The Glories of Information Overload

May 30, 2016


view of a world (Sketch)too

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.

View of a World, from 2007.

View of a World, from 2007.

Blank Books, Filled

March 31, 2016

SOME OF MY BLUES (cover and spine)

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.

You can click on this to enlarge it.

From a small book.  You can click on this to enlarge it.  Drawing, for Max Ernst, April 1985.

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.

This is the cover of a book on Surrealism. It was stolen from me and eventually returned.

This is the cover of a book on Surrealism. It was stolen from me and eventually returned.

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.

Another drawing from a small hardbound book.

Another drawing from a small hardbound book.

The book that went blank after 64 pages (an error or was it a sample copy?):

The 2006 Game Show exhibit at CAID:

The Artist and the World

March 1, 2016

Riot Act (March 2007) and 8 by 8 inches

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


A Visit with Salvador Salort-Pons, director of Detroit’s DIA

January 31, 2016

jasept 043

Last Tuesday, January 29th, I visited Detroit’s Main Library.  It’s a great old building and is right across the street from this building, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

There was a talk and slide show by Salvador Salort-Pons.  He was appointed as the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts in September of last year.  Graham Beal had last held that post. He retired after 16  memorable years of work.

This was the first talk in a series of six.  Others are upcoming.  For information, see the last of the web links below.

It was billed as a “Director’s Cut” talk.  There were only around 35 people in the audience.  They were sharp though.  They asked some good questions.

Part of the slide show portion was focused on some of his favorites works at the DIA.  These included Self Portrait II by Joan Miró, the great African Nail Figure and Diego Rivera’s amazing Detroit Industry frescoes.

He also discussed Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s painting The Wedding Dance.  This is one of the most famous works in the collection.  It was bought in 1930 by William Valentiner, in London.  It was a real coup because the painting was thought to be lost!  Also, he got them to put up the money, sight unseen and without authentication.  He did send them to the library to look at photos of similar works.  Their faith in his taste and knowledge got our city a masterpiece.

He talked about the dramatic events of the past few years.  When art seems to be priceless, it’s rough to watch people touring the museum and appraising everything.  How much is this one worth?  How much is that one worth?

It all turned out alright in the end.  Someone in the audience even got up and thanked the DIA for helping to save her pension.

He stressed the need to involve the people from other two counties who supported the museum by voting for a millage.

He wants to do a women’s art show and to continue to do projects involving African-Americans and Latinos.

He also mentioned that he had a work hanging in his office by the late Gilda Snowden.  She was one of my tribe, the local Detroit artists who create like mad and work non-stop.  This led me to ask the final audience question of the day.

I asked if he had any plans to investigate local art and artists.  Did he think that the museum might work with or interact with this group, this resource?  He replied that he thought so.  He seems to think that things will happen.  Something will come of it.

I think he’s open to checking out the strong and solid visual art being created in this area.  Some of us have had long careers, going back to the 1980’s or even the 1960’s.  There are also interesting things from some of the younger artists.

One night, back in 1989, local artists held a protest and projected a slideshow of their artwork onto an outer wall of the museum.  They thought  that this was the only way they’d ever get any connection or representation there.

Since then, there have been signs of improvement.

Salort-Pons wants to try and find out what’s happening on the Detroit scene, partly through venues like MOCAD and the universities.

The first obvious possibility is to do workshops and demonstrations by local artists.  They’ve been doing those.  It’s nice to let the public see some of the process.  Making art can be a performance.  Also, they sponsor some local music, cinema and theatre.  A few years ago, I did a puppet show there.

The second obvious possibility is to buy Detroit artists’ work for the collection.  Some of us already have work at the DIA.  These are mostly the longtime, well-established artists.  It’s good to see work by people I know or have met.  These include Charles McGee, Tyree Guyton, Gordon Newton, Allie McGhee, Jim Pallas, Robert Sestok, Michael Luchs, Clinton Snider and Ed Fraga .

Connected with this, maybe there could be an occasional exhibition featuring a small or large group of Detroit artists.  I remember that they did try this once, many years ago.

The closest thing to it recently is the annual Detroit Public Schools Student Exhibition.  Sometimes this is at the DIA, sometimes at the library.  It’s been going on now for nearly 80 years.

There are plenty of ways in which the museum could connect and interact with local artists.  Yet I’m excited to think that they might go beyond the obvious.

In his October Detroit Free Press interview, he said:

“But we can buy contemporary art, and we can look at emerging artists.  We’re in a great place to do it.  We’re in Detroit where things are happening.  It’s a place that has this inspirational force.  What we need to change is the idea that because it’s made in Detroit, it’s not good enough.  We need to think that things made in Detroit are great, and we need to remind people of how these great things came here.”

An interview from October 2015:

The Wedding Dance:

From the Detroit Institute of Arts website:

Upcoming “Director’s Cut” talks:

The Easy Art Racket

December 31, 2015


Step right up!

Get your paint by numbers art-making kits.  Get your old masters coloring books.  Get your connect the dots “easy masterpiece” kits.

Save every doodle and frame the grandest ones.

Study art magazines and see what’s selling for the most money.  Copy the styles of the best sellers.  This will increase your odds of cashing in and cashing out.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.  You too can be a real artist.

Be sure to use plenty of snake oil and juju dust.

For most artists, years of hard work and practice are necessary. Thousands of hours are wasted drawing and painting.

Yet there are amazing short cuts and easy roads.  The wealth, fame and glory of art can soon be yours.

Just send a reasonable amount of money and ten box-tops to:


Almost Dancing

Permanent Art

November 30, 2015


I was just reminded that Marc Chagall lost a huge portion of his art.

According to the book The Crazy Years: Paris in the Twenties by William Wiser:

“All his (Chagall’s) prewar paintings were missing–stolen, destroyed, or sold for a few sous.  Several were later found in a garden behind La Ruche: the wartime concierge had been using them as roofing for a rabbit hutch: they kept out the rain because of the oil paint on them.”

At least one Vincent Van Gogh painting was used to patch a hole in a chicken coop.

Some aspects of art’s fragility are a bit sad.

I can celebrate and appreciate ephemeral art.  Yet I hope that some of my work lasts.  I hope that the best of the work I see around me lasts.  My friends and associates in the Detroit area art scene include plenty of true artists who create solid and challenging work.

What will come out in the wash?  What will be judged to be important and valuable work in the future?

I’m sure that many of today’s “big names” will be forgotten in 2115. Today’s stars and top sellers may be tomorrow’s footnotes.

Will digital archives last?  How permanent are they?  Will the world as we know it last?  Will a kinder and wiser human civilization emerge?

To the degree that one does, some sort of permanent art will exist. Culture feeds the mind and soul.  Books, drawings, sculptures, movies, paintings and performances all live in our hearts.

They live one way while we are experiencing them.  They live another way in our thoughts and memories. Yet yes, they live.


"Uninspired" from August 2005

“Uninspired” from August 2005

Related materials:

On the fate of Vincent Van Gogh’s portrait of Dr. Rey:

“Although it’s a good likeness, it seems Dr. Rey didn’t much care for it, and left it with his mother, who used it to cover a hole in the chicken coop. It was bought by an artist in 1901 (I wonder how he found it?) and now hangs in a museum in Moscow.”   –from a 2010 post at this website:…/the-sad-arles-hospital

On Marc Chagall’s lost paintings:

The Crazy Years: Paris in the Twenties by William Wiser c. 1983; cited here above, page 100.

Is this permanent?

Future Shock:

Ephemeral Art

October 31, 2015
One of my sidewalk chalk drawings from the 1980's.

One of my sidewalk chalk drawings from the 1980’s.

Artists often go out of their way to make their work last.  They make sure that they use quality paper and colors.  Some crayons and pencils don’t fade as easily.  These pigments are lightfast.  Also, they try to frame and store things carefully.  Precautions are taken to keep works on paper from being dog-eared or getting dirty.

Other artists don’t care about such things.  They use cheap newsprint paper, poster paint, house paint and kids’ crayons.  Many are in the middle.  They try to use the best quality materials yet will compromise when they need to.

Then too, there are those of us who employ risky mediums upon risky surfaces just for the joy of it.

This includes most street art.  If it’s outdoors and on public view, it may well end up being destroyed.  The most beautiful mural in the world can be tagged, defaced or painted over.

My own art on Detroit’s abandoned J.L. Hudson’s building was destroyed when the structure was imploded in 1998.  Over 500 of my chalk drawings went down with the building.  Two years’ work was gone just like that.

My friends Jim Puntigam and Vito Valdez painted an extraordinary series of paintings on the interior walls of Detroit’s Cobo Hall parking garage.  This was one of my favorite unsung Detroit art projects.  It ended up being painted over.

Detroit’s Tyree Guyton has had his Heidelberg project artwork torn down by bulldozers and burned by arsonists.  He uses abandoned houses as a foundation to create upon.  This sometimes leads to this work being targeted.

There seems to be a mural boom going on here now.  Hopefully these include some good ones.  I need to take the tour and figure out my take on it.  They’re all fragile, though.  Public murals don’t always last for decades.  Some don’t even last a month.

Artist Keith Haring did a series of chalk drawings in the subway stations in New York in the early 1980’s.  I saw some of this work at the time.  This work was obviously temporary.  I liked that.  It’s clean and fast.  This work was one of the factors that inspired me to use chalk in my own street art.

In the past 30 years, I’ve done hundreds of sidewalk chalk drawings. I also did a series on some railroad underpasses.  By its nature, this work contains the seeds of its own destruction.  Chalk is far more impermanent than paint is.  If I were ever threatened with arrest my plan was  to tell the police “Just give me a bucket of water, some soap, a scrub brush and a few hours and all of this will disappear.”

The whole idea of temporary or ephemeral art often takes it out of the realm of money.  You can sell sketches of the work or photos of the work, yet the work itself is usually unsaleable.  Much of this work is public work.  It brings art to people who rarely go to museums.

Environmental art is another type of ephemeral art.  Often not many people see such works, when they’re built in out-of-the-way places.  In these cases, the only way to see it is to travel to it.

Some, like Robert Smithson have used bulldozers and machines. Others, like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, employ large teams, including volunteers and construction workers, to execute their plans.  Their work is almost always temporary.  They remove all traces of it when it’s time to take it down.

Then there are people like Andy Goldsworthy.  He goes off into nature and stacks rocks or arranges leaves or twigs.  This is painstaking work. He goes to a lot of trouble to create lovely things which won’t last long and that few people get to see.

My photocopied handouts can also be seen as a form of “disposable art.”  Some of them I send out in the mail.  Others I give away in person.  I’ve looked at my passing them out in public as performance art.  This has been a sort of parody of people on street corners passing out commercial flyers.

Some of these giveaways end up in the trash or get recycled.  Yet some are appreciated, kept and even treasured.  I try to offer people something magic: art, poetry, quotations, cartoons.

Temporary art seems to stand against the art world hierarchy and politics.  We try to create art that’s direct and reintegrates itself into real life.  It’s not tied to commercial influence.  Away with false barriers! Hooray for ephemeral art!

At work, circa 1980's.

At work, circa 1980’s.

Land Art/ Earth Art:

Robert Smithson:

Andy Goldsworthy:

Christo and Jean-Claude:

Keith Haring:!/about-haring/to-new-york#.VjbQdfmrSM8

My work:

A fading Sidewalk Drawiing.

A fading Sidewalk Drawing.

In the World of Scissors and Glue

September 30, 2015


Sometimes I wish that I could edit my own life in the same ways as I’d edit a movie or a book.

The little snippets get left on the floor or sent off with the recycling.

Existence is a bit of a collage.  Breath is our glue, heartbeats are mucilage.  The shards of color, of cut paper all seem to vibrate or even to explode.  The fabulous clipping sound is actually nothing but the “snip snip snip” of our days.

Eyes float in space, seeing deep inside of life.

Things are turned inside-out, upside-down and backwards.  The frayed and the afraid are both carefully retangled.

These are not the normal blues.  They’re wildly alive and ferociously awake.

Making Art for Yourself and/or Giving it Away

August 31, 2015

Date Stamped dn “People beg to give themselves away.  But who can give one’s self away in a world that no longer knows how to receive?” -Franz Kafka


In the United States, it’s very difficult to be an artist.  I suppose that this is true in many countries.  I’d like to study statistics and see which countries are best for artists to live in, and why.

The countries where it is bad for most of their people are also bad for artists.  That’s obvious.

For me, it’s been difficult.  Yet I stick to it.  I persevere.  I’ve had to.  I’ve been luckier than most.  I’ve had my share of press coverage,  Every few years I get an article, a review or an interview.

I did a successful, massive street art project.  I did this without permission and never got into trouble over it.  They did blow up my artwork, though.  I didn’t get to keep any of it.

I helped run an art gallery in Detroit for over ten years.

I showed my art in France and was there for the opening event.

I get to organize and maintain my own digital collections archive of my artwork.  This is through my library job at the University of Detroit Mercy.  When I do this, I get to go though my material archives and decide which works I consider to be most successful.

Yet in a way, it seems as if I make all my art first for myself.  I’m the one who has to store and organize it all.

I rarely make large paintings, because I’m running out of space to store everything.  My largest painting is rolled up like a rug, in my way.  It’s too big to store anywhere.  I don’t want any of my art stored in the basement or the attic.  If your art studio is also your living space, eventually the accumulated art will take over.

Yet I draw obsessively, every day.  It’s mostly small sketches.  It’s what I do.  I experiment. Not every experiment works, yet I’ve always tried to push the envelope.  I keep on keeping on.  Why do I make art, and where does it go?

I’ve had encouragement from friends and family.  I’ve had three or four collectors who have bought good groups of my work.  Other individuals have also purchased work from me, mostly from gallery exhibitions.  Thanks to you all.

Greenia_Index_021For the most part though, I’ve given it all away for free.  I’ve done this through my street art, on abandoned buildings and on sidewalks.

I’ve created, copied and distributed a free poetry two-pager for thirty years plus.  It comes out once a month.

Most of my musical and puppet performances are done for love, not money.

Some people take issue with this.  They think that it’s very wrong to create only to give it away.

We’re not doing it because we’re trying to make it harder for those who want to be paid every time.

We’re doing it because the way things are set up, it’s the only way that we can keep going.  It’s either “do it for free most of the time” or else just stop doing it.  For me, the choice is obvious.


“The Poetic Express” Take Three: Postal Correspondence and Performance Art

July 31, 2015


The story of The Poetic Express includes the various methods I used to distribute it.

For a many years, I had a very lively “postal life.”  I sent out good mail, so I often received good mail in return.  This was a major means of distributing The Poetic Express.

Once I received messages in a small metal can which was transformed into an art object.  Another time, I opened my Post Office Box only to find a lovely drawing on a piece of wood.  They’d just mailed the wood itself without wrapping it up.  The address was written on the wood. That was from the Zeitgeist/ Galerie Jacques artist Roger Hayes.

I’d always decorate my envelopes. I’d draw on them or apply stickers or rubber stamps.  I’d hoard the coolest postage stamps and stick them on in patterns.  My postal scales got plenty of use.

I was part of several mail art circles.  Much of my correspondence was with friends and family.  I paid special attention to the Surrealist movement.  It was similar the web and the Internet, in ways.  Yet it was quite labor intensive and time-consuming.  If email hadn’t come along, I’d have extended it all even further than I did.

As more people switched to email, I got less and less postal mail.  I finally had to close my P.O. Box.

I intend to start a major series of postal mailings as part of this anniversary: thirty years and heading toward forty years.


Also, I’d pass out my xerox work everywhere I went.  I used it as a therapeutic means by which to overcome my shyness and social awkwardness.  I tended to talk too quickly.  Sometimes I likely seemed a little rough or scruffy.

Years later, I heard that some people knew me as Red Bag, or as Mister Red Bag.  This was due to my usually carrying at least one red Detroit Public Library plastic book bag.  Eventually I switched to using a black shoulder bag.

I’d always be carrying too much stuff around due to my not driving a car.  When I brought things home from work or if I went shopping, I had to carry everything with me.  I couldn’t “leave it in the car.”

I developed and cultivated a sort of role or persona.  I looked on my distributing the Poetic Express in person, as a form of theatre or performance art.  I’d often create some of my brightly colored sidewalk drawings as well.

I’d size people up and ponder “Is this the sort of person who might enjoy some free poetry?”

Most people gladly accepted it.  I even got inquiries “Do you have any more of that free poetry?” or “Any poems today?”

Others were more dismissive or hostile.

Impromptu street recitals or readings did happen occasionally.  I rarely performed at  organized poetry readings.  When I did, I’d really get into it.  By 1988 I began to include puppets.  Sometimes these puppets would shout or sing my poems.

I rarely, almost never, asked for donations for the poetry.  Sometimes, when people insisted, I’d accept them.  I even received a few surprise checks in the mail for printing costs and general support.

I still pass out my poetry to people.  It’s usually less of a performance now.  I try to carry issues of The Poetic Express with me at all times.