Saturday, May 30, 2009

New limited edition prints

Christopher Reiger
"further murmuration"
Archival Pigment Print on Acid Free Cotton-Rag Paper
Limited edition of 25
11 x 14 inches

It gives me great pleasure to announce the release of limited edition prints of two of my 2008 drawings, "further murmuration" and "Synesthesia #1." I worked with the terrific printer Gabe Greenberg, of Greenberg Editions, to produce the prints. I'm thrilled with the handsome results.

View more detailed photographs of the prints here and here.

In accordance with my charitable sales model, 50% of every print sale will be donated to one of the four non-profit organizations I am currently partnered with. For more information on how this works, please visit the charitable sales model page of my website.

Christopher Reiger
"Synesthesia #1"
Archival Pigment Print on Acid Free Cotton-Rag Paper
Limited edition of 25
14 x 11 inches

Photo credits: Hungry Hyaena, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ward Shelley at Pierogi

Ward Shelley
"Autonomous Art, ver.1"
2007 - 2009
Oil and toner on mylar
24 1/4 x 36 inches

"Who Invented the Avant Garde - and other half-truths," Ward Shelley's recent solo exhibition at Pierogi, is comprised of striking schematic paintings that anatomize the development of intellectual and social streams within the humanities. The artist describes them as "attempts to use real information to depict our understandings of how things evolve and relate to one another, and how this develops over time."

In spirit as well as in appearance, then, Shelley's paintings are cousin to phylogenetic trees, the taxonomic diagrams that biologists use to denote evolutionary relationships among species. But, though Shelley's genealogies look like mappings of biological exuberance, the subjects of his brightly colored, illustrative works are not so scientific: Frank Zappa; Beat Generation writers; nodes of postmodern philosophy; modern art movements.

Importantly, even as Shelley strives to elucidate these cultural begats (whether a seed that becomes a trunk or an ill-fated offshoot), the artist acknowledges that a subjective filtering of "the facts" is central to his paintings. He writes,
"[...] We know this content is mediated in a thousand ways before it takes shape in our awareness. Moreover, content is also shaped by the receiving mind which, as a pre-existing form itself, exerts a strong shaping influence."
Unfortunately, although Shelley's project is intelligent and the stylized diagrams he produces are visually remarkable, his subject matter will appeal to a narrow band of viewers. The afternoon that I visited the Pierogi space, a thirty-something couple contemplated each of the works at length, earnestly discussing an array of topics including the career trajectories of obscure members of Andy Warhol's entourage, Francois Truffaut's filmography, and Nixon-administration flunkies. Their exchange was more a trivial cataloging than a conversation and, in style and substance, they struck me as a sendup of the well-educated hipsters that populate Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

There are far more interesting things to discuss than the 20th century's pop-political canon and Shelley's most rewarding pieces - "Autonomous Art, ver.1" and "Counter Culture, ver.1," for example - consider significant, sweeping lineages. I hope that his lens continues to broaden.

Ward Shelley
"Autonomous Art, ver.1"
2007 - 2009
Oil and toner on mylar
24 1/4 x 36 inches

Image credits: copyright, Ward Shelley

Monday, May 25, 2009

To Philosophize

Christopher Reiger
"a mode of becoming"
Watercolor, gouache, pen and sumi ink on Arches paper
16 x 12 inches

"To philosophize is to articulate and express our personal reactions to the mystery which we call life, both with regard to the nature of that mystery and with regard to its meaning and purpose.

My answer to the question 'Why do we philosophize?' is as follows. We philosophize for the same reason that we move and speak and laugh and eat and love. In other words, we philosophize because man is a philosophical animal. We breathe because we cannot help breathing and we philosophize because we cannot help philosophizing. We may be as sceptical as we please. Our very scepticism is the confession of an implicit philosophy. To suppress the activity of philosophizing is as impossible as to suppress the activity of breathing."

-John Cowper Powys, "The Complex Vision"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Inside the Yankees' Compost

Although this Cubbies fan isn't fond of the New York Yankees, I spent an enjoyable May afternoon at a ball game in the new Bronx stadium. I was pleased to see that the stadium management team is making an earnest effort to be environmentally progressive. The stadium's food containers are bio-degradable, and separate waste bins for trash, plastic and compost are stationed throughout the ballpark. These bins are labelled clearly and usually positioned next to one another.

Unfortunately, your average baseball fan doesn't know what "compost" is. I snapped the below picture of a Yankees fan throwing balled-up napkins into a "compost" receptacle, and witnessed similar mistakes all afternoon. Depressingly, the "plastic" bins fared little better.

Perhaps Yankee Stadium management needs to station waste educators near the bins? The ticket prices are surely high enough to cover the cost!

Photo credits: Yankees waste bins image, ripped from; fan abusing compost picture, Hungry Hyaena

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tony Fitzpatrick's "Big Rock Candy Mountain"

Tony Fitzpatrick
"The Orange Beast"
Drawing and collage
10.5 x 7.5 inches

The Chicago-based artist and poet Tony Fitzpatrick participated in Dieu Donne Papermill's 2006 Lab Grant Residency. "Big Rock Candy Mountain," an outstanding exhibition of the collages Fitzpatrick produced during his Lab Grant term, is currently on display in Dieu Donne's exhibition space.

Fitzpatrick's collages incorporate text, print advertisements, handmade paper and drawings. In medium and manner, Fitzpatrick's collages are more coarse relatives of Fred Tomaselli's beautiful resin works. Tomaselli's pictures are dominated by images from nature and evoke the rarified realm of etherial contemplation and transcendental yearning. Although Fitzpatrick's pictures are similarly sacramental, his iconography is wide-ranging and kitsch, drawing principally from post-war suburban and urban culture. His works are as informed by the American taste for consumer ephemera as they are by Calvinist, fire-and-brimstone theology and old-fashioned hard luck. If Tomaselli's works are the ecstatic offerings of a universalistic mystic, Fitzpatrick's are the esoteric assemblages of a struggling hermit poet; his striking collages might be pulled from a latter-day illuminated manuscript.

Tony Fitzpatrick
"The Red Road"
Drawing and collage
7.5 x 10.5 inches

Like his imagery, the poetic texts that Fitzpatrick pastes into his collages speak to complex, even contradictory impulses. They are at once banging proclamations and maudlin laments. Consider the text from "Coal City Cock Fighter."
"It is the cock, hobbled and bled to black ash, walking dizzy narcotic, circles among dead birds and cigarette butts. He looks in the Devil's eyes and is homicidally radiant."
The press release describes Fitzpatrick's works as "visual poems, reflecting on matters of place, history, and sense of being." The "place [and] history" of Fitzpatrick's imagery are specific to America. His collages are nuanced portraits of the schizophrenic exuberance and religious sensibility that informed American perspectives in the middle of the 20th century (and that generally continue to shape our politics and character in the post-millennial world).

"Big Rock Candy Mountain" closes this Friday, May 22nd.

Tony Fitzpatrick
"Coal City Cock Fighter"
Drawing collage
10.5 x 7.5 inches

Image credits: Tony Fitzpatrick, courtesy Dieu Donne Papermill

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Hermetically Sealed Worldview?

Alton L. Larsen
"Lewis and Clark"
Oil on canvas

I'm thrilled to announce that I've been accepted to the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center Artist Residency in Nebraska City, Nebraska. During the two week, September term, I plan to explore Nebraska City and the surrounding land with an eye toward the region's natural history, focusing particularly on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the legacy of 19th century westward expansion. Most of my time will be spent outdoors, biking and walking around the town's trails, parks and historical sites. In the evenings, I'll use the provided studio space to conduct research, work on painting studies and drawings, and write essays relevant to the residency. (The essays will be posted here.)

I'm very much looking forward to my time in Nebraska, just as I'm eagerly anticipating an upcoming week of birding, herping and bumming about in Florida with two friends. My usually vigorous city disposition has withered in recent weeks, and I long for time in the woods, marshes or mountains. Saturday afternoon, taking a break from helping my girlfriend move some of her belongings, I sat on a stoop, attuned my breathing and appreciated the pompous sidewalk display of a pigeon courtier. A few minutes later, I trembled with a renewed sense of well-being as a curiously bronze House sparrow contemplated me (contemplating it).

These simple encounters with urban wildlife are a joy. I'm grateful for them. This week, however, the sparrows, pigeons, squirrels, starlings and gulls have only whet my appetite for time away from urban and suburban environs.

My sense of urban exile was exacerbated this afternoon, when I listened to a podcast of "The Thomas Jefferson Hour." Historian and Jefferson impersonator Clay Jenkinson described contemporary man's changing relationship to Nature.
"I've been flying over North Dakota lately and North Dakota is just one tiny little place at the top of the continent, but [...] between the Mississippi River and the west coast there is still a gigantic amount of unspoiled land. [...] It's still a pretty light industrial footprint. [...] Of course, you can see human presence there: power lines, contrails from airplanes, mines, vanity houses, ridgeline developments. [...] But [...] there is still a large amount of America [...] in which there are literally hundreds of national and state parks and national monuments and national forests and wildlife refuges which are permanently protected against gross economic, extractive development. [...] We have an enormous amount of Nature which has been designated, officially, by the will of the American people to be off-limits to certain types of activities. [...] I feel that that moment - which begins really with Yellowstone in 1872, but got it's big push from Theodore Roosevelt - that moment kind of culminated around 1975 or 1980 and, since then, there's been a kind of pulling back of national commitment to these issues.

And now there's a generation of people who are growing up with no particular interest in this. They're detached from it. They're a little bored with Nature. They don't want to go camping; they don't even want to go hiking. They only want to be on their iPod and their [...] computer, the Internet, and Facebook, and Twitter. [...] That's their mediation. That's how they see the world, [...] and they're bored with sitting around that campfire. [...] So as this happens, as we move into [...] this incredibly electronically mediated, post-literate, post-natural world, it's frightening to people that still believe that that was the glory of America.

I'm one of them! I believe that the national park system is America's greatest contribution to the world, or at least it's one of the top handful of contributions we've made. [...] The point I'm trying to make is, if the population [of the United States] is 330 million, there are about 300 million who don't care one iota for this, and they're very, very happy to eat their chicken in a hermetically sealed container and not know the first thing about where their lights come from and not care how the natural world works."
I wish that I could claim urbane sophistication, thereby dismissing Jenkinson's melancholy perspective as misguided nostalgia. But I can not. Even though I proclaim a long view optimism (and therefore acknowledge the absurdity of wishing for what once was), I feel that the ignorance of most First World citizens of the natural world is unpardonable. It is an insult not only to my naturalist's sensibility, but also to the philosophical, biological and cultural ground on which thoughtful humans stand (and build).

Despite my fondness for cosmopolitan politics and culture, in at least this respect, I sympathize with Thomas Jefferson's belief that cities are "pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man." By further insulating us from our animal antecedence and the brute realities of Nature, cities slowly erode our practical call to stewardship.

Shortly after Jenkinson's podcast ended, a familiar voice interrupted my painting. I wasn't sure that I'd heard rightly over my headphones, so I peered out of the studio window for confirmation. Sure enough, a mourning dove was perched on the fire escape above me. Periodically, it uttered a nesting call, an abridged version of the plaintive call that many Americans are familiar with (whether or not they can identify the species responsible). I could see no mate or nest, but I'm delighted to learn of this new neighbor.

Unfortunately, this week's creeping cynicism makes me doubt if my human neighbors notice the birds. I hope that this brooding will soon pass. Pessimism does no one good.

Photo credit: image ripped from Blair Congregational Church United Church of Christ website

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Thursday in the Holocene

Over dinner this Tuesday evening, a friend and I discussed our species' more homogeneous future. I suggested that miscegenation and intercultural activity will lead to future generations comprised of individuals that look and act more alike. In turn, violent conflict between human groups will decrease; in this world of mutts, superficial differences such as race and custom will be less visible and therefore less contentious.

My friend shares my hopeful outlook, but expressed skepticism. Citing the Rwandan genocide and the fractious political situation within Israel, he contended that greater physiological and sociological similarity are just as likely to increase conflict. Humans will always find some reason to fight, he believes, and superficial similarity will lead not to a peaceable kingdom, but instead to the exacerbation of subtle differences or the outright invention of philosophical or genetic justifications for the vilification of "the other." I can't dismiss his forecast, but if Homo sapiens sapiens survives long enough to witness that homogeneous era, our species will have learned a great deal more about cooperation. This, I feel, bodes well for the less violent prospect.

But what-if suppositions about the far distant future are of little practical value to the here-and-now. I have faith in teleological eudaimonia, but the lot of Earth's inhabitants won't gradually improve unless our policies and actions are informed principally by consideration of a more immediate future...say, one or two generations. And, although it will be a thousand years, at least, before miscegenation makes all humans mocha, our planet's ecology is right now undergoing drastic changes.

Burkhard Bilger's "Swamp Things" (The New Yorker, April 20, 2009) highlights the explosion of "invasive" species in Florida. Bilger focuses particularly on the success of the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) in the Florida Everglades, but notes that a great variety of exotic species have gained toeholds in the state.
"Florida now has more exotic lizard species than there are natives in the entire [American] Southeast. On a single tree you could conceivably find plants and animals from six continents, including parrots from South America, mynah birds and Old World climbing ferns from Asia, vervet monkeys from Africa, ladybird beetles from Australia, and feral cats from Europe, via Africa and Asia. In some cases, the recent immigrants would be more genetically diverse than their cousins back home. The state's ecology is a kind of urban legend come true -- the old alligator-flushed-down-the-toilet story repeated a thousand times with a thousand species.

Some find all this thrilling. Florida has become an open-air zoo, richer in species than ever before. To others, it's the harbinger of a new and depressingly undifferentiated age, when the old biological borders begin to fade and every place starts to look like every other. Ecologists have even given it a name: the Homogecene."
Indeed, the Homogecene may soon overtake the Holocene.

Note: The post's title is a nod to Christopher Cokinos's terrific essay, "The Consolations of Extinction" (Orion Magazine, May/June 2007). In it, Cokinos
"[suggests] that our PalmPilots and DayMinders and Nature Conservancy calendars show not only year, month, date, and day of the week but also geologic epoch. It’s a Tuesday in the Holocene."
Photo credit: Burmese python and American alligator, copyright 2008, Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jon Rappleye's "Forgotten Planet"

Jon Rappleye
"Where In This Land of Lively Beasts Scatters the Darkness Thin"
Acrylic and spray enamel on paper
42 1/4 x 72 inches

Jon Rappleye's work springs from a teeming imagination and, because he also shares my interest in the messy overlap of natural history and fantastical narrative, it comes as no surprise that I so respond to his mixed media paintings.

Reviewing "Awakened In The Peaceable Kingdom," his 2007 solo exhibition at Jeff Bailey Gallery, I noted that "the relationships between Rappleye's animal subjects have grown more complex and the ambivalent cycle of life and death is more readily observable" than in his earlier mixed media works.

"Forgotten Planet," Rappleye's current show, evidences still more growth. The best of the new paintings are the most nuanced, compelling compositions Rappleye has so far produced. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he includes plenty of snakes and owls, two of my favorite animal icons.

Jon Rappleye
"Awakened From Winter's Tranquil Slumber"
Acrylic and spray enamel on paper
51 x 51 inches

Photo credits: Jon Rappleye images courtesy of Jeff Bailey Gallery

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Remembering Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!

The best moms (my own included) deserve much more than flowers and breakfast-in-bed for their devotion, patience and love. Yet, if they receive anything at all, most moms will today accept pesticide-smothered flowers or a store-bought card with some appropriately safe sentiment.

Our contemporary observance of Mother's Day is fairly dismissed as a Hallmark Holiday, a see-through excuse to feed our culture's unquestioning consumption of manufactured emotion. This commercial emphasis belies the holiday's courageous, feminist origins.

In 1870, when famed abolitionist and poet Julia Ward Howe made her Mother's Day Proclamation, she responded to the shocking violence of the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War by calling for the establishment of a holiday dedicated to the cause of nonviolent conflict resolution and international solidarity. She wrote,
"Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!


Say firmly:
'Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: 'Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.'
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.


Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God."
Amen to that.

Take the day back from the greeting card companies, moms.

Photo credit: photograph of Julia Ward Howe ripped from

Andre Ethier

André Ethier
Oil on masonite
20 x 16 inches

Compared to his previous New York City outing (Derek Eller Gallery, May 2007), the imagery in André Ethier's current solo show is a relative disappointment. Fortunately, there are several strong works, of which the untitled painting pictured above is the most outstanding representative. As I wrote in 2007, "at his best, [Ethier is] something of a latter-day, irreligious Blake."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

It's official...again!

The debate over the classification of Homo floresiensis as a new species was settled four years ago.....or so we thought.

Although The Guardian article I highlighted at the time (March 4, 2005) declared the "hobbit saga ended" and suggested that the small hominid was indeed a new species, today's Guardian announces that "new evidence has emerged to show that [the] extinct, diminutive people known as 'hobbits' from the Indonesian island of Flores belonged to a new species of primitive humans."

So the "new species" classification is official.....again? Did The Guardian and, along with it, most of the popular press jump the gun in 2005?

In all fairness, the recent headline's claim of finality is more true than that asserted by The Guardian in 2005. The new evidence is both anatomical and cerebral, prompting many previously skeptical scientists to accept Homo floresiensis as a distinct species. Still, some respected anthropological researchers remain unconvinced. Their skepticism is given fair due in leading scientific journals like Nature, but it doesn't receive much (if any) attention in the popular press.

In recent months, Bioephemera has been covering the often frustrating divide between scientific research and science reporting. Her posts are excellent; I encourage interested readers to check them out. (Here, here, and here.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Walking with the wind

Tim Knowles
"Windwalk #2 - Charing Cross"

For his "Windwalk - 5 Walks from Charing Cross" project, artist Tim Knowles engineered a helmet with a sail-like wind vane, small video camera and GPS device, then wandered the streets of central London, his path determined solely by the wind. As Knowles crosses major thoroughfares, where the wind enters the wider channel via various tributaries, his path hitches and tacks erratically. If a gust of wind blows from the opposite direction, he spins about face, and he sometimes circles upon an earlier position.

In at least two of the videos that document his wind walks, Knowles is led into a cul de sac of swirling wind, where he finds himself temporarily trapped with light-weight street debris, including plastic bags and leaves. In these situations, or when he is directed into a wall, Knowles waits patiently for the wind to change direction and again grant him headway.

The artist Bernard Buffet wrote, "I prevent myself from thinking in order to be able to live." Although Buffet presumably referred to the particularly European struggle to persevere in a world shadowed by acute suffering and inhumane activity (he made the declaration in 1948, after an adolescence in occupied France), the statement can also be understood as an endorsement of Zen's "mind of no mind," or mushin no shin. Regardless of their geographic or religious provenance, meditative practices commonly encourage practitioners to banish thought from the mind so that they might experience transcendence or some heightened sense of being.

Similarly, the 20th century aesthetic theorists Alfred North Whitehead and John Dewey believed that there is a crucial distinction between the aesthetic and rational realms. Dewey argued that the aesthetic province is that of the "live animal" or unmediated, natural experience. In his landmark book Art As Experience, Dewey writes,
"Life goes on in an environment; not merely in it but because of it, through interaction with it. No creature lives merely under the skin; its subcutaneous organs are means of connection with what lies beyond its bodily frame, and to which, in order to live, it must adjust itself, by accommodation and defense but also by conquest. At every moment, the living creature is exposed to dangers from its surroundings, and at every moment, it must draw upon something in its surroundings to satisfy its needs. The career and destiny of a living being are bound up with its interchanges with its environment, not externally but in the most intimate way."
Elsewhere, Dewey states more plainly, "to grasp the sources of aesthetic experience it is necessary to have recourse to animal life below the human scale." The life Dewey describes, the realm of the "live animal" and of true aesthetic experience, is akin to Zen's mushin no shin.

The late Irish philosopher and poet John O'Donohue described dance as a reclamation of our animal nature. He wrote,
"When you walk into the mood of wind, it cleanses your mind and invigorates your body. It feels as if the wind would love you to dance...The body gives itself away playfully to the rhythm of the music; the burden of consciousness becomes suspended. For a while the innocence of the dance claims you completely as the mind relents and the body becomes its own celebration."
Knowles' "Windwalks" allow him access to the realm of Dewey's "live animal" and of O'Donohue's celebratory body; the artist relinquishes control by bypassing the brain's self-conscious helmsman. The wind meanders London's streets and Knowles follows; if he is the dancer, the wind is his choreographer. The artist is compelled by the wind's whim.

But, in allowing himself to be guided by an external force, Knowles doesn't simply provide viewers with an often humorous and poetic take on Dewey's philosophy of essential aesthetic experience. His "Wind Walks" resonate on several levels, and perhaps the most vital subtext is one of openness to new experience and new ideas.

Knowles provides us with a 21st century model of citizenship. He explores Charing Cross in a novel way; in doing so, he is provided with a fundamentally new appreciation for and knowledge of a seemingly familiar London neighborhood. In our rapidly globalizing world, we'd do well to emulate Knowles' willingness to look again for the first time. As T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem "Little Gidding,"
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
"Windwalk - 5 Walks from Charing Cross" was seen in the Bitforms Gallery exhibition, "Tim Knowles and Pe Lang + Zimoun: Unpredictable Forms of Sound and Motion," recently on view in New York City.

Photo credits: images ripped from The Cyborg's Picnic and VVVORK