ARTISTS: Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis at his exhibition, “The Dream in the Orchard”

June 2017, Below 65 Gallery, Maidstone, Kent, UK

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  “In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.”

-Bill Lewis

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Part of the thrill of being involved with the international art movement Stuckism is getting to interact with talented artists from around the world. Through the group, we start off with much in common already. Stuckism appeals to those with a passionate belief in art as means of communion. It encompasses an idealistic view of what the arts mean both personally and for society as a whole. It’s exciting to see how every person contributes their own vision within the framework of these principles.

I discovered Stuckism, and its overarching philosophy of Remodernism , during some late night web browsing. I worked up the courage to ask to be an official part of the movement in 2010, and was granted the status of the Phoenix AZ Stuckists. We’ve hosted a series of exhibits in Phoenix in the years since, including 2014’s International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors, which featured 28 artists from across Europe and the United States.  Through the Stuckist group website and social media, I was soon communicating with people from all over the globe who had embarked on their own versions of the same artistic journey.

English poet and artist Bill Lewis  (see his website here) reached out to me initially about an idea we shared. He too saw Stuckism as just one facet of the broad potentials of Remodernism, a system of ideas that can renew our whole culture, a potent alternative to the deceits and manipulations of Postmodernism. I was amazed to learn this artist who was sharing his thoughts with me was one of the original members of the whole endeavor; in fact, was a big part of what had brought all those creative people together in the first place. For my part, I had one of the clearest episodes  of synchronicity in my life instigated by Bill. Something is at work here.

In his writings and art, Lewis is a story teller. He has a way of homing in on the significant expressive detail: with a gesture, an expression, an image created by either paint or with words, Lewis is able to capture the heart of the matter. I believe his spiritual sense of life and years of studying myth have trained him to look to the essence of things, and to present his discoveries with the proper sense of significance. The works are graceful because they are true. They are elegant because of the care shown in their creation. Despite their profound themes, these are not heavy and ponderous pieces.  They are enlivened with playfulness and rich colors. His poems use sly humor with great impact.

Bill Lewis ” Donde Esta Don Quixote

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Bill Lewis “The Sleeper”

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In 2017 Lewis produced a new book of poetry, “The Long Ago and Eternal Now” (Amazon Link Here). The work incorporates his own black and white illustrations.  It’s his second collection, and expresses his sensibility and interests in clear, evocative language. They say the way you do something is the way you do everything. When I look at the paintings of Bill Lewis, and read his poetry, I think of Magic Realism. Not just as a literary convention, but in the context of looking through the mundane and seeing the miraculous underpinnings of it all. It’s a gratifying experience to see the world as he presents it.

 

 

As someone who was there from the beginning of the ongoing revolution in the arts, Bill Lewis has much to say about how it has unfolded and influenced his creative work. In the interview below, Lewis shares stories and insights about his experience as a Remodernist poet and artist.

Question: You are one of the original members of both the Stuckist movement and its predecessor the Medway Poets.  How did you come to be involved with these groups?

Bill Lewis: First I should tell you how the Medway Poets came about. In the early 1970’s I was living in a little village outside of Maidstone (which is the County Town of Kent).  A small group of us formed a poetry reading group which met regularly at a pub called ‘The Lamb’, a Fifteenth Century building by the Medway River.  The group was called ‘The Outcrowd’ and the core of it consisted of me, my oldest friend Rob Earl and his wife Betty.

In 1977 I got onto the Art Foundation Course at the Medway College of Art and Design (as it was then called) in Chatham (one of the Medway Towns).  It was here that I met Billy Childish.

I invited Billy to Maidstone to read with ‘The Outcrowd’ and in exchange Rob came over to the Medway Towns and read with Billy and I at a gig at the college.  About this time Alan Denman who was a lecturer in English at the college, started a regular cabaret/poetry evening at a pub called ‘The York’ near Chatham railway station.  Incidentally, ‘The York’ was not only one of the roughest pubs in Chatham but in the whole of South East England.

At one of these evenings we met Sexton Ming who was one of the most eccentric and funniest poets I have ever met.  The night he first arrived it was raining really hard and he asked if he could read and Alan said yes, but before he did so Sexton asked if he could bring his mistress, Mildred, in out of the rain.  We said of course, the poor woman must be soaked.  Mildred turned out to be a broom handle with a papier-mâché head and a wig.  Later whilst Sexton was reading a poem her head fell off.  The audience were in fits of hysterical laughter.  This became a pattern over the next few years; you never knew what Sexton was going to do next.  Everyone I know has a Sexton Ming story.

Billy and Sexton got on really well and started to produce fanzines and booklets together.  Billy was in a band at the time called the ‘Pop Rivets’ which later transformed into ‘The Milkshakes’.  Very soon a Medway sound developed and in the next few years there were hundred of bands in the Medway Towns playing the Medway Delta Sound. Lots of people read at ‘The York’ but gradually it became clear to us that several of us could work well with each other as a group.

The last two poets to join the group were Charles Thomson and his then girlfriend, Miriam Carney. At this time we still hadn’t got a name for the group but as were starting to be asked to read at other local venues, we needed to get a name.  I came up with the idea of calling ourselves ‘The Medway Poets Group’ because at that time the Medway Scene was becoming well know outside of the region.  We didn’t have a “house” style as we were all into very different things. Charles was influenced by Betjeman and Auden at the time and Billy had discovered Bukowski and Fante.  With Sexton it was Zappa and Beefheart and I was reading a lot of Neruda, Ted Hughes and French poets liked Jacques Prévert.  Miriam’s poems were very personal and about her relationships.

Medway Poets

We had started to get some interest from outside the Medway area, especially when a well known poet called Richard Berengarten from Cambridge (who was writer in residence in the nearby town of Gravesend) brought his entire creative writing class over to see us perform.  In 1980 Richard got ‘The Medway Poets’ their first major gig at the Kent Literature Festival and in 1981 at the prestigious Cambridge International Poetry Festival.

Whilst we were performing at Cambridge I met Robert Parker Sorlien who was a Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island.  It was Robert who was to arrange some of my first readings in the USA.

The Medway Poets split up in 1982 not long after a television company called TVS made a documentary about us.  By then Charles and Billy were not getting on and it was clear that the group couldn’t function with their animosity towards one another.

In 1987 ‘The Medway Poets’ attempted to get back together for a tour that I arranged with Amnesty International.  We were supposed to read in five towns throughout Kent but by the third town old animosities broke out and so it was only a part of the group that finished the tour!

We all carried on working separately over the next decade.  During that time I was doing readings in support of Chile Solidarity.  In 1988 Carlos Rigby, a Nicaraguan Poet and storyteller, performed in London where he came across some of my books.  He ‘phoned me from the Nicaraguan embassy before he left London and suggested that I might like to witness what was happening in the Revolution.  My wife Ann had just been made redundant so we paid the mortgage for 4 months and took ourselves off to Nicaragua Libre.  Whilst there I gave several poetry readings, met and became friends with Claribel Alegria (the award wining Salvadoran poet) and Alicia Partnoy (the Argentinean Writer whose book ‘The Little School’ gave a harrowing account of her incarceration in a concentration camp during the ‘Dirty War’).

Darwin J. Flakoll (Bud), Bill Lewis, and Claribel Alegria. Photo by Anne Lewis

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1989: Sandy Taylor, Bill Lewis, Alicia Partnoy, and Adriana Angel

 

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I also met Sandy Taylor, the poet, translator and co-founder of ‘The Curbstone Press’.  It was Sandy who arranged for me to read at a literary festival in Connecticut. Sandy, along with Robert Sorlien introduced my work to an American audience. Almost every year in the 1990’s I would do a mini poetry reading tour on the East Coast.

In 1997, a miracle happened.  Having pursued our individual careers for a decade, ‘The Medway Poets’ managed to get together for one last gig at a literary festival in Rochester, UK.  Charles and Billy seemed to be able to tolerate each other and there was a brief period of entente cordial.

Reunion Tour: Bill Lewis and Billy Childish

In 1999 Charles and Billy started a group called ‘The Stuckists’.  The group got its name after Tracey Emin (Billy’s ex-girlfriend who was now one of the ‘YBA’s’) left and angry message on his answer phone telling him he was “Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” in the past as he still painted. The ‘YBA’s’ didn’t think much of painting and were more interested in post-modernist theory and conceptual art.

Charles approached me and asked me if I was still painting (because as you know Charles, Billy, Sexton and I were the members of ‘The Medway Poets’ who also painted), I told that I was but didn’t show my work as I was primarily interested in writing. He then asked me if I wanted to join ‘The Stuckists’ and I thought, why not?

‘The Stuckists’ had their first show in the autumn of 1999.  It was called ‘Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” after Tracey’s angry ‘phone message.  ‘The Stuckists’ were billed as the first Remodernist Art Group.  We thought there would be lots of other Remodernist groups emerging but what actually happened was that lots of groups calling themselves ‘Stuckist’ began to appear all over the world, in part thanks to the Internet.

Q: How do you create your paintings?

BL: They usually begin with an idea or image that I can’t get out of my mind.  I attempt to put that image down on canvas and then quite often strange symbols and figures appear.  I don’t always understand what these mean.  I think of my paintings as magic mirrors that reflect back to me the inner working of my psyche.  Sometimes it can take years before I understand what a painting means in its entirety. For example, one of my better known pictures entitled “God is an atheists and she does not believe in me” has a woman wearing a blindfold whist applying lipstick, at her feet, kneels a man, holding a menorah and a crucifix.  The woman is sitting on a chair and under the chair is a small white dog, a bull terrier.  Years after I painted it someone pointed out to me that ‘dog’, in English is an anagram of ‘God’.  This never occurred to me when I was painting the picture.

Bill Lewis “God is an Atheist and She Does Not Believe in Me”

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Q: Do you feel your work as a poet influences your paintings?

BL: I don’t really think of myself as a painter.  I am probably the odd one out when it comes the original group of ‘Stuckists’ because I can go long periods without painting but not so with my writing.  I am always thinking about writing, working on things in my head even before it hits the page, but sometimes I need to see an image and I have to make it a visual image.  I have certain obsessions.  I think all artists, whether they write, paint, make films, are obsessive. The same images often crop up in my work.  I understand some of them but others are a mystery to me.  I actually don’t think I am a very good visual artists, whereas I do know that my writing is of a higher quality, although my friend, Simon Mills (www.simonmills-artist.co.uk) who is an absolutely brilliant landscape artists, tells me that he thinks my visual work is an extension to my poetry.

I think it is the poetry of things which is the truest part or reality.  I believe that reality itself is metaphorical. Once you understand that you can slide between metaphors you can avoid unnecessary conflicts.  The problem arises, of course, is when someone believes that their metaphor is the only true one and that metaphor is a fact.  A fact is of little use to me when it comes to art or poetry. I always prefer fiction to non-fiction because it is true and non-fiction isn’t.

Q: How do mythology and spirituality inform your work?

BL: I have studied mythology for about 40 years.  I am not an academic.  As I said before, my only further education is one year at Art College, but my study of myth has been extensive.

I discovered the work of Joseph Campbell about the same time that I read the work of the radical American theologian and Prophet Matthew Fox, who I later met and had many enlightening conversation with.  Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero with a thousand faces is something that I have used in my illustrated lectures on myth and Matthew Fox’s holistic and inter-connected view of spirituality is very useful when coming up against the ecological disaster that we call the modern world.  I gave my first lecture on mythology during one of my poetry reading tours of the USA.  I was due to read my work at the University of Rhode Island and it was suggested to me that the night before my reading I might like to talk to a group called ARIL (The Association for Religion in Intellectual Life).

I was a bit nervous as I had left school at the age of 15 without any qualifications but Robert Parker Sorlien said that it was a friendly group and that my extensive studies did not need pieces of paper to validate them.  I thought to myself ‘I can talk to a group of students’ but when we arrived at the hall and they started to file in I noticed that the youngest were in their forties.  I turned to Robert and said ‘you have got a lot of mature students at your university’, he replied ‘No Bill, they are all faculty members, they are Professors’ … it was my baptism of fire but the evening went well! Since then I have given talks to a very varied groups of people.

I think all great art is spiritual.  I don’t believe in God in the way that most people would use the term but there is a mystery at the centre of all things.  Sometimes I call the mystery ‘the Universe’ or sometimes just ‘the Great Mystery’.  You can find this mystery in religion but not always.  I think we need more spirituality and less religion.  I think my personal view of reality can be summed up in a line by the Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardinal.  He writes in his long poem ‘The Song of the Cosmos’, “When I look at a star, it is the star looking at itself with my eye”.

An installation detail from the exhibit

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Q: What are your observations on the renewal of the Arts?

BL: I am not sure how we can have post-modernism because it implies that Modernism is dead and yet there are really great modernist writers still writing.  Jeanette Winterson, for instance, refers to herself as a Modernist and the late, great, Angela Carter also referred to herself in a similar way.  The fact is the Establishment never liked the idea of Modernism because Establishments by their nature are conservative.  They claimed that the writings of James Joyce made an end for Modernism this just isn’t true.  Stuckism and Remodernism for instance have within their rank and file Neo-Expressionists, Neo-Cubists, Neo-Surrealists, in fact, all of the styles of painting that came out of the Modernist experiment.  Modernism was not a movement as such but an umbrella for all the experimentation of art that emerged in the 20th Century.  In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.  If you make a Cubist painting no other Cubist will have made a Cubist painting exactly like that before because it comes through your own personal intelligence.  The same goes for all the other styles and “isms”.  There are as many styles of paintings as there are human beings.

One of the things that I think Stuckism achieved is a renewal of interest in figurative painting which only a decade ago we were being told was dead.

One last point; most people think that Stuckism was anti-conceptual art but in fact we were conceptual artists but we painted our concepts instead of putting a found object in a gallery and sticking a piece of paper on the wall explaining why it was art.  Damien Hurst claimed to be a conceptual artist and yet in a recent interview he said ‘I don’t like art that makes me think’.  I wonder what kind of conceptual artist would say that.

Bill Lewis “Feathers”

Inspired by the novel “Night at the Circus” by Angela Carter

 

PERFORMANCE: Elites Exploit Shakespeare with an Orwellian Distortion

Great Caesar’s Ghost!

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“…I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have, by the very cunning of the scene,
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaimed their malefactions.
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ…

The play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
-William Shakespeare
Part of the miraculous achievement of playwright William Shakespeare is his depiction of universal principles through the actions of his particular characters. These enduring insights make it possible to set his plays in practically any time, and any place, despite the specifics of their plots.
We’ve seen the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet performed as song and dance in a New York City ghetto. King Lear enacted as a feudal Japanese epic. Young Orson Welles was hailed as a genius for re-imagining  The Scottish Play as a tale of Caribbean Voodoo. One of my favorite movies frees the gruesome soap opera Titus Andronicus from any particular time at all: the Roman Legions ride motorcycles, the emperor gives speeches on radio, an imperial orgy takes place at a rave. All of these approaches work, because despite the creative interpretations,  the productions retain the integrity of the plays.
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Shakespeare can go almost anywhere
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But what if the staging of the story seems to miss the point of original story altogether? Then it’s valid to question the judgement of the company and its directors. Even more troubling is when there is evidence that they are failing not as the result of muddled thinking, but because they are acting with actual malice.
Which brings us to the Public Theater’s reprehensible production of Julius Caesar, featuring an obvious stand-in for President Donald Trump as the titular character. It’s a transparent pandering to the sensibilities of the coastal elitists who were so roundly defeated in the last election. This version is a revelation of their impotent rage and desire for revenge.
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A Yuge Controversy
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The problem is, the way the play Julius Caesar unfolds totally contradicts their agenda. Are they really this stupid, or just blind with partisanship?
The whole point of this controversial retelling is to allow a bunch of progressive wankers to indulge in a little piece of assassination porn. And after that bloody money shot, the play still has two acts to go, with no pleasant afterglow for the murderous conspirators. They end up crushed, defeated, and dead; all they accomplished was to usher in the autocratic rule they claimed to be preventing.
This Central Park show would save a lot of time for everyone if they just jumped right to the murder and left off the ending. It would be much more satisfying to the virtue signalling cosmopolitan herd that is their target audience.
Did the Public Theater not actually read the whole play? Do they not know history? Being Leftists, probably they don’t. I don’t remember who said it, but it reminds me of a quote I heard that progressives are the only people you can convince to touch a hot stove twice. They have great faith in their pseudo-religion of politics to sever the connections between cause and effect. Ever since the election various forces on the Left seem to be trying to psyche themselves up for some kind of terrible action. The rhetoric and the violence are both escalating. Their extremism will not get them the results they desire, and will destroy them as well. That is what Shakespeare unequivocally shows us.
I do find it interesting they selected dead white cis-gendered male Shakespeare as the vessel for their fury. What, weren’t there any plays available by a woke, gender fluid writer from an oppressed group?
And yet, despite the fundamental betrayal of Shakespeare’s conclusions, and the horrible hatred on display towards Trump and his voters, the establishment remains largely supportive of the production. Global corporations like Time Warner stand by their funding choices, despite the public outcries and controversy. What gives?
To understand why the elites are being so rigid and unresponsive to such obvious provocations, it’s important to look at the works of another insightful English writer. George Orwell pegged the motivation here, in his frighteningly accurate book 1984. Orwell noted:
“The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors…all the beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, mental attitudes that characterize our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present day society from being perceived.”
The election of 2016 was a direct assault by the people on the entrenched forces of the establishment. It’s probably the first time in a very long time in America where the elites were not able to manipulate the outcome within the parameters of their carefully managed illusions of choice. Like Orwell described, they’ve been able to stick to their Narrative script for decades now, and channel all planning and development through their agenda. They have been the gatekeepers, and for any advancement you must play by their rules.
When the first real challenger to this dominance arises, note their ultimate reaction: calls to murder anyone who will not submit to their status quo. To get the message out, they are twisting art into a blatant threat. However, such is the competence of our would-be rulers they overlook the clear conclusions of the work they are tainting with their hyper-partisan antics. We really need a better word than “elites” to describe these self-serving buffoons.
Such over the top histrionics enacted by our educated classes can be seen as a dangerous omen. Just like ancient Rome, the decadence and corruption of our ruling classes could lead to national disaster. One of the mightiest civilizations ever known was overrun by primitive invading hordes.
Will that be our fate, ruin due to governing class misrule? Perhaps. However, I see a different dynamic opening up.
On June 16, 2017, the Public Theater performance of Julius Caesar was interrupted. Two brave citizens struck right at this presumptive heart of cosmopolitan superiority, calling it and its patrons out as the fascists they are. Expect more like this, as the tactics of Alinsky are turned against the minions of the budding totalitarian state (EDIT June 19: as predicted, there were further disruptions. Two of them).
I always say in America, we are our own barbarians. Our culture is collapsing, but really, it’s not our culture. For decades we have been living in a Matrix-like alternative reality, the insidious slow boil of Cultural Marxism. That is what is showing its exhaustion and strain, and resorting to intimidation to try to artificially extend its existence: the long march Leftism that has infiltrated and denigrated our institutions.
The conspiracy of Postmodernism is dead. The Deplorables are coming to overthrow this failed system with the values that made the United States great in the first place.
Change starts in the arts. Watch this blog for more developments of this joyous insurgency.
Welcome to Remodern America.
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Richard Bledsoe “Globe of the Apes” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 16″
(My tongue-in-cheek take on the infinite monkey theorem
 Edit: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit other posts for more commentary on the state of the arts.

MEMORIALS: On the Veteran Portraits of George W. Bush

George W. Bush “Sergeant Daniel Casara

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Last March, one morning on the way to work I was fortunate to hear on the radio an interview conducted by Hugh Hewitt. Although he’s often profundly off base on his analysis of events, Hewitt has interesting guests. On this program he was speaking with former President George W. Bush, about a subject I find endlessly fascinating: painting.

George W. Bush’s book of paintings “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to American Warriors” is a major best seller. It’s currently number one in many of the Art categories on Amazon, a reflection of people’s desire to support our veterans. However, it also reflects a positive response to a surprising development for our retired 43rd President –  his unsuspected creative talents.

Mr. Bush is characteristically humble about his work. He plainly states in the forward of his book he is an amateur: “I’m not sure how the art in this book will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I’m a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with care and respect.”

I always say in real painting there is nowhere for the artist to hide; those reverent emotions towards the veterans the former President depicted are present in his paintings.

It’s an interesting story how Bush came to his art. “I had been an art-agnostic all my life,” he admits. However, as he was leaving office, he became intrigued by the dedication to painting shown by Winston Churchill. Inspired by Churchill’s essay “Painting as a Pastime,” Bush started working with a series of instructors to learn the craft. To his first teacher he stated: “‘Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body…Your job is to liberate him.'” He was 66 years old.

The world was surprised in 2013 when hacker Guccifer revealed emails connected to the Bushes had been compromised. Unlike recent leaked Democrat emails, these messages were not full of dirty tricks, backstabbing, and fawning communications from reporters. However, the hacked accounts did expose George Bush paintings, including two sly self portraits in the shower and bath.

bush paintings

Out of the painting closet now, Bush started sharing his new passion openly. He disclosed he had painted pets and landscapes. At the advice of one of his teachers, Bush embarked on a series on world leaders he knew, including his own father:

George W. Bush “The Dalai Lama”

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George W. Bush “Hamid Karzai

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George W. Bush “George H.W. Bush”

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The real focus of Bush’s post-presidency has been supporting wounded veterans.  Through the Bush Center Military Service Initiative, post 9-11 veterans and their families gain assistance transitioning back to civilian life. It was natural Bush’s two great interests came together. “Portraits in Courage” shows paintings of some of the veterans Bush has come to know. Proceeds from the books sales are going to support the Bush Center’s programs.

George W. Bush “Sergeant Major Christopher Self”

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In addition to painting the veterans’ portraits from photographs, Bush tells their stories as well. He describes why they joined the military, how they served, how they were wounded in the line of duty. He then shares the triumphs and challenges each faced during recovery, and how he met them during his presidency and Bush Center events. These stories are not sugar coated; they acknowledge the true difficulties involved. But the overarching theme is inspirational, as the veterans speak of their determination and pride to be part of the United States Military.

There is much discussion about the gap between the experiences of the armed services and civilians. “But that civilian-military divide, I think Portraits of Courage may help bridge that by giving people glimpses into their lives, not just the painting,” Bush says; “… the stories are more important than the paintings.”

A notable example of these differences are attitudes about George W. Bush himself. While the civilian population,  agitated  by a relentlessly hostile media, turned very negative towards Bush during his presidency, he was always well regarded by the troops who served under him. As recently as 2014, 65%  of post 9-11 veterans stated Bush was a good commander in chief.

George W. Bush “Staff Sergeant Jack Schumacher,Sergeant William J. Ganem”  

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Time has been good to the reputation of Bush, perhaps because the current White House occupant is the subject of persistent histrionic Establishment meltdowns. Now partisan media types think it’s okay to make some positive comments about Bush, while still pouring on the typical gallons of bile and venom. Even cultural critic hacks have been cautiously laudatory. “The quality of the art is astonishingly high,” the New Yorker mentions in their column of recycled insults. “An evocative and surprisingly adept artist who has dramatically improved his technique,” The New York Times grudgingly admits during their litany of blame. Fake news CNN headlined their 2014 article that Bush’s paintings show “his softer side.”

Filtering out the ideology, I agree with the critics. As a painter, I recognize the work that went into his paintings, the ongoing series of judgments needed to reimagine the dimensions of life onto a flat canvas. Bush seems to have developed the instinct for applying paint so that it communicates. The works are full of personality, mood, and incorporate real moments of finesse. Other more awkward passages just enhance their expressive power. As noted by the co-founders of both the Stuckism and Remodernism art movements, amateurs willing to take chances, to reveal their own shortcomings, are the ones who push us forward:

The Stuckist is not a career artist but rather an amateur (amare, Latin, to love) who takes risks on the canvas rather than hiding behind ready-made objects (e.g. a dead sheep). The amateur, far from being second to the professional, is at the forefront of experimentation, unencumbered by the need to be seen as infallible. Leaps of human endeavour are made by the intrepid individual, because he/she does not have to protect their status. Unlike the professional, the Stuckist is not afraid to fail.

-Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, The Stuckist Manifesto

In that previously mentioned Hewitt interview, it was exciting to hear former President Bush speak in terms I could relate to as an intuitive artist. It’s worth reviewing some of the words he used that showed me here was a fellow artist, working to coordinate his hand, eye, mind and heart, to share his vision of life and his connections to humanity.

George W. Bush Quotes About Painting

“The thing about painting is you never finish a painting. I mean, there’s always something, at least in my case, there’s always something I could do to improve, and so at some point in time, you had to have the discipline to say I’m moving onto another portrait.”

“A really good artist came to my studio with my instructor, and he said you know, I think you can paint. You ought to try to paint the world leaders with whom you served. And it was such an uplifting statement, because what he was saying was seek new heights. Try something different.”

“First of all, the painting has got a lot of paint on it. And, which I think conveys a sense of confidence in painting. The first ones I painted, the world leaders, it was real tight brush strokes. You know, I was trying to get it exact. And these are much looser. I think it’s a tribute to my instructors, and a tribute to time at easel.”

“…I don’t think the quest to develop a style that you can express yourself as fully as you want ever ends.”

“…painting is ahead of me for sure. It’s one of the great learning experiences, Hugh. It’s, you know, I think about it all the time. When I get back this weekend, I’ll paint. And I’m looking for a new project.”

George W. Bush in the studio

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit other entries for more commentary on the state of the arts.

EXPLOITS: The 2017 48 Hour Create-A-Thon – Two Gardens

Richard Bledsoe “Two Gardens” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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It was that time again. For the last three years I’ve taken part in Camelback Bible Church‘s 48 Hour Create-A-Thon. Starting on Friday night February 24, a group of artists gathered at the church, where we were presented with our inspirational theme. By 4pm on Sunday February 26, we needed to have a completed artwork created on site, ready to share at a reception. Throughout the weekend, the public was invited to visit with us to see the artistic process unfold.

This year I had a different experience than how the 2016 Create-a-Thon started. For 2017 we had two juxtaposing inspirational passages: Genesis 2:8-17, the description of the Garden of Eden, and Matthew 26:36-46, the story of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,  where He prayed to escape his destiny if possible, but put himself in God’s hands.

This year, as soon as I heard the subject matter, the vision came. I saw the image in my mind; now I just had to bring it out so everyone else could see it.

I immediately laid in broad planes of textured colors. I don’t like working straight off a white canvas. In this shot I’ve actually flipped the canvas over to get better access to the blue area; in the completed work, it’s the upper right corner. I stayed until about 9 pm that night, just getting the under painting laid in.

A fast start

I was there around 9am the next morning, and stayed until almost 5pm, a good solid working day. I didn’t even take a break for lunch, as the church provided us lots of good snacks, and cup after cup of coffee.

No time to lose, had to get the drawing in right away

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The first thing I did Saturday was crudely block in my two essential elements: Christ and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, with wide swoops from the shoulder, I dragged loops of white paint over the blue, and gray over the yellow. These were the faint beginnings of Eden’s hazy atmosphere and Gethsemane’s tangled branches. The rest of my time spent on this painting was spent revising and refining these loose beginnings.

An action shot from the 48 Hour Create-A-Thon

My wife Michele Bledsoe was there for support. She wrote her own blog post about the experience, “Marathon Painting and the Art of Sitting on the Sidelines.” She spent her time drawing and taking pictures and videos. Michele spends a lot of time on her art. She jokes if there is ever a 480 Hour Create-A-Thon, she might take part.

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Finishing touches

By the time I came back Sunday morning, I was well positioned on the painting, and I spent time on all those little details and touches that can make or break a painting. One of my ongoing quotes about this stage is “That’s why painters go mad.” Anyone who has ever seriously engaged in painting has probably had that experience when the most minuscule adjustment or mark can make a work spring to life-or crush it into a mess. As an intuitive painter, I never know in advance what mark that may be. I have to discover it.

To see my art is to see me, performing my role as a conduit for something else 

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So the question for me becomes, if the Create-A-Thon shows I can complete a resolved and meaningful painting in really less than 48 hours, why do I normally work on them for months?

In that environment, in that experience, the Spirit really moved me, I suppose.

The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).

-The Remodernism Manifesto

COMMENTARY: Art and the Heart of Darkness

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Richard Bledsoe “This Man Has Enlarged My Mind” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″

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“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

-John Ruskin

Darkness exists not only externally as a physical absence of light, but also references the state of mystery that abides inside every person. Part of the task of the artist is to go into that inner darkness and bring its contents to light. To reveal the hidden lets us know ourselves, and each other, better.
Visionary analyst Carl Jung referred to this as the Shadow Aspect of ourselves. Darkness does not necessarily equal evil, but evil is part of the terrain we must navigate in there. There is something in us all that remains primitive and covetous, the old animal nature, snarling over its prey.
In one of my favorite books, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad took his own particular experiences working in the Belgian Congo and translated them into a universal exploration of the corruption of power.
His character of Kurtz was a great man gone wrong. He went into the jungle thinking he would bring enlightenment to the  savages. But like many a Classical playwright could have warned him, overestimation of one’s capacities leads to tragedy.  Hubris made Kurtz into the worst savage of all, a demon god demanding worship and tribute.
I’m very comfortable in my own shadowy depths. I see the dangers of it, but also the wonders contained therein. There is great vitality stored in there, forces beyond my own limited resources. It’s exhilarating.  In the Conrad book a ragged, youthful sailor  gushes about Kurtz, “This man has enlarged  my mind,” ignoring the poles festooned with severed heads of Kurtz’s victims all around him. Carried away with enthusiasm, he has lost all perspective.
But Kurtz himself, who unleashed those great capacities, who tried to live like he was above good and evil, can not avoid acknowledging the consequences of his own choices. He is left murmuring about “The horror” with his dying breaths, a confession of the life he sees flashing before his eyes-an admission of his ultimate failure.
Good intentions are not enough.
The ends do not justify the means.
I am humbled in the presence of the Shadow. I don’t make the mistake of believing its power is my own. I can accept the flaws it shows me I have. And as a artist, I can translate its secrets into a shared experience.
“Spiritual art is not about fairyland. It is about taking hold of the rough texture of life. It is about addressing the shadow and making friends with wild dogs. Spirituality is the awareness that everything in life is for a higher purpose.”

PAINTINGS: A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She Was Dead

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Richard Bledsoe “A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead”

acrylic on canvas 12″ x 12″

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The genre was once referred to as History Painting, and it was considered the highest form of artistic expression. For hundreds of years, ambitious artists poured their skills into epic works which depicted scenes from not only history, but from religion, mythology, and literature as well.

The Modern Art era did a lot to sever visual art from this traditional engagement with story telling. This was a huge mistake.There’s nothing to be gained from trying to substitute theoretical intellectual stylings for the passion, drama and resonance of imagery inspired from narrative, whether derived from reality or imagination.

The Remodernist artist is a story teller, visually defining essential moments in the never ending action of the world, the mind, and the spirit.

A few years back I launched into a series of paintings inspired by a favorite book: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Its controversial reputation obscures many of the elements that I really enjoy about it. It’s totally disjointed and incoherent compared to a conventional novel, but amongst the fragments it is built from are elements of hard boiled noir mysteries, adventure tales, paranoid science fiction, wicked humor, cheap porno, and most poignantly, autobiography.

Burroughs was the black sheep son of wealthy parents. His drug habits and homosexuality kept him in trouble and on the run in the 1940s and 1950s. He and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer wound up in Mexico City. In 1951 an awful event occurred. While they were wasted and partying, Burroughs suggested to Joan it was time for “their William Tell routine.” Joan put a glass on top of her head. Burroughs tried to shoot it off and missed, hitting and killing Joan instead. It was a stupid spontaneous act that haunted Burroughs for the rest of his days. He fled to Morocco and sank into severe addiction. It was in this deranged state he wrote the rambling pages that his friend  Jack Kerouac later assembled at random and typed into the manuscript that became Naked Lunch.

Many of my “Naked Lunch” paintings are crude, rough, and unfinished, which suits the subject matter. I flipped through the book, and just like Burroughs wrote by scrambling random words together, I pulled out random quotes to base my paintings on.

“A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead” is the best of the series, so far. Painted a few years ago, I remember how moved I was by the quote when I read it. I read into it the futility of denial, and how truth and remembrance must have kept getting through to Burroughs even through his drug haze. It’s haunting, and I feel this painting captures the same sense of sadness and accusation.

1917: A Shattering Discovery From The Year Art Went Into The Toilet

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What happened to R. Mutt’s “Fountain”?

For the last few days, inside the cocoons, there is much shock. As out-of-touch elitists in the would-be ruling class are processing an historic rejection of their presumptions, it’s worth revisiting a defining and divisive moment in elitist art history.

Recently, in some random reading I was doing, I came across a surprising story that may actually solve a genuine art world mystery.

I’m very critical of the nihilistic stylings of the contemporary establishment art market. I’ve written at length on its dynamic as both an elaborate con game and as an insidious effort at social programming and control.  Conceptual Art is the official art of the New World Order. Talentless cynics like Jeff Koons and Tracey Emin are promoted as pinnacles of achievement, and showered with elitist money and accolades. These conceptual artists claim that just having an idea is good enough to be considered art, as long as the right people agree.

The conceit of conceptual art, like most of the abuses of this decadent Post Modern era, comes from a thirst for power. Anything can be art if the gatekeepers say it is, and you better submit to their superior opinions. Contemporary art has become a wedge, a means for primitive tribal virtue signalling. You can divide the population up based on savvy insiders who prattle on about a dirty, unmade bed in a museum as a fascinating comment on normative functionalism, versus those mundane types who recognize a feeble failure when they see it.

A certain segment of the glitterati like to flaunt their ability to see shit as sophisticated art as a badge of honor, for some reason.

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the totem these poseurs use as credibility for their if-it’s-in-a-gallery-it-must-be-art attitudes. In April 1917, New York City’s Society of Independent Artists had an egalitarian idea for an art show: anyone who paid the fee could show their art, which would be hung in alphabetical order. But the organizers were shocked when they received an anonymous submission, called “Fountain.” It was a sideways urinal, signed “R. Mutt 1917.”

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Marcel Duchamp, sporting a reverse mohawk

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One of the organizers was French artist Marcel Duchamp. When the committee balked at showing the urinal he resigned in a huff. Years later he spread it around that it was actually his piece.”Fountain” was a Dada assault on taste, a rejection of artistic skill, an undermining of the noble purposes of art. Duchamp and his advocates like to say it poses philosophical questions about what art is. Regardless, the piece can be seen as the harbinger of the whole empty, alienating, transgressive mess the contemporary art world has become. “Fountain” has been used as the justification for turning art into an ironic elitist assertion, rather than an uplifting communal experience. It’s a truly nasty legacy.

But did Duchamp even make the piece? Evidence suggests he stole credit for the piece from a female artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an wildly eccentric friend of his. She was part artist and part public nuisance, an exhibitionist, kleptomaniac and poet, who often dressed herself in food and utensils. The urinal would have been just her style.

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The real R. Mutt? Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

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On April 11, 1917, Duchamp wrote in a letter to his sister: “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it.” So it seems while he may have submitted it to the show, Duchamp was not the one who came up with this iconic gesture. By the time Duchamp started to claim “Fountain” as his own, the mentally ill Baroness was long dead and forgotten.

It would match Duchamp’s character to perform such a swindle; he lived his adult life sponging off of, using, and abusing a series of women. He really was a cad.

It is so fitting the impetus of our contemporary establishment art world is most likely based on lies, theft, corruption and exploitation. But the originator of the piece is not the mystery I’m writing about.

What happened to the original “Fountain”?

Avant-garde gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz snapped a picture of it, but we are told the original was lost. The versions of “Fountain” now on display in museums around the world are “replicas” Duchamp commissioned in the 1960s to cash in on the notorious reputation of the piece.

I just found a surprising clue to what happened to “Fountain” in an unexpected place, while I was reading about a very different type of artist.

William Glackens (March 13, 1870 – May 22, 1938) was a significant painter in the early decades of the 2oth century. He got his start as an artist journalist. Before there were photographs in newspapers, illustrators had to create the imagery. They had to work fast, and since they were covering the news, they were used to depicting the common people as opposed to esoteric artistic subject matter. Glackens’s most notable journalistic work occurred in 1898, when he accompanied Theodore Roosevelt’s troops to Cuba during the Spanish American War.

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William Glackens artwork from the field of battle

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After he left journalism, Glackens continued to make an art of the people, as compared to an art of the Academy. He was a key figure of the early American art movements The Eight and The Ashcan School, realist painters that rebelled against the stuffy elitist attitudes of the art establishment of their era. Glackens and his colleagues were considered controversial and gauche at the time for their depictions of everyday life.

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William Glackens “The Shoppers”

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I love reading artist biographies. So when I was recently at the library and saw on the shelf William Glackens and the Eight: The Artists Who Freed American Art, I was very excited. I knew about him and the Ashcan School, and I see the art movement Remodernism as fulfilling a similar role for artistic renewal now.

The book is by his son Ira Glackens, written in 1957. It is full of amusing and affectionate anecdotes about both of his parents; William was married to socialite and artist Edith Dimock. She is the central figure depicted in the painting of the shoppers above.

As William Glackens was one of the most important artists of his day, he was involved in many major events. I was thrilled when Ira Glackens wrote about when he was a little boy, during the legendary 1913 Armory Show that introduced Modern Art to America. He met visionary painter Albert Pinkham Ryder there, one of my favorite artists. But I was stunned when he recounted a story about 1917.

William Glackens was the president of the Society of Independent Artists committee that received “Fountain.” Another artist on the committee along with Duchamp was Charles Prendergast. Here are Ira’s words about how the  “Fountain”  situation was resolved:

It would be difficult to visualize W.G. [William Glackens] in an executive capacity, but nevertheless he proved a very valuable man, especially when an impasse was reached. The story of how he solved a great dilemma that confronted the executive committee was later told by Charles Prendergast, and he laughed so hard telling it that the tears ran down his cheeks… Everybody perhaps knows the story of the “Fountain” signed R. Mutt, a nom de guerre of Marcel Duchamp which the creator of the “Nude Descending a Staircase” submitted as his entry. This object was a urinal, a heavy porcelain affair meant to be a fixture, and it caused a great deal of dismay in the executive committee…The executive committee stood around discussing the thorny problem. Presumably the best art brains in the country were stumped.

Nobody noticed W.G. leave the group and quietly make his way to a corner where the disputed object d’ art sat on the floor beside a screen. He picked it up, held it over the screen, and dropped it. There was a crash. Everyone looked around startled.

“It broke!” he exclaimed.

By the 1950s when this book was written Duchamp had appropriated credit for “Fountain,” but it had not yet become the cultural touchstone it is now considered. I see no reason why Ira Glackens would just invent a story like that, or why their family friend and fellow artist Charles Prendergrast would say such a thing about the mild mannered and low key William Glackens for no reason.

We now have some hearsay evidence about what happened to the original “Fountain,” which has been overlooked for decades. There’s no way to prove it, but it’s a compelling conclusion to a sordid tale. As far as I’m concerned, William Glackens was on the right track and did the world a favor. If only it had ended there.

The pissy head games of elitist art need smashing, now more than ever.

11/22: Welcome Instapundit readers! Check out some of my other posts to see more about the state of the arts from a Remodernist perspective. -RB