Monday, January 24, 2011

Artworld Digest Limited Edition Released!

Christopher Reiger
"everywhere looks the same #1"
Watercolor, gouache, pen and sumi ink on Arches paper
12 3/4 x 10 inches

I'm pleased to announce that the first limited edition print that Artworld Digest Magazine is offering for sale (via its newly launched online store) is based on my 2008 drawing, "Everywhere Looks the Same #1."

When I passed through New York City in December, I met with David Cohen, founder and publisher of Artworld Digest, to confirm that the print looked up to snuff; it exceeded my expectations! AD has produced a very handsome, archival digital print.

Each print in the edition of 100 is sold with a signed and numbered certificate of authenticity and, importantly, 65% of the sales proceeds will benefit The Center for Contemporary Environmental Art (CCEA), the organization behind the Seed Project.

The kicker? The prints only cost $25.00! Buy one here.

Image credit: copyright, Christopher Reiger

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Surprise! Cats kill!

My cat, Mr. Misi, displays his inner killer

"Conspiracies Don't Kill Birds. People, However, Do.," the title of a recent piece in the New York Times declares. The article reports that US Fish & Wildlife research shows that "some of the biggest death traps" for songbirds in the United States are the jaws and claws of domestic and feral cats. The author dubs the USFWS finding "surprising," but it shouldn't be. Folks surprised by this report are either innocently ignorant of wildlife (and of the wild within the lives we've tenuously domesticated) or they willfully deny the ambivalent violence that animates so much life, cat, bird, and human included.

Read the NY Times piece, then revisit "i taut i taw a putty tat," an HH post from April 13, 2005, in which I discuss some of the realities of cat predation and make it clear that, though I'm a cat lover par excellence, our nation's songbirds, small mammals, and reptiles need us to stop playing favorites.

Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2004

Friday, January 14, 2011


Butt Johnson
"Various Video Game Controllers, Maps, and a Robotic Accessory"
Ballpoint pen on paper
15 X 19 inches

It's been five years since I owned a video game console. It's been even longer since I abandoned myself to a game, a happy pastime (read: addiction) of my teens and early twenties. Just as I made a teenaged vow that I would always be knowledgeable about new music -- Damn it, I wouldn't be the adult who plays the same John Denver tape on the car stereo, day after day! -- I also promised myself that I'd always own a technologically sophisticated gaming system. Although I accepted the cruel fact that my body would age and degrade, I believed that I'd remain young at heart if I remained a serious gamer. In retrospect, this latter, already broken vow seems laughably naive. If I were still gaming (even casually), I'd be hard-pressed to juggle my art-making with my writing, my volunteer commitments with earning a living, my solitary "thinking time" with my relationship; where would gaming fit!?

In any case, artist Butt Johnson's drawing "Various Video Game Controllers, Maps, and a Robotic Accessory" strikes a nostalgic chord. Over the years, I've owned or used all of the controllers depicted (with the exception of the unfamiliar robot). Today, a little more than twenty-five years after the release of the tremendously popular Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console, we consider the system's controller (top row, third from the right) an artifact of a bygone gaming era. And the Atari joystick? A fossil! It's curious to feel wistful about technology so recently outmoded.

On a tangentially related note, I recommend Nick Paumgarten's New Yorker profile of Shigero Miyamoto, one of the creative minds behind Nintendo's success and the creator of revolutionary games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Star Fox. He's also one of the idea men behind the industry-dominating Wii console. Like Paumgarten, I find it revealing that Miyamoto cites his active imagination and the outdoors as the foundation of his creative success.
"When Shigeru Miyamoto was a child, he didn’t really have any toys, so he made his own, out of wood and string. He put on performances with homemade puppets and made cartoon flip-books. He pretended that there were magical realms hidden behind the sliding shoji screens in his family’s little house. There was no television. His parents were of modest means but hardly poor. This was in the late nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties, in the rural village of Sonobe, about thirty miles northwest of Kyoto, in a river valley surrounded by wooded mountains. As he got older, he wandered farther afield, on foot or by bike. He explored a bamboo forest behind the town’s ancient Shinto shrine and bushwhacked through the cedars and pines on a small mountain near the junior high school. One day, when he was seven or eight, he came across a hole in the ground. He peered inside and saw nothing but darkness. He came back the next day with a lantern and shimmied through the hole and found himself in a small cavern. He could see that passageways led to other chambers. Over the summer, he kept returning to the cave to marvel at the dance of the shadows on the walls.

Miyamoto has told variations on the cave story a few times over the years, in order to emphasize the extent to which he was surrounded by nature, as a child, and also to claim his youthful explorations as a source of his aptitude and enthusiasm for inventing and designing video games. The cave has become a misty but indispensable part of his legend, to Miyamoto what the cherry tree was to George Washington, or what LSD is to Steve Jobs. It is also a prototype, an analogue, and an apology -- an illuminating and propitious way to consider his games, or, for that matter, anyone else’s. It flatters a vacant-eyed kid with a joystick (to say nothing of the grownups who have bought it for him or sold it to him) to think of himself, spiritually, as an intrepid spelunker. The cave, certainly, is an occasion for easy irony: the man who has perhaps done more than any other person to entice generations of children to spend their playtime indoors, in front of a video screen, happened to develop his peculiar talent while playing outdoors, at whatever amusements or mischief he could muster. Of course, no one in the first wave of video-game designers could have learned the craft by playing video games, since video games didn’t exist until people like Miyamoto invented them. Still, there may be no starker example of the conversion of primitive improvisations into structured, commodified, and stationary technological simulation than that of Miyamoto, the rural explorer turned ludic mastermind."
My solitary, television-deprived childhood was akin to Miyamoto's, an enchanted, wondrous world of books and nature. That changed during my sixth grade year, when my parents purchased a television. A few years later, they presented me with a Nintendo console. For years after that purchase, I spent more time with a console controller in my hand than I did exploring or contemplating the world around me.

It's misguided to dismiss video games as artless or to condemn them as escapism, but I wonder whether my connection to natural history and my investment in ecology would be so concrete had my early, formative years included television and gaming. What if I'd been born eight years later, after the introduction of the NES and home computers?

I have a positive view
of humanity; an overview of our species' short history reveals a social animal that takes two steps forward for every step back. Technology is an essential part of this gradual and steady improvement. Psychologically, however, we're growing ever more distant from our fellow species; our contemporary songlines resonate more in the virtual world than in natural history. Technology is no less a part of that unfortunate development.

Image credit: ripped from Butt Johnson's website

Friday, January 07, 2011

Jeffrey Simmons' Sacred Circles

Jeffrey Simmons
"Apparent Horizon VI"
Watercolor on paper
12.5 x 9 inches

If you're in the Bay Area this January, I encourage you to visit "Apparent Horizons," Jeffrey Simmons' solo show of watercolor paintings at Baer Ridgway. Most of the works on view feature "semi-transparent concentric circles [...] with subtle color variations between each light-hued ring." That description, taken from the gallery's press release, is perfectly accurate, but it fails to convey the other-worldly experience of Simmons' pictures. Radiant and diaphanous, the circles vibrate and murmur on the paper's surface. Calling to mind minimalist Buddhist mandalas or Hindu yantras, the paintings could well serve as objects of sacred utility, focal points for meditation and, for those who dabble in mysticism, gateways into the sublime.

Jeffrey Simmons
"Apparent Horizon I"
Watercolor on paper
15.75 x 11.25 inches

The Bear Ridgway press release describes Simmons' work as "painstakingly engineered." Indeed, like those of the mandala-making monk, the artist's processes require meticulous control. To produce the paintings, Simmons uses a rotating easel, situating his brush hand so that it remains stationary while the paper moves, turntable-like, beneath it. I get a kick out of knowing this; artists like to peer over one another's shoulders because we're as curious about the 'how' as we are enthused by the 'what.' When appreciating artwork, however, technique should be a secondary concern; if the machinations of the man behind the curtain are more important than the smoke and light show he endeavors to produce, he won't wear the wizard mantle for long. Happily, Simmons' shimmering, ethereal pictures prove him an adept; I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Jeffrey Simmons
"Apparent Horizon III"
Watercolor on paper
15.75 x 11.25 inches

Imaged credits: all images, courtesy Baer Ridgway Exhibitions

Monday, January 03, 2011

Karl Cronin's Experiencing Forms

Karl Cronin
"Populus tremuloides (Aspen)"

In late November, I visited "Ecoarchive: Meditations on Time and Nature," a group show on view at Intersection for the Arts 5M, in San Francisco. All of the work included in the exhibition (on view through January 22, 2011) is intelligent and commendable, but I most appreciated Matthew Moore's video, "Lifecycles," Sam Easterson's video, "The Museum of Animal Perspectives," and Karl Cronin's video sampler of his "Somatic Natural History Archive."

I spent most of my time with Cronin's project. For his "Somatic Natural History Archive," Cronin aims to "document with his own body representational expressions of 10,000 U.S. plants and animals," an undertaking that the artist estimates will take 50 years to complete. To date, Cronin has made "expeditions" to Nashville (TN), Santa Fe (NM), Yosemite (CA), Raleigh (NC), Plainfield (MA), and the Grand Canyon, and he's earned the well-deserved support of the Santa Fe Art Institute, Movement Research, and the Puffin Foundation. The documents of his "representational expressions" are archived in the SNHA Catalogue, each labeled with the observed species' Latin name and common name (e.g., "Populus tremuloides (Aspen)").

Karl Cronin
"Awaiting identification"

With so very many plants and animals to imitate (only 66 of the 10,000 have so far been cataloged online), it's not surprising that Cronin's earnest attempts are uneven; generally, I find his embodiment of plants more intriguing and successful than his animals, but even the less-realized "expressions" made me smile, giddily impressed by the artist's wonderfully quixotic efforts.

Importantly, however, Cronin's endeavor is not mere whimsy. The project may seem simple enough, but I'm certain that it provides the artist with a fundamentally new understanding of (and relationship with) the creatures he studies. Cronin first observes the plant or animal subject, then he perceives it physically, with his body. Watching the artist sway and lean with the breeze in a stand of a grass (an as yet unidentified species, perhaps related to switchgrass), it occurred to me that Cronin is something of a latter-day shaman. "Shaman" is a term abused by new-age prophets and their ranks of well-intentioned, but ill-informed followers, but the philosopher and cultural ecologist David Abram is one of a handful of writers who have given shamanism the thoughtful consideration that it deserves. As I watched Cronin channel a heron, Abram's definition of magic came to mind.
"We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human. [..] Magic is participating in a world of multiple intelligences with the intuition that every form one perceives - from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself - is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations that are very different from our own."
In essence, magic is empathy with other "experiencing forms"; it's communion with other facets of the animate world. Happily, by documenting his work with video, Cronin allows the viewer to participate in the magic. I'm grateful for that.

Karl Cronin
"Caelifera sp. (Grasshopper)"

Note: As a proud natural history geek, I was disappointed that Cronin titled the last of the three videos above "Caelifera sp. (Grasshopper)." In fact, the insect that Cronin imitates in this video is actually a katydid, a species more closely related to crickets than to grasshoppers. Still, while I presume Cronin will make the correction when he adds this video to the SNHA Catalogue, I don't envy him the task of trying to secure a definitive ID on many of the species he works with. Without the help of a entomology expert, he'll be hard pressed to determine the species of katydid in the video above.)

Image/artwork credit: all videos, courtesy Karl Cronin