nearly fifteen years since he’s left us. Thanks also to the Musée de la Création Franche in Bègles. I’ll talk more about them in next month’s post.
Without their sponsorship and support, I’d have never got to France. I was working at my fairly awful job at a Detroit department store. I did everything except for selling and management. Everything. I had several mediocre bosses and several horrible bosses there. Luckily at this time the best (or most humane) of the managers was in charge, Mr. Gene DeCrease. He allowed me to go on this trip. With other managers, I’m sure I’d have had to choose between the adventure and the job.
It was amazing just going around by myself. I’d get lost now and then. I loved just wandering aimlessly and feasting my eyes.
I got to go to the Picasso Museum, Halle Saint-Pierre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre George Pompidou.
I wish I’d taken more photos. I did utilize some one-use-only panoramic cameras. I got a few good vertical shots with these too.
In late September and early October of 1996, I made my only trip overseas. I left North America. Perhaps I will do so again someday.
I was chosen to exhibit at the Musée de la Création Franche in Bègles, France. Of the seventeen artists, I was the only American. I was in good company. I really enjoyed the artwork of the other artists that I exhibited with. Some, like Roy Wenzel and Evelyne Postic, I’ve looked at their work recently. Others, I still need to track them down.
This was sponsored by my good friend, the late Jacques Karamanoukian. We traveled together and he was my host, guide and translator. Thank you, Jacques!
It’s hard for me to believe that this was twenty years ago. It seems like it was far more recent than that. So much of this trip is fresh and clear in my mind and heart.
I’ll try to have a more detailed history of this adventure next time. For now, here a a few scattered memories:
The long flight was an experience in itself. I’d flown to New York but this was different. I was happy to be flying over Great Britain. There were clouds and textures in the sky.
I was walking around Paris and Clamart reading Homer’s Odyssey, my travel book of choice. I was also drawing a lot, of course.
My French language skills are fairly poor. I know what a lot of the words mean but I can’t string them all together. People would translate for me. I communicated with artists through art or through performance. By the time I left I’d learned to make change at least, in my intent yet fumbling attempts to speak French.
I had one especially great walk where I just wandered around Paris. One thing that I found was this old store, Deyrolle. I especially loved its drawers full of brightly colored butterflies and moths.. I opened one drawer after another.
There were other surreal chance encounters. I met one guy who knew the poet Ted Joans and a photo he’d taken of him in his wallet. Joans died in 2003. I look at his work fairly often.
It was great going from Paris to Bègles. We took the fast train and things seemed to rush by. Bègles is in the south of France, near Bordeaux. Showing my work there was a great experience. Besides most of the artists that I showed with, I met other artists as well.
These included Claudine Goux and Gerard Sendrey. They’re both wonderful artists and had known Jacques for a while.
Musée de la Création Franche is a wonderful space. It was a pleasure and an honor to be shown there. My work was well received.
To close, here are some photos from a bit where I was playing Jaber’s puppet or mechanical man. He “conducted” me despite the language difference. He pretended to wind me up as if I had a key in my back and set me off on my action. Jaber is quite a guy. He and Jacques were good friends. I still see his work on the internet. I’ll write more about Monsieur Jaber in the future.
The Musée de la Création Franche, in Bègles:
Life as a Self-Taught Artist or What Did You Study and Whom Did You Study It With?
I’ve always been a real autodidact. I went to college primarily to teach myself how to teach myself more efficiently. I wanted to learn how to learn.
Learning in order to be qualified for a better paying job just wasn’t on my radar at all. My university studies only increased my status as a “sociable loner.”
It didn’t help much with my speaking skills. That came later. My college speech class and an attempt at studying acting both had limited success. Later, I learned to enunciate and to speak more clearly through putting on puppet shows. Now if I mumble, it’s usually intentional.
My undergraduate years also didn’t help my other “people skills” much. I felt like a true outsider and misfit for a really long time. That period did help to solidify my resolve to live my life as a creative artist and to better figure out just what kind of creative artist I wanted to be.
Much of the education and inspiration which I received came from books. My reading is fairly intense and obsessive. It’s also wide-ranging.
I especially loved cultural histories and biographies, especially the ones which studied poets, painters, musicians, filmmakers and surrealists.
I learned a lot by watching other people and by talking with other people.
Working with the Zeitgeist Gallery and Jacques Karamanoukian became a school of sorts. I really learned a lot by doing collaborative works with other artists. We got together and did this every year, for seven years. I came up with the idea of calling this series Visual Jam Sessions.
I also learned a lot by drawing large (and in public) on downtown Detroit’s Hudson’s building.
It also was great to go to live performances. I paid close attention to art that I saw at museums and art galleries. Observation and study are key.
Most important, though, is to practice, that is to work. You need to keep at it as best you can. You need to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to steal time. Paint, write, perform, dance, sculpt or construct as you will. Keep swinging, keep plugging away and never give up the ship.
There’s something true about the old idea of learning by doing. If you can’t or won’t go to school, there are other ways how to learn to do what you love to do.
Once I’d done 10,000 drawings I started to feel that I was going somewhere.
It’s not essential to be a polymath as well, but for me it works. The rewards outweigh the distractions. I have many interests, and I like to cast a wide net.
As I’ve said, the people of Detroit don’t want to stay at home all of the time. We’ve long had a need to go out and about and to put our foot in it.
Some go out on the town only rarely, as a special treat. Others go out a few times a week.
Then there are people who seem to go out every night. It might just be for a drink or two at a neighborhood bar. Not many can afford to go to restaurant or nightclub every night.
You can hear some great stories in bars. Is this entertainment too?
There have been many special scenes and special places in Detroit. It’s long been a great place for music and for other cultural pursuits.
It’s great to hang out with old friends or family members. Sometimes you want to meet new people. One searches for a date. or better, a partner.
Then too, connections lead to connections. Series of spontaneous and interlocking communities emerge.
We become part of an audience. In cushioned seats or folding chairs, we experience theatre, music, dance. poetry or cinema. It can be lovely to be a spectator, seated with other spectators. Other times though, we get out of our seats. We watch people dance. We dance ourselves. We mingle. We party.
We search for the place where mystery lives. We sit in the corner, dreaming.
In the late 1960’s, when I was in high school, I started to explore the city. I don’t drive, but I do get around. Most of my travels were on the bus. Early on, I’d go to programs in Detroit’s Cultural Center. The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library and Wayne State University all had good exhibitions and events. I’d hang out downtown as well. I started to frequent the art galleries.
When I was a bit older, in college, I’d go to the bars and clubs a bit more.
I was obsessed with films and film history early on. I’ll go into this in depth in my Cinema blog. Suffice to say that not only was I going out and seeing films. I was showing them.
You could borrow films from the library. I’d organize film programs for children at the Monteith Branch Library, where I worked. Then I’d borrow films to show at our coffee-house.
I was always very involved with Detroit’s underground and alternative movie house scene.
The Catacombs Coffee House was the first utopian art space which I was involved with. I’ll write an entire post about it eventually. It ran from the early 1970’s into the early 1980’s. I think that it was open for around ten years.
Several nationally famous performers got their start there. The same is true for a number of Detroit musicians, performers and artists, including myself. I was also part of the crew that booked the shows, ran the kitchen and kept the whole thing going.
It was magical and vibrantly eclectic. Programs included films, jazz, rock, poetry, comedy, theatre and more. It attracted huge crowds from all over the Detroit area.
The Catacombs was held in a church basement in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers community. The neighborhood was lively.
One of its other treasures was the Concerts by the River series.
This great Summer concert series featured a strong line-up of Detroit jazz, blues and gospel performers.
The Vanity Ballroom was also in that neighborhood. I saw jazz shows there. I saw the Stooges and the MC5 play there. I had to leave partway through the MC5’s set, alas. It was 3 or 4am and I was 16 or 17. I could only stretch my curfew just so far. Later on, I was also part of a film crew which filmed part of a movie there.
The Cinderella Theatre was there too. It was an old movie theatre which was briefly a rock club. I was there when the J. Geils Band recorded a live album there.
So many of Detroit’s annual outdoor festivals are gone. I went to all of them. I especially miss the Festival of the Arts. Thank goodness that the Concert of Colors and the Detroit Jazz Festival are still going strong.
The Fourth Street Fair was the second utopian art experience in which I was involved. This was a one day annual block fair. It started small and kept getting bigger and bigger. When the final fair was held, in 2007, there were four stages on different parts of the block. The crowds got bigger and bigger too.
For fifteen years I helped with the fair. I’d help set up the stage, do cleanup the next day and so on. Eventually, I’d perform there with the Don’t Look Now Jug Band, the Space Band and my puppet thing. It was an eclectic mix of Detroit performers including a lot of rock music. It was always an essential Summer party.
The third utopian art group I joined was centered around the Zeitgeist Space on Michigan. It was another lively, magical scene. It was primarily a theatre and an art gallery, yet we branched out into presenting music, cinema, poetry and communal painting as performance art.
The late Jacques Karamanoukian ran Galerie Jacques in Ann Arbor. He was also connected with the Zeitgeist and with Rabbles Coffee House in St. Clair Shores. He added a lot to the scene.
I was very involved with the Zeitgeist. I’d help put up and take down the exhibits, help publicize our activities, help clean up and help decorate the building with art.
Over the years, there were often solid live performances at other art galleries as well, including the Willis Gallery and the Johanson Charles Gallery.
In these special, magical scenes, there was always a group of dedicated planners and workers at the core. Then, if you’re lucky, there’s some sort of support group and an alert and responsive audience.
There were many great spots where I’d hang out and sometimes get to perform myself as well. At first, this involved reading my poetry. Then in 1988, I started doing puppet shows. In 1992, I joined a band. In 1998, I helped found a second band.
Cobb’s Corner was a wild scene. I didn’t get by there very often. Yet I went to poetry readings, art shows and some musical shows there.
Alvin’s had so many great events and bands. There were mostly local acts yet some great national acts as well, big names. I think that the last time I saw Sun Ra perform was at Alvin’s. I was with the Don’t Look Now Jug Band when we opened for the late Vic Chesnutt. I did puppets at Alvin’s as well.
I only got by the Song Shop and the Grinning Duck Club a few times. Both were always a treat to visit. They were unique.
404 West Willis, Zoots and the Art Center Music School were also regular hangouts. I’d go for shows and sometimes be on the bill myself.
I was more involved with the Freezer Theatre than most. I started to hang out there when it was a poetry and theatre club. This was in the early 1980’s. I was less involved in its last days, when it became a hard-core punk rock club. I got by a few of those shows.
I saw the Talking Heads, Stephane Grappelli and much more at the Punch and Judy Theatre in Grosse Pointe. I saw my share of live music, including both local and national/ international performers.
I got to the Gold Dollar around ten times. I performed there just once, doing a live soundtrack to a movie starring my puppet troupe.
I went to the after hours jazz at the Rappa House a few times. I kept getting more and more into jazz and blues.
I’d go to outdoor events like the Belle Isle Kite-In, the Unity in the Community Concert Series at Clark Park, the Detroit Rock & Roll Revival at the State Fairgrounds and the Goose Lake International Music Festival.
There are plenty of other places I could mention. There are other stories to tell. I’ll save some for later. Then too, there are a few places I’d go to as a young man that are still active now including the Scarab Club and the Detroit Institute of the Arts. I’m hoping that strong new places and new scenes will arise and thrive soon.
Lost Cultural Venues of Detroit: Social Spaces and Playgrounds.
This exhibition pays tribute to places in the city of Detroit. These include bars, ballrooms, art galleries, coffee houses, nightclubs, dives and spaces for after-hours jam sessions. They were here but now they’re gone. The same structures hold other venues or sit empty. Many have been demolished.
I’m attempting to find evidence of areas where people gathered to listen to music, lectures or poetry. Also included are venues where the music was closely tied to dancing. Then too, there are spots where we got together to watch films outside of the usual circles of “commercial cinema.”
Through books, original material and copies of original material we attempt to travel back in time. We list and remember the places we’ve lost.
I also include outdoor festivals and block parties, especially those which were held annually.
Some of these are scenes that I frequented and knew well. Others were before my time.
Then there are the buildings destroyed by freeway expansion in the early 1960’s. The Black Bottom/ Paradise Valley/ Hastings Street neighborhood was a vital part of Detroit’s cultural history. I’ll look for material connected with this.
Music is always an important part of any scene. Detroit has had a rich history in jazz, blues, soul, folk, rock, punk, classical, electronica and more. I’ll try to touch upon and remember as much of this as possible.
This collection is primarily concerned with Detroit. However, there will be some notice taken of the suburbs. Also, while the focus is on lost venues, some mention will be made of longstanding cultural spaces. There are places which have enriched our cultural life for many years. Often though, for better or worse, they’re no longer what they once were. They’re still good though.
I’ve been collecting materials since the early 1970’s. I’ve also found or borrowed other materials from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. I’ve found books and ephemera here in this library’s collection.
Thanks a lot to this exhibit’s supporters, including Lutz Bacher and Dave Toorongian. A collection is more valuable when it sees the light of day. If you have any especially interesting material yourself, let me know what you have. Perhaps I could borrow it or scan or photocopy it.
The exhibit will change over the next three months. I’ll take things out and add other things. I’ll open books to different pages. It will get denser and more complex. Get by if you can.
At the Library of the University of Detroit Mercy, McNichols Campus.
June 15 through September 15, Summer 2016
It’s open Monday through Friday. The current hours are Monday through Thursday 9AM to 10PM. Fridays 9AM to 5:30PM. Please note: The show is closed weekends until September 10th. The curator was not present from August 22 to 29th as he’s “on assignment.” Paper flyers for this show should be available there, if you’d like one.
The run’s been extended a few days from the 10th to the the 15th or so. Parts of the exhibit may continue past the 15th and into September. Yet it will start to disappear and soon be reduced to just two cases. These too, will vanish by October.
(I’ll usually be there myself, but not always. Eventually, I’ll do an extra paper handout.)
If you come see this show, note that it’s in two parts. There are a series of showcases when you first walk into the library. Then there are two more showcases far off to the side.
The location, directions and other information:
Take One is the physical exhibit itself: Lost Cultural Venues of Detroit: Social Spaces and Playgrounds.
Take Two will be an essay or two that I’ll write on the history of Detroit’s past cultural venues. I’ll post it here or on my Adventures and Resources blog. Then I’ll have paper copies to hand out too. I’ll also do a post just listing as many names as I can, breaking them down by categories.
Take Three is a facebook page. This is now active. It will continue, even after the exhibit is dismantled. Other people can put images or links on there too, so long as it relates directly to the subject at hand. If you’re interested in it, here’s link to it. It includes further information, including images, web links and related material:
Thanks to Dave Toorongian and Lutz Bacher for loaning items for this exhibit.
Thank you to library at the University of Detroit Mercy for continuing support of this and other exhibitions.
I live in a storm, a whirlwind. Culture swirls all around me. It enters me and bounces around inside me. Sometimes it becomes still. It gestates or ferments. I pull back, in order to ponder and analyze.
Out of these islands of quiet, I create my art. Art lives only insomuch as one masters ways of stealing time. Without the pools of time, your chances to create are left to chance. The artist is the thief of time.
If one is subsidized, has solid financial and moral support, it can change the game. Even then one must still have a work ethic. There’s a lot of be said for perseverance. Stick to it!
Most of us will never have such a solid foothold. We work our various day jobs. We live our lives. Then we find time to make art.
It can be difficult to make sense of the overload. There’s just way too much! It can be dizzying. It can drain you. It’s important to find a sense of balance. Sometimes this is easier said than done. This is something else to think about.
My personal strategies are my own and not for everyone.
I rarely watch television. When I do, it’s usually public TV. I try to keep in touch with the side of reality which is known as the news. Yet it’s often riddled with lies, distortions, opinions, futile side tracks and so on. I would guess that this must also be so for the regular television watcher. I wouldn’t know. Yet it seems to be so.
As for the Internet, I use that to stay in touch with social, political, environmental and cultural concerns. Yet I try to direct it, to use my time carefully. It’s all too easy to “go down the rabbit hole.” I try to find the truest truth, the most distilled reality. This isn’t easy, yet once one finds a groove they may be able to stay in it.
I try to get a good sense of hard reality, yet my specialty is culture. I get a lot of it from books and other paper mediums. I love music and the cinema. I don’t truck with television yet I find time for DVD/VHS. I go to local art galleries and museums. I do the same when I travel.
It’s good to be able to keep shifting your priorities yet still try to focus on one project at a time. This goes for both experiencing art (studies) and for creating art (work). True multi-tasking usually leads to disorientation and to mistakes. A little bit goes a long way.
Some people have long since solved this problem of being overwhelmed. Good for them. If you haven’t solved it for yourself you might want to try to do so.
I’ve done pretty well. Yet if one’s awash in data, images and ideas then important things can fall through the cracks. I try not to drop the ball. If one misses something important, it might vanish. You might not be able to find it again. This has happened to me once or twice this year already. If something seems to be important it’s best to move on it. There are plenty of ways in which things can go wrong.
Total avoidance isn’t easy to do. Few of us want to live the rest of our days hiding from reality. One tries to find a system to deal with it all, to get some sort of balance. On the other side, most of us don’t want to live in a perpetual state of dizzying confusion. Some do. They enjoy it. To each his own.
For us artists, keep trying to find quiet spaces and time islands. Be aware/ beware. Keep working. If you like, try to modulate or better interact with your own personal information overload.
Even if you can control this you can still glory in it. It’s like standing by the ocean in an electrical storm. Dark clouds burst with lightning and thunder. The waves soak your clothes. The cold wind makes you more awake and fills your lungs with clean air. You’re aware, wild and alive.
Memorial Day, 2016.
I’ve always worked with hardbound blank books. I must have at least fifty of them. Some of them are full, or nearly so. Others are in progress or else well underway.
Some of them are small, while others are large.
The 1961 book The Five Worlds of Our Lives has the first twenty or thirty pages of a real book in it, then it goes blank. That’s all the better for me. I drew, made collages and wrote on the printed part and then moved on to the blank part. This was one of my first blank book projects.
Sometimes I paint the covers. These books are full of drawings, musings, quotations, poetry, daily journals and other work. They’re profusely illustrated.
There’s an everything book and a nothing book. There are several Trouble Books. There are a series of books which explore Surrealism. One includes explorations of women’s history and feminism. Another investigates African-American and African history and concerns.
Some are interactive. In 2006. I did three Game Books for a Game Show at the CAID Gallery in Detroit. Visitors were invited to write and draw in three different books. Each book had a hand painted cover and a set of game rules.
I used to carry around a guest book and encouraged friends and strangers to draw in it. We did some collaborative drawings in it as well.
Most of these books are “all over the place.” I need to write an index or summary of them. I’ll do that one of these days.
When I fail to write in these books, it all ends up on hundreds of little scraps of paper. That’s another story.
These books are a sort of research laboratory. I use them as a space to do some of my work. Most of them are portable. I’ve spent hours copying out passages from rare books at various libraries. I do my drawings in them, on the fly.
I dig for obscure quotations and for rare information. I write a lot of my own words down as well.
They’re a sort of personal playground and a space for adventure.
The book that went blank after 64 pages (an error or was it a sample copy?):
The 2006 Game Show exhibit at CAID:
Just what is this reality that they keep going on about?
This broken world seems to be a dream. We are born, we live and we die. It’s the same for all of those we know and those we love. Is that reality?
The truth seems to be more complicated. Some of us enter into a delirious and transcendent state. Sometimes we inch our way into it. It’s a surprise when we actually end up there.
Sometimes we fight our way into it. The paths are lined with casualties and sacrifices. It’s a triumph when we actually end up there.
We live, looking out through a passionate veil of magic forces, of dream dust.
Will art ever ignite and explode, changing life forever, once and for all?
Am I a cartoon? A phantom? No, I’m yet another human being. I’m yet another true artist.
And this is yet another moment of my life.
Leap Year’s Day; February 29th, 2016