ARTISTS: Remembering Steve Gompf

Steve Gompf April 27, 1963 – March 4, 2018 

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Steve Gompf was the first person I met in Phoenix that became an enduring connection.

It was the winter of 2000 – 2001. I’m not sure of the exact month. I had moved to Arizona at the end of October; after being in town a couple of months, I finally made it out to the First Fridays art walk.

Steve Gompf was in the basement of the Luhrs Tower. He was working the Artlink table, passing out maps. Young, thin, Steve Gompf, with shaggy red hair and a beard. I had been involved with an arts non-profit back in Virginia, so I was curious about Artlink. I pestered him with some questions. I don’t think we even exchanged names. Little did we know what the future held. I certainly didn’t realize I had just met a visionary artist, who would become a significant co-conspirator and friend.

As time passed I kept running into to Steve, as the art scene is its own small town within the larger city. He was at parties, he was at openings, and when I joined the Artlink board, he was there too. Eventually I made the connection between Steve and the wondrous creations he produced: the televisors.

These were Steve’s signature body of work. He presented them as if they were historical relics: antique televisions, manufactured between 1889-1928. That time range happens to be before there was any practical television technology widely available, and definitely before there were any broadcasts being made. But the specificity of the dates effectively reinforced the idea the televisors were pioneering examples of luxury goods from a bygone age.

 

The Televisors

Steve knew enough about actual antiques to reference the styles of different countries and eras in his televisor designs. The amazing thing was he managed to pull off these creations using the most random bits and pieces he scavenged from thrift stores. The televisors were assembled from candlesticks and dog bowls and lamp fixtures, and just about any other scrap of wood and metal you can imagine. He arranged all the parts meticulously into an illusion of sophisticated industrial design. I used to joke they were only held together by gravity, but it’s pretty much true. All those fiddly pieces were just in place due to a series of Steve’s willful balancing acts.

Steve embedded monitors inside these elaborate cases, and showed his own video creations on them. This is where things took a darker turn, which added more complexity to the televisor experience. His video imagery was sometime soaring and celestial, but more often it was like Hieronymus Bosch fever dreams, It was as if the televisors  were receiving broadcasts from Hades. Steve took the sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge, and re-animated them into a grotesque cast of chimeras wandering in some lost nocturnal plane.

Reanimated video stills 

 

This video art culminated in his epic “Parade: The Absolute End of the World.” He worked on this video for 8 years. It literally has a cast of thousands of his wild beings marching past in formation.

 

I Love a Parade: Stills from Steve’s epic video art  

We got to spend a lot of time with Steve and his art in the 5 years we were members of Deus ex Machina Gallery. Steve’s televisiors were always the stars of the show there. They were instantly accessible and fascinating for our patrons.

The televisors worked on so many different levels. They were sculptures. They were assemblage. They incorporated video and sound, They were conceptual in the best sense of the word, hinting at an entire alternative reality. And they were unapologetically beautiful.

An hypnotic televisor at Deus Ex Machina 

We had so many special moments at that gallery. Steve like to set off smoke bombs in the street and play double dutch routines on the sidewalk with invisible jump ropes. Once Steve got his hands on a top hat, and serenaded my wife Michele Bledsoe with his rendition of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka. The lyrics of that song applied very well to Steve: “We’ll begin with a spin/Traveling in the world of my creation/What we’ll see will defy explanation.”

Michele and Steve: Pure Imagination 

Like the ornate videos he created, Steve was a complex hybrid of traits. He could be bawdy and bossy and boisterous. No matter what shenanigans he was up to, you just had to say, “That’s Steve,” and roll with it. His infectious, anarchist laughter was a clue to his driven nature; part Elmer Fudd, part Woody Woodpecker, coupled with wide eyed enthusiasm.

In his teacher mode, Steve was a master of the blunt but accurate critique. He was one of the few people that Michele felt like she truly learned something from. And to this day his advice drives my artistic production: he told me once you should always have a long term, a medium term, and a short term project going, all at the same time. This wisdom has become my own method.

As a gallery partner, he was committed and supportive. As a friend, he was giving and affectionate in his own particular Steve way. Our home is full of the thoughtful little gifts he came across during his Goodwill shopping. I shared his fascination with strange history; he was always bringing me topical books to read. He recognized Michele’s love of beautiful trinkets, so he brought her exotic objects of glass and brass.

Ultimately Steve was a worker, always so excited to push his art to new levels, and to share his own strange vision with the world. He loved to be involved in events and happenings.

I will always be glad, in one of our last exchanges through Facebook, I invited Steve over for dinner. He responded by sharing a trailer of a cool movie he was excited about: Embrace of the Serpent. We didn’t confirm the date, and I kept meaning to follow up. I thought we’d have plenty of time to work out the details.

We wanted to see Steve before his birthday. I was already mentally planning the menu. Only later did I learn that not too long after that message, he was gone. We did not find out until weeks later.

The New Times provided a thoughtful eulogy to Steve, that stuck one discordant note. It mentioned how his works made you want to question more. Although the idea that art equals questioning is a dominant  piece of dogma in Postmodern art, it is a misreading of Steve’s accomplishments.

Steve did want not his viewers to question. He wanted them to experience wonder, which is not the same thing at all.

We loved Steve a lot and learned so much from him. We will treasure the time we got to spend with him.

 

Michele Bledsoe “Portrait of Steve Gompf” acrylic on canvas 

 

A Celebration of Life for Steve Gompf

Sunday May 20, 2018 7 pm

Alwun House

1204 East Roosevelt Street

Phoenix, Arizona 85006

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STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 3

The Collaborative Painting Continues: Drawing it Out 

Once we started defining the composition, the painting moved rapidly. It is a small piece, 12″ x 6″, which happens to be one of Michele’s favorite sizes. Basically we were both arranging our own 6″ x 6″ squares, and making them harmonize. I tend to do my drawing filling in spaces with paint. Michele lays out the elements in line drawings. She learned to not start painting until her drawing is complete.

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  Here we’ve made a great leap forward, once Michele started laying in color, and I started to get detailed.

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Next up: completion.

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Read the series

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STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 1

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STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 2

STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 2

A Collaborative Painting by Richard and Michele Bledsoe: Taking Form

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The collaboration continued. We very quickly determined the needed dynamic. We are opposites in so many ways.

Michele worked on the painting for much longer periods of time than I did. She is a meticulous, slow painter. She laid out her drawing in detail on the canvas, in raw umber, using tiny brushes.

I worked fast, laying in big areas, keeping the drawing loose and crude at first. I introduced color right away, covering over my drawing to build up new layers, using big harsh bristle brushes.

Yes, we are opposites in so many ways. We balance each other. To make this work in the form of a painting is an exciting part of this project.

 

It’s all a base coat, for now 

 

Read the series – STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 1

STUDIO: Collaborative Painting with Richard and Michele-Part 1

It Begins: A Collaborative Painting from Richard and Michele Bledsoe 

It’s surprising it’s taken us so long to do this.

My wife Michele Bledsoe and I are both painters, but very different kinds of painters.

We do share a studio in our home. We’ve spent countless hours together making art. We work back to back, with the stereo in the middle to play inspirational music.

She sits at her easel. I pace around in front of mine.

Michele uses tiny soft brushes. I use big house painting brushes for much of my work.

She discovers her imagery through stream of consciousness dreaming. I am replicating the vision I was assigned.

She likes to focus on one work at a time, and linger over it. I have multiple pieces going at once, at different stages of completion, and I compulsively push them towards resolution.

Michele doesn’t know what she is going to paint when she begins, but she applies her masterful technique to it. I know the image I need to present, but I don’t know how I’m going to paint it out.

We are both wholly committed to our art, and we show it in our own different ways. Remodernism encourages dedication to individual expression, and the pursuit of excellence.

But what would happen if we decided to share our visions together on one canvas, just like we share our studio, and our lives?

We’re going to find out.

Michele and I recently began a collaborative painting. We divided it right across the middle, but we will each contribute to a unified composition, in our own unique styles. We will follow our very different methods and seek to make them harmonize.

I started off like I always do: covering the canvas with a flat layer of color. I don’t like painting on a white surface.

Michele started like she always does: establishing the drawing, as seen in the picture above.

I then put in my crude initial layout, and gave it back to her.

Establishing the basics 

We will trade the canvas back and forth until it is done, and post updates on this blog. It’s a fascinating artistic process to interact with each other in something as complex as a painting. Stay tuned for further developments!

COMMENTARY: 1962 – The Changing of the Avant-Garde

 

Andy Warhol, 1962

“As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation.”

-Sidney Janis, American gallerist, 1896-1989

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

1962 was the end of the Modern Art era. Much like the Salon des Refusés ushered in the Modern Era in 1863, it was another art show that gave evidence of a definitive shift in the culture.

The influences had been gathering for years, before coming together in a definitive event. In this case the tipping point was an art show located in a temporarily rented store front – a pop-up gallery, we would say these days.

The International Exhibition of the New Realists opened on October 31, organized by New York City gallerist Sidney Janis. With this show, the Postmodern era had arrived.

International Exhibition of the New Realists, 1962

We’ve come to call it Pop art, the opening gambit of the generational shift in art and culture the Janis show encapsulated. It featured future superstars Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Yves Kline, Christo, and many others.

The reigning dominant critic Clement Greenberg’s grip has slipped. His preference for abstraction had dominated the 1950s art world. After the exile of representational art, it was back with a vengeance, but also with a twist.

Pop art was easy to like. On the surface it was bright and playful; instant gratification art. It aspired not to inspire, but to be ironic. The recognizable imagery depicted was coming not directly from life, but was reproduced from the filtered and stylized presentations of industrial mass media: advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, comic books and television. From its inception, The Postmodern era was informed by the illusions, distortions, and manipulations these mediums employed.  Postmodernism is very useful for those who have something to hide.

But back in 1962, it was a scary Halloween for Janis’s existing stable of abstract expressionist studs. Some of the biggest names in Modern painting quit his gallery after the audacious show. Departing artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb had struggled for decades in obscurity before the agendas inflicted on the art world turned in their favor. For a brief time, they were the pinnacle. But in the early 1960s a new set of ideas was rising.

The art on display in The New Realists show was not just another variation on Modernist priorities, another facet of Modernism’s typical fragmentation. The new way was basically a repudiation of everything the aging Modernists thought they stood for.

I select this Janis show as the Postmodern starting point because of its consequences. The changing of the guard was plain for all to see in the tempest in a teapot scale of the art world. The Action painters were driven to take action, but it was already too late.

Displaced: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED: Vintage Music Reviews-Rudimentary Peni “Cacophony”

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

A few years ago, Richard used to write for the punk ‘zine AZKAOS. This was one of the vintage music reviews he contributed from 2010.

Rudimentary Peni “Cacophony” Album Cover Art by Nick Blinko

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Rudimentary PeniCacophony

1989

Outer Himalayan Records

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And then the matter of that phonograph record…It must mean something; whether animal noises deceptively like human speech, or the speech of some hidden, night-haunting human being decayed to a state not much above that of lower animals.

  -H. P. Lovecraft   

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Does genius lead to madness, or is the other way around? Mental illness in reality is usually a drab and frustrating situation. The romantic cliché of the brilliant lunatic persists though, supported by the occasional rise and fall of some inspired martyr; there is some truth to the template. When an inventive mind gets caught up in a wave of mania, astonishing creations can occur.

The Rudimentary Peni album Cacophony feels maniacal, as if it were recorded at the height of some delusional frenzy. A rare hardcore punk concept album, an obsessive riff on horror pulp author H.P. Lovecraft, it captures that writer’s atmosphere of melodramatic creepiness. The recording seems like an organic whole; songs blend into one another, connected by snippets of dialogue and sound effects, racing along at breakneck speed. It is one of those records to be played in its entirety, to better appreciate the story arc.

Rudimentary Peni (named for a biology class definition of clitorises) grew out of the busy London anarcho-punk scene nurtured by the musical collective Crass. RP’s front man Nick Blinko is the songwriter, guitarist and singer; he also produces the horror vacui outsider art that illustrates the albums-teeming landscapes of grimacing faces, skulls and religious icons. Blinko could be a character out of a Lovecraft work-a talented outsider whose mind was broken by the pursuit of arcane knowledge. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Blinko has spent some time institutionalized for his condition.

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Nick Blinko Artwork 

 

Despite the burdens of Blinko’s mental state, and all the growling death rock themes explored, Cacophony is a rollicking, playful album, bursting with excitement at its own inventiveness. The lyrics echo Lovecraft’s quaint verbose style in a manner that is both tribute and satire. The content veers between Lovecraft’s biography, his works, and more oblique rants. The original vinyl fortunately came with a 6 page lyric sheet, because the elaborate, articulate poetry Blinko wrote is often buried in layers of distortion and noise, or is barely intelligible. Blinko produces literally dozens of accents in his vocals-he chants, mutters, shrieks, hisses, croons and babbles; it’s an amazing theatrical performance. “Things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl,” he croaks in one interlude. Some pieces are nothing but sounds-chattering teeth, rude squishy noises, wheezing or screaming; others are little collages of tombstone inscriptions or buzzing alien voices.

The music swings between tight little punk gems and ominous droning soundscapes. The catchy hardcore passages throughout the album suggest Zen Arcade vintage Husker Du. In “The Only Child, ” about a bad seed murderous little girl, the delivery is a snarling Exploited style stomp; “Arkham Hearse” swings with a Sex Pistols sneer. “Dream City” warbles like the Buzzcocks: “The weedy old spires like veins in marble/The old gold domes/were just ancestral homes/The citadels of yore with their broken bronze bells/ tottering towers/shadowy staircases/spiral like ammonites…”

Rudimentary Peni, despite some hiatuses, continue to release albums, though nothing has ever topped this perfect storm of cult influences. Cacophony works on many levels-it ranges from being sinister and aggressive to being literate and tongue in cheek. It presents horror with mighty impact but doesn’t take itself too seriously. This highly personal and entertaining experimental album is a neglected masterpiece.

More Nick Blinko Artwork 

 

 

 

 

 

EXHIBITIONS: International Stuckism-Quintus Gallery, Watkins Glen, New York

Richard Bledsoe “Petrified Forest” acrylic on canvas 20″ x 24″ 

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International Stuckism

October 13, 2017 – November 12, 2017, opening reception Friday October 13 

Quintus Gallery 65 Salt Point Rd. Watkins Glen, NY

Featuring artists from the UK, Spain, Greece, Russia, Iran, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, and the United States 

New York artist Ron Throop continues to make things happen. His latest project has been coordinating over thirty artists from around the world to share their visions in the latest display of the global art phenomenon of Stuckism.

The great analyst Carl Jung understood what art does. He stated, “All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.” Before the rejection of elitist presumption and incompetence became the consuming political topic it is now, in 1999 a group of UK artists started waging the same fight against the corrupt and out of touch establishment art world. The Stuckists were a harbinger of the dynamic which is remaking society. They are the first art movement of the Remodern era.

I’ve had the privilege of hosting a Stuckist exhibit here in Phoenix, with 2014’s International Stuckism: Explorers and Inventors. I’ve also participated in other international shows, like 2015’s Stuckism: Remodernising the Mainstream, University of Kent, Canterbury England.It’s an honor to show with these committed creatives. Stuckist free expression brings connectivity and joy back into a contemporary art world too often stifled by alienation and a sense of unjustified superiority.

Ron Throop sees art as a means for bringing people together. As he explains, “Communion has been one of my artistic goals for as long as I can remember. Expressive painting is a very powerful connector to people. We are an image and story-loving species.” To spread the word he has also assembled a book about the show, “International Stuckist Invitational at Watkins Glen,” available on both Createspace and Amazon.

Michele Bledsoe and I have both contributed to this show. It’s an exciting time, being involved in the renewal of the fundamental human activity of art making. We are very grateful to Ron Throop for his diligence and vision in creating this opportunity that demonstrates the grassroots are global, and growing. 

Michele Bledsoe “Assemblage” acrylic on canvas 7″ x 5″ 

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Richard Bledsoe “In the Trenches” acrylic on canvas 12″ x 16″