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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COMMENTARY: How Obama’s Portrait Reveals the Failures of the Elitist Art World

In the Weeds: Kehinde Wiley’s Obama Portrait 

.As the United States clips along at the speed of Trump, the news cycle races by in a dizzying blur. Events rapidly recede without any time for real analysis. Such was the case for the big reveal of the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Although it just happened on February 12, it already feels like ancient history. Yet this regrettable image is going to be cluttering up the National Portrait Gallery forever, so it’s worth understanding just what the tax payers had to subsidize.

The Michelle Obama portrait is just sad. A tentative, pallid non-likeness. The apparatchiks at the museum assure us that it is so popular it had to be moved to a larger display space. Perhaps a pilgrimage to it gives the same solace that some progressives get from the plastic Obama dolls they keep stashed in their purses. The artist who made this painting just seems to have attempted a task above their pay grade, and fell short. It happens.

It is the portrait of Barack that displays the corruption of the establishment. It’s a Postmodern mockery. As such it may be a fitting representation for Obama, but that doesn’t make it good art.

What makes this piece so awful? Let us count the ways.

Con Artist 

Kehinde Wiley

American artist Andy Warhol set the tone back in the 1960s by reducing his contribution to his own “art” to being a celebrity spokesmodel for a brand of products he did not produce himself. That inane example has become the ideal for the untalented Postmodern artists, like Kehinde Wiley.

Even when he made his pieces himself, Wiley did a form of artistic cheating, using a prevalent practice which undermines the integrity of the act. He took photographs and used a projector to trace them onto the canvas. Artists who use this shortcut undercut themselves and their audience by doing a paint-by-numbers routine to create their works. These artists have reduced themselves to a mere cog in a mechanical reproduction process, not creating, but taking dictation from their gadgets. They let their tools make their discoveries for them. It is an inferior mode of creation. Perhaps it explains some of the compositional errors in the piece, like the 6 fingers on the left hand, or the really awkward perspective on the chair. The projector must have gotten bumped.

As exposed by the Gateway Pundit, the Obama portrait even fell back on copy/paste for the backdrop; the same image was tiled repeatedly.

The lack of engagement comes through in the pieces. as the New York Times noted back in 2008, “…the Conceptual rationale behind Mr. Wiley’s paintings has tended to overpower their visual presence, which helps reduce them to illustrations. Like Norman Rockwell’s paintings they look better in reproduction than in reality.”

But Wiley can’t even be bothered to put in that much effort anymore.

.Outsourced to Forced Labor 

Beijing Studio: Dabbed more paint onto his clothes than the actual canvases 

.Wiley doesn’t even make his own paintings. Does he set up workshops in distressed American inner cities, where he could cultivate apprentices drawn from the disadvantaged youths he claims to honor?  No. He has a studio in worker’s paradise Beijing, China, along with other locations described as “global.” There he can pay cut rate salaries for assembly line production.

Wiley employs various strategies to defuse criticism about the practice. Sometimes he tries to get folksy:

“There’s nothing new about artists using assistants—everyone from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons has employed teams of helpers, with varying degrees of irony and pride—but Wiley gets uncomfortable discussing the subject. ‘I’m sensitive to it,’ he says. When I first arrived at his Beijing studio, the assistants had left, and he made me delete the iPhone snapshots I’d taken of the empty space. It’s not that he wants people to believe every brushstroke is his, he says. That they aren’t is public ­knowledge. It’s just a question of boundaries. “I don’t want you to know every aspect of where my hand starts and ends, or how many layers go underneath the skin, or how I got that glow to happen,’ he says. ‘It’s the secret sauce! Get out of my kitchen!’”

Sometimes he wants to brush it off with the jaded airs of an insider:

“‘The sentiments about authenticity in the public eye,’ Wiley tells me, with conversational casualness and an air of mild fatigue over having, once again, to explain this, ‘the discomfort with a large-scale art practice, comes from a myth in an artistic process that never existed. Rubens, Michelangelo: Both had large studios with many assistants. There is a long line of artists who work with other artists to realize a larger vision than is possible with one hand. Education in art history taught me this, as did being steeped in the reality of painting. My interest is in completing an image that is spectacular beyond belief. My fidelity is to the image and the art and not to the bragging rights of making every stroke on every flower. I’m realistic. It’s not romantic, but that romance never existed.'”

Conveniently left out of his analogy are all the artists who did indeed actually make their own art. Postmodern operators like to refer to workshops of the Old Masters as a precedent. It takes a lot of arrogance to claim any similarities between the incredible discipline and vision of renowned artists who have endured the test of time, and the second-rate novelties churned out now on behalf of stilted hacks. These days, all a Postmodern spokesmodel really needs to do is push the appropriate politically correct buttons.

.Vicious Virtue signalling

Classical 

Before the Presidential portrait, one of the things Wiley was known for were variations on an image from apocryphal Book of Judith. In that story a woman saves Israel by seducing and assassinating an invading king; it was the subject of many Renaissance artworks. Wiley (or his helpers) depicted this scene as a black woman holding the decapitated head of a white woman. “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley explained. How playful! The privileged insider art world sure is getting played, falling all over themselves to show how woke they are for racial violence.

.Sperm

Wiley gets additional virtue status points as a gay man. You might think there was no connection between which set of genitals an artist enjoys and the quality of their work, but the establishment art world knows better than you. Wiley makes leering references to his preferences in his works. The persistent rumors about his casting couch demands on his models aren’t relevant here. But Wiley does provide other hints.

When the Obama portrait was unveiled many made an observation that was dismissed as a conspiracy theory: that Barack had a big old sperm on his forehead.

Photo Credit: Vigilant Citizen 

The media denials were intense. “Wackadoodle,” said the Washington City Paper. “False,” and somehow racist, claimed Snopes. A picture circulated which claimed to prove it’s just an accurate rendering, but which doesn’t seem to support that point at all. The head of the alleged sperm is nowhere to be seen in the photo, and that’s what makes all the difference. But who are you going to believe, the media or your lying eyes?

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It becomes even more evident when research shows sperm is a Wiley painting trademark. It’s sort of like a Hitchcock cameo, but with semen. Back when the Village Voice didn’t have to disavow the allusion, they positively gloated over it:

“Wiley has painted free-floating spermatozoa across the canvas. The same goes for the bear of a fellow in Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, which could be subtitled “(Through a Light Ejaculate Mist).’ And if the painted tadpoles aren’t sufficiently suggestive, several of the gilded frames contain sperm reliefs of their own. (Talk about painting outside the lines.)”

 

Wiley: Napoleon is coming over the Alps 

Who is the wackadoodle now?

Establishmentile Dysfunction

There’s more that could be said about this debacle, but enough is enough for now. In my upcoming book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western  Civilization, remedies are presented for the failures of elitist culture. As stated in the Remodern America Manifesto:

“Art is a more enduring and vital human experience than the power games of a greedy and fraudulent ruling class. The managers crashed the culture in pursuit of their agenda. They defend their usurped authority and privileges with doublethink, misdirection, and intimidation. Their time has run out. Reality is crashing back through their carefully constructed facades, and a time of reckoning has come. Enduring changes start in the arts. Remodernism defeats Postmodern desecration.”

 

 

 

 

 

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!

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 5-Completion (The Work Must Speak For Itself)

“The War You Will Always Have With You” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 36″

Richard Bledsoe

The months went by and the painting progressed. I dedicated as much time as I could to it in between all my other obligations. And finally the time came when I stepped back and didn’t see anything left to adjust.

The painting is done when it speaks for itself. If what I put into it cannot be seen, no amount of explanation can fill the gaps. Here is what the spirit of this age looks like to me.

New paintings have already been done, and others are in process too. The work continues.

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” The making of true art is man’s desire to communicate with himself, his fellows and his God. Art that fails to address these issues is not art.”

The Remodernism Manifesto 

 

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3

A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 (Why Painters Go Mad)

Work in Progress: “The War You Will Always Have With You” starts to stare back

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I have a saying that is only partially in jest: “Insanity is an occupational hazard  for painters.” Look at art history, especially during the Modern era, and the trend is pretty evident.

Now I happen to be a very sane and stable individual myself. At least I think I am. But I can understand why going through the process of creating art opens the psyche up for derangement.

The smallest dab or gesture on a painting can make it or break it. My wife Michele Bledsoe  and I are intuitive artists. We work it out on the canvas, trying to convey the contents of our minds without relying on preparatory sketches or source material. When it works, there is the thrill of discovery.

The problem is we never know in advance what the smallest dab or gesture might do to the entire composition. Until I see it myself, I don’t know if that little adjustment will make the canvas sing, or drag it into the abyss.

Fortunately painting is a very flexible, forgiving medium. Mistakes can be fixed. Lots of my painting process consists of reworking elements that just didn’t work well enough.

I had been working on my latest major painting, “The War You will Always Have With You,” for about 2 months before I had that eureka moment. I gave my lion pupils, simple little circles of white, and it was like suddenly there was another presence in the room.

The art was looking at me even as I was looking at it.

Since I took the photo above, I have completed this painting; it took about another month.  My next post on the subject will show the finished piece. But even after 25 years of painting, I am still amazed how a little change takes the art abruptly from raw to finishing touches.

I don’t buy into the romantic myth of the crazy genius. Real mental illness is a drab and frustrating experience, an obstacle to where great art really comes from. That’s why I’m glad to be a Remodernist artist. It’s a much more integrated and healthy philosophy than the fragmentation of Modernism, or the deceptions of Postmodernism.

“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 Remodernist Manifesto

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3