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Below are the 12 most recent journal entries recorded in mat's LiveJournal:

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Monday, May 25th, 2015
8:11 pm
Blonde On Blonde as Two Albums
What if the record company had balked and told Bob Dylan to make Blonde on Blonde two albums instead of a double album.

The actual album has two distinct sounds to it. One is a heavy blues sound that occasionally veers off into a cacaphony.

If the color of those songs are "blue" then the other material in Blonde on Blonde is probably best described as "gold" - like a precious metal, these songs glisten in the light and are heavy in the dark.

Songs that are definitely "Blues":
Rainy Day Women #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like A Woman
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)
Temporary Like Achilles
Obviously Five Believers

Songs that are definitely "Gold":
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
Absolutely Sweet Marie
Fourth Time Around

Here are the side lengths of the original album:

Side 1: 20:53
Side 2: 19:02
Side 3: 20:39
Side 4: 11:23

Yes, Side Four is one song not included above - Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. How do we fit SELOTL onto our album? The sound of the song is easy to qualify as "gold" given these two choices. With an apparent limit of 21 minutes per side we simply move Absolutely Sweet Marie to Side Two of the "blues" album, giving it a length of 17:04. Blonde on Blonde as released averages 18 minutes per side. Making the "gold" version balanced in time on each side requires tinkering with the song order. Move Fourth Time Around to Side One of the "gold" album and here is what you get:

BLUES ON BLONDE
Side One:

Rainy Day Women #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like A Woman
(Total Time: 17:16)

Side Two:
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)
Temporary Like Achilles
Obviously Five Believers
Absolutely Sweet Marie
(Total Time: 17:04)

GOLD ON BLONDE
Side One:

Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
I Want You
Fourth Time Around
(Total Time: 21:09)

Side Two:
Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands
(Total Time: 18:28)

I made two separate playlists on Itunes with these.
Monday, February 2nd, 2015
11:19 pm
Atomic Cafe Days and Nights
I don't know when the story starts, how long it was there, the name ATOMIC CAFE whispers the dreams of a bygone era that became loathed for its relationship to conformity and aggression. It was not the atomic age when I walked in the door - young and eager and knowing it was the place that cool people hung out at and of course, everyone who doesn't conform in America seeks to be cool.

The first night there two of the Ramones are sitting in a booth nearby and the adrenaline of being that close to something that central to culture and consciousness - it was intoxicating. We told people we were there when Joey and Marky were there and nobody believed us, nobody. And I was like "Dude I have bullshitted you with a hundred fantastic exaggerations that you believed and now you won't accept the simple fact of a coincidence in a known rock and roll hangout befuddles me."

So you don't have to believe me but believe this - part of me emerged that night. Part of a belief in myself was berthed from the sheer dumb luck of being two booths over in an already wild scene corralled into that brick and mortar square. I took that night with me wherever I went - part of me crawled out from the cocoon of a suburban kid who had been so sheltered that the idea of being someone or something never went past being an idea and suddenly I was as validated as I might ever feel just for having walked in a door and grabbed a table.

The menu was baby boom delight and I settled on the white bread chicken salad sandwich that night and I probably went there a hundred times and I don't think I ever ordered anything else. Over the years I grew up there a little. The old Japanese chef got his heroin delivered at four PM on weekday afternoons and if you ordered by 3:30 you got your food and he went and shot up and was high and nobody got served until after five, so I paid for less than half of those meals. If you ordered and he shot up, though, good luck starving until someone else arrived. The food was straight form a multicultural suburban atomic era but the things I saw there pushed that Americana of my youth further in the rear view mirror than mere time ever could have.

We all blossom somewhere and I became me in Downtown Los Angeles and the corner of First and Alameda in a brick building on a parking lot that the Manley family of Pasadena had owned since the 1890s was one of the places where the light clicked on for me. A strung out chef filling my belly, the figures of the whole revolution hanging out two booths away, a wild cast of semi-regulars and a juke box, oh what a jukebox...

The jukebox was the greatest jukebox in history and if I made a list of my ten regrets in life in the top five would be not simply taking a picture of the display - assembling that on iTunes as a playlist would be all the music I would ever need. Do you have one? Look out get out of my way, let me see it.

They tore that building down on the last week of January, 2015, 125 years after they had cemented the bricks together there, all the oil sucked dry out of what became the parking lot leased by Manley Oil. Its all disappearing and the memories are all really starting to fade and so I have to write them down but it gets repetitive to say we went out drinking and it was fun and then we went out drinking and it was fun and then... so the memories themselves are just little bricks and the bricks can form a building and when that building gets torn down you write abut the building itself and the time a girl threw a drink in your face and stomped out and the time that Richard Duardo told you a story about eating there with Basquiat a year after the painter had died and the memory of that one guy everyone on the scene knew who, the guy who played saxophone well he just stood next to the jukebox and played along with each song that came up and he knew them all and it sounded great and everyone cheered him on and you left without paying for your drinks and when you felt guilty and went back to pay they didn't even know and it was loud and so you ordered another drink and left without paying of r it either , all those memories and a thousand more just get cemented on top of each other and soon each memory is a just a fragment of a shelter you have built in your ind and now, well that shelter is all that is left, a memory. And so you write it down. Gimme shelter.
Sunday, November 9th, 2014
10:33 pm
2015 Art World Bootcamp
I do one of these seminars every year. Make a New Year's Resolution early to make 2015 the year you begin navigating your art career.

If you aspire to be a successful, exhibiting artist in Los Angeles, perhaps it is time to get serious about that goal. It is time for you to understand the CULTURE of the Art World Itself. The artists who have taken this seminar give me positive feedback and thanks, even years later, as they apply what they learned in almost every art world encounter.

Start 2015 off right as the new year offers You ART WORLD BOOTCAMP...

You are ready to:
* Immerse yourself in the art scene
* Focus your behavior
* Expand your knowledge
* Make great art

The Art World operates under specific rules that go untaught. Learn these rules early and
you will develop simple methods to make the way the game is played work for you.

You can spend years learning these unspoken rules on your own, or you can attend Coagula's Art World Boot Camp and accelerate your comprehension of art, the art business and how the two will ultimately benefit you.

In Six Saturday Mornings you will receive dozens of INSIGHTS including:
* Ten Things Art Colleges Don't Want You to Know.
* The phrase that will get every art dealer to return your phone call.
* The four highest-impact career decisions every artist will make.
* Understanding how ANYONE in the Art World can be put to work for you!

This class is available IN PERSON only - there is no DVD, no website, I tell incriminating stories, pull the curtain back and name names, audio recording is not permitted - you will get the truth about the LA art world, but it is knowledge that will prove valuable in your pursuit of a successful exhibition career. Notes are provided.

What this is NOT:
This is not a class about how to sign a pretty little contract with a gallery and sell a painting to your rich uncle. This is the lay of the land of what you are up against in the art world and how to keep your eyes on the prize. You will not be burdened with a bunch of outdated xeroxes. I taught this class in 2006 - there have been radical changes to the art world since then and these are incorporated into every lesson. This is not a class about how to do everything on our own - Artists who are successfully exhibiting in Los Angeles have LOTS of people doing the heavy lifting for them. I taught this class in 2013 and a few things have already changed - just understanding these little things can help YOU spot changes in the art world.

Registration is open now and limited to 25 participants - age 18 and up, please.

Class is taught by Mat Gleason. Do you need my bio? I own an art gallery, I curate art shows, I am a published art critic and essayist. My name is my resumé, google it.

Six weekend classes beginning SATURDAY January 10, 2015.

Final class is February 21. Class meets at 11:00 AM on Saturday Mornings at Coagula Curatorial Gallery on Chung King Road in Chinatown. Class lasts 90 minutes. The class also includes an OPTIONAL critiques of your art.

The Class will cost you $350 - A few spots are still open. No refunds.

Email me at 88gallery at GMAIL dot com with the subject BOOTCAMP if you are interested.
Monday, September 22nd, 2014
3:55 am
Memories of Leonard Cohen Live
I have seen Leonard Cohen in concert three times.

1. "LIKE A BIRD ON A WIRE, LIKE A DURNK IN A MIDNIGHT CHOIR, I HAVE TRIED, IN MY WAY, TO BE FREE"

I drank a lot Jack Daniel's and Coke on the afternoon of what would be my first time seeing Leonard Cohen - it was at the Wiltern Theater in the late 1980s. A bunch of us went. Tom Tyson was the cat who turned me onto LC and he was the one who got us tickets and he was the one shaking me passed out at 6 PM saying to get up, get ready let's go.

There were plenty of Coke cans at his place to drink with enough caffeine as out with the group I went. When we walked up to the entrance I was halfway thru a can of Coke knowing they were going to make me throw it away but if there was one thing I was intent on doing (back when I drank and to a lesser extent even today) when confronted by minimum wage security - it was in making a scene.

So as I am walking into the Wiltern one guy then another then a lady and then some other guy all were politely saying "Sir Sir Sir" and panicking over that Coke can, I milked it to get about eight steps into the massive Art Deco Lobby and turned, you see by stopping and turning I had de-escalated the situation because they were going to be able to address me without racing after me any longer or physically stopping me, but as I was about 45 degrees into my 180 degree turn I began belting out a missive...

"Ah fuck, Tom they're all fucking yuppies in here"

In case you are wondering - the lobby of the Wiltern has an amplification when one shouts aimed upward at the rising ceiling. Every yuppie with good taste in music within ten feet of the entrance and all those who had already made it inside heard my indictment. Every employee who had been chasing me for my can of Coca Cola had abandoned the front lines of ticket taking - it was me and them and a horde of people waiting at the gate - including Tom and the rest of the Starvin' Band and various other minstrels, outcasts and vagabonds who tagged along on those buzz-seeking weekends of the late 1980s. I'm loaded enough to be enjoying this and thespian enough not to smirk as I perfectly time looking at the security chick who just took a breath to tell me that I cannot bring my can of soda into the the theater and ask her "Where can I dump this?". The four of them look at each other as the space around us is now empty - there are hundreds of people in the Wiltern headed to their seats and hundreds more waiting to get in and there is an island in the middle - me with three ticket takers, a security guard and a can of Coke. I follow up quickly to the ticket taker "Is there a trash in here?"

It is the deepest advice I can ever confer on you to never speak precisely when dealing with anyone who is on the clock. If I had said "Is there a trash CAN in here?" it would have been insulting to associate their job with garbage. If I had asked "Where can I throw this away" it would have implied that they were hired to think for me. The subtext of saying it the way I did was to underscore that there would not have been this situation at all if there were obvious receptacles at the entrance. By asking it that way, i was blaming the Wiltern - their employer. I had caused a scene and put it all on the man. I was wearing a white dress shirt with no tee shirt under it and it was only buttoned on two buttons at the belly and belt. One of them took my can and soon the flow of fans trickled up to me.

We sat sat in the highest rafters of that place. Leonard played "Avalanche" and it was as powerful as Christ reciting the Beatitudes. The rest of it blurs but the memory stands, longing for the four sips of cola left in that can.

2. "I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web is fastening my ankle to a stone."

Years later, early 1994 to be exact, I am newly sober and working to extract myself from this codependent mullata trustafarian Los Feliz musician and she is nagging me about some shit - it was weird, I quit getting loaded and all she did was turn on the nag amplifier - and I tell her I am going to go to the Wiltern and try to buy a scalped tickets to Leonard Cohen. Well she couldn't give two shits about LC because her snotty aesthetic was her Master but she can't let go of the leash that easy so we traipse over there, outside and see the lines and I'm actually ready to give up, they were ridiculously around the block and the scalpers wanted way more dough than those days afforded me.

But she is all of a sudden seeing musicians there that she knows from the scene, probably had fucked them all, and all of a sudden she is too damn down to turn around and, well to her credit, to her tenacious rotten soul's credit, she finagles someone she knows to pull out two extra tickets they are holding for someone else and suddenly we are sitting in the eleventh row on the floor, wow we have come a long way, and i know I am about to go a long way from her to something more like this, the sobriety is clearing my head and Leonard's words were nice like knives of what one might dodge but now they are tools to carve out a space of my own. And she doesn't know anything or get anything but she sure loves it when the guys from the clubs come over to say hello to her. And I don't even look up or sneer, I already know I am bailing but some things need an exit strategy.

And the lights dim and the master comes out - and it is nice to be close and the show adds years to my soul and screams that life is worth living and I stock up on those tools, deeper understanding of existence in a ninety minute stage show and he comes back for an encore and the bitch says "we have to leave." Yeah, there was always a pressing reason to manipulate the world to one she could control with extreme prejudice and ever more some drama following her to make it sloppy and plenty of blame for me for sticking around, but this was indicative of one reason getting clean was great - as it made me see the script she was writing each day to avoid living her own life.

She pushed me to get up and I didn't fight it, I didn't make a scene in aisle or in the lobby. There was no can of Coke, just more certainty that sobriety means aspiring to something like the greatness on the stage not the distracted comfort of her cage. I would not be dragged around by my dick a month longer. I found a set list on the internet years later. I think we missed six songs. What a witch.

3. "Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn / Dance me to the end of love"

For years it seemed he would never come down from the mountain. Leonard was up there meditating and the songs were just out in the universe reaching more folks. To tell people I had seen him twice was to flat out brag. But then Tom C from high school emailed and said he had extra tickets for LC at the Nokia, did Leigh and I want to go. Oh and by the way, second row. Well that was a treat, the best show, the longest, mist-involved, most revelatory show of the three and no drama for me or Leigh, just adults getting together with a few other couples before and after the show for pleasant talk.

LC opened the show with "Dance Me To The End of Love" and we were all still going thru metal detectors - no cans of Coke, no Coke at all - and we miss it so after almost three hours he closes the show with that for all the folks who missed it the first time. By this point I am exhausted, Leigh is in ecstasy, we are both limp from being in the presence of majestic genius. But this time I do have the dough to at least buy us each a shirt and she has the time to wait in line as we are walking out.

We'd seen all that a poet, prophet could deliver and the only way to tie it up was to know that we were in the right place at the right time in our lives and that is when dancing to the end of love really means forever. No other performer can inspire the range of emotions from raging loaded to bitter scorn to the bliss of a soulmate like Leonard Cohen does for me.

So on his 80th birthday I just had to rewind the tape of my life and see if the blurry memories could unite as semblance.
There.
Happy Birthday, Leonard.

Dance Me To The End of Love.
Sunday, August 3rd, 2014
11:03 pm
Go Ahead and Fuck with the Art Community, it Doesn't Exist.
I got scolded a lot during the early years of Coagula Art Journal. Scolded by artists and collectors and art dealers and just random people at galleries with no specific status. They wagged their fingers in my face. They threw drinks in my face. They stared me straight in the face. They would say they were angry. They would say they were disappointed. Some would tell me they were only thinking of my best interests.

They were all upset about one thing. My disrespect for the community.

You see, there is an art community. There is no neighborhood to move in to be part of it. There are no membership fees or initiations. You show up and supposedly you are part of it, right?

Wrong. The "community" of which everyone spoke was an individual illusion to each person.

COMMUNITY was the hallucination by a heavy drinking bat in her early sixties who had bought five works of art in her entire life insisting that she was a top collector.

COMMUNITY was the hallucination by an MFA graduate who had never had a solo show five years after graduation asserting that he was a peer of Robert Rauschenberg's.

COMMUNITY was the carrot the MFA diploma mill dangled at hungry applicants that implied everyone you ever met on their campus would be working on behalf of the art careers of those applicants for the next forty years.

COMMUNITY was what the lonely painter in his studio longed for without ever really envisioning it specifically to call it that but there was something that made him set down his brush, take a shower, stay sober in the afternoon and head over to someone else's art opening.

COMMUNITY was what the woman who dated guys she met at museum opening nights really wanted and it was the reason she never slept with any of them and she never quite put her finger on the fact that she pursued something else instead of the thing she sought because she never visualized what she wanted.

And plenty more people had their own notions of what it was and never quite landed there. Of course, the most evil motherfuckers in the game used COMMUNITY like a worm on a hook to reel in the most earnest suckers - you can get endless free labor from people thinking they are building something bigger than themselves from which they will benefit. I've seen people give up a year of their lives and lots of their money to get one postage-stamp-sized drawing on a wall of a massive group show because some bastard was pulling the strings that spelled out the pledge that a community was being formed.

Do I sound cynical? WELL... here is why I am cynical. The dumbshits and a hundred others would blame my writing for poisoning the community. The one that only existed in their minds. Not their collective minds, that would have been beautiful and maybe changed the world a little. No, each person's individual navigational visions of what the art world was and what he or she could get out of it if only a lot of people would work on giving it to them. So I wouldn't foster the party line of discourse or dialogue or whatever grease was making the gears in the machine turn faster that week. And therefore, my writing was an attack on the community. And my writing was not that. It was an attack on the structures in place that impeded community, structures these motherfuckers wanted to climb on and climb up and look down on everyone else from before they spit down or talked about spitting down and laughed about the concept of spit. Those structures are all still there, but I wrote enough to assist some people to see what I saw.

There are moments of accomplishment that can only be attributed to group effort. There are synchronicities that unite disparate agendas to push change into the universe. There are commonalities among people that allow them to more easily cooperate on collaborations that make impacts. There are moments when the roaring approval of the many change the way art is seen. But there is no ART COMMUNITY and in art, the word COMMUNITY doesn't mean shit.
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
5:59 pm
Huntington Park Ignores Animal Cruelty
L1170377
A dog has been chained to a mobile home for TEN DAYS in the 2500 Block of E 55th street, 2nd parking spot east of Pacific Blvd, north side of the street. The City of Huntington Park police have ignored repeated calls to address this situation. No response from Parking Control, form Animal Control, from an police.

Homeless guy living in a mobile home. Dog chained to the undercarriage with less than five foot radius. Dude gone almost always washing windows for money at an intersection a mile away. Dog miserable living under a mobile home. Three calls to Animal Control = zero results.

Mobile home has security grating over the windows. Occupant leaves and arrives in a bicycle. White Honda Prelude (with expired May 2014 California plates 7DLA744) parked in first stall of the street VISIBLY BLOCKS the mobile home license plate - Which IS visible as 727 SDE (California Plates) from the front of the Mobile Home. Don't get too close - our furry friend is a Guard dog and doesn't want you coming near.

Dog is ignored ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT, lives beneath the mobile home 24/7, no exercise or play, jumps out and barks if the mobile home is approached from the front.

IF YOU CARE ABOUT THIS DOG CALL THE HUNTINGTON PARK POLICE DEPARTMENT AND EXPLAIN THAT YOU WANT THIS DOG TAKEN TO A "NO KILL SHELTER" IMMEDIATELY AND WANT THE OCCUPANT OF THE MOTOR HOME CITED FOR CRUELTY TO ANIMALS.

L1170376
He is under there.
Thursday, May 29th, 2014
1:55 am
iTunes Ranking Game
Okay this is a fun one. You select "number of plays" in your iTunes Library and find the song you have listened to the most times.

That will be the first song on your list.

Next on the list will be the song with second most plays - but it has to be by a different artist, so if your #1 and #2 most played song are by the same band go down the count until you find a song by someone else.

Continue down the list in this fashion - once an act has a "most-played" song, skip them entirely.

Solo acts are different than the bands (John Lennon / Beatles ... Lionel Richie / Commodores)

If there is a tie among number of plays by the same artist, pick the one you like better at the moment you compile the list.

Post your top ten list - with the number of plays the #1 song has and the #10 song has.

1. THE SMITHS - Bigmouth Strikes Again - 27
2. DREAM SYNDICATE - That's What You Always Say
3. MORRISSEY - Hairdresser On Fire
4. THE BEATLES - Sexy Sadie
5. THE ROLLING STONES - Hang Fire
6. THE CLASH - Jimmy Jazz
7. PIL - Public Image
8. BOB DYLAN - Things Have Changed
9. JOY DIVISION - Heart And Soul
10. LEONARD COHEN - Take This Longing - 16
Sunday, April 20th, 2014
11:12 pm
Easter
My grandmother died on Easter Sunday, 1983. They gave her mouth to mouth and spat the chocolate out in between huffs and puffs of desperate effort. There was a party at her place. She was obese and 72 years old - a bad combo. The family went to shit after that. They fought over the house that they inherited. I have good memories of that house and good memories of my grandmother but the haze of the sugar highs give me few memories of Easter. I was hungover as hell on Easter Morning in 1984 and a storm had come through with a foot of snow in Milwaukee and Mrs. Tyson came downstairs and said "I bet our California boy has never seen snow on Easter Sunday." And my memorable retort is still told in some quarters of that city: "Mrs. Tyson, I've never seen snow on Christmas morning".

We spent every Christmas and Easter at my grandmother's house but not after she died. I only went back once, to see my uncle in 1993. Without the smell of my grandfather's pipe and the squawk of my grandmother's parrot it wasn't even the same house. I still haven't seen snow on Christmas. It isn't a priority.
1:18 am
There then and there
I get it, how it must have seemed to that hippie in 1986 who said it was so different now then it was then and now it is so much later but it maybe hasn't changed as much. That empty brick storefront on Commonwealth was the first place I ever tried sushi. It was 1986 and I went on to eat a lot of sushi.

But that hippie was thinking about 1968 in 1986 and now, well, more time has passed and as much as things change there still seems to be a few molecules of 1968 bouncing around Los Angeles and more from 1986, electrons too. What will be obliterated in the next few years I almost don't care about any more. I got mine. Lots of sushi. Tom paid for that first order. I'd like to see him again and buy him dinner.

The streets and sidewalks, the curbs and the billboards don't hold a candle to the people and you can walk down the streets three decades later and still not come close to the company you kept or the meals you had together. And the missing people create that wistfulness that caused that hippie to realize I saw his pony tail as an anachronism and not a statement against society. It was so different because his friends and enemies were gone, replaced by a different battle to which he was just a spectator and not an affected party, no skin in the game, no sushi on the plate.
Saturday, April 19th, 2014
1:05 am
Thoughts on The Replacements
Everyone is at Coachella seeing the reunited version of The Replacements. Everybody but me. But I am here listening to everything they ever did and you know how nostalgia is the sweetest poison, right, don't you?

I never saw them live and didn't own any of their albums until well into the 1990s but there were friends who when I would visit I would just walk up to the record player or the cassette player or the CD player and put on whatever Replacements record I could find. And it was always sublime and nobody ever walked over and put anything else on.

They were controversial. Every rock critic was rooting them on and they got more press, more worshipful press, than any band I can recall, but they did their own thing and were self-destructive, career-sabotaging, actually often dumb and in hindsight perfectly reasonable; refusing to make videos and then making videos that emphasized anti-stardom (along with the Pixies) they had this same retrograde stubborness, they would not play to the camera - and this is in the day and age when even Bob Dylan was sucking in his pride and lipsynching to the glam camera, MTV being seen as the only way IN and the Replacements shrugging their way out.

Their live shows had all sorts of stories about how fucked up they were. Never sober, often one member too incoherent. And yet their was magic as it was told to me by those who had gone. Like them I was just too fucked up to get it together to dance with Ticketmaster.

And the howls of bitter anger from so many corners when they named that album Let It Be. One of the great shit-stirrings of all time.

But seriously, I recall where I was and who was in the room and how bright the lights were the first time I heard "Alex Chilton". I remember the color of the carpet and the shape of the wine stain nearest my hand as I listened. I've been in L.A. so long that evry damn intersection has a memory and there are streets that call up their music clearly and some blocks in town that I am almost high again on something I drank almost thirty years ago as the memory is more alive and real than the consciousness of the present driving by - and when it is that buzzed, sloppy and soul-consumingly expansive, that thing that is the replacement of stasis is, yes, The Replacements. I'm in love with those songs.
Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
2:05 am
Is George Bush A Better Painter Than Thomas Kinkade?
Unlike every art pundit phoning in an internet review of George Bush’s painting exhibition in Dallas, I actually flew down to the Big D last week to see them for myself. The exhibition is at his presidential library on the SMU campus. I had lunch at Cafe 43 there to start my visit and then paid the sixteen dollar admission price to gain entry.

The exhibit is unpretentiously laid out with Bush’s portraits of world leaders hanging amidst placards recounting the visits Bush had with each leader and vitrines containing gifts these visitors bought along for George and Laura. Perhaps you never thought much about gift giving at the higher levels of power, but a show devoted solely to all this loot would be interesting. It would have been more interesting to look at the paintings in a more conventional art setting - white walls in clean, well lit spaces with unimpeded views of the paintings hung uniformly on a centerline of 57 inches. I desperately wanted to see an indication of the chronological order in which these works were painted; it would have indicated the progress of Bush as a painter. The quality of the works varies greatly. His Dalai Lama portrait is slap-dash terrible while the painting of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is so inventive that it is just too advanced for a novice. And of course, the thoroughly topical masterpiece of the exhibit - Vladimir Putin’s palpably evil stare. Knowing when exactly Bush painted this picture would have added much to the understanding of him developing as a painter. It may have also revealed any prescience in knowing if the Russian dictator was headed toward his recent diabolical expansion.

But the layout of the paintings adopted no pretense of fine art display conventions. They hung on a dark blue wall amidst the clutter of text passages, photographs and all that ornate loot behind plexi display cases. Some were at eye level, others loomed above cases and, as the exhibit progressed, groups of four appeared, the occasional improper glare of track lighting bouncing back.

The whole installation bordered on the tacky when it suddenly reminded me of visits to Thomas Kinkade stores back at the turn of the millennium. Nothing was a better hoot back in the day than a visit to a licensed franchisee gallery showing the giclees of the Kinkade machine. Every work revealed the charming aspirations of middle America turned maudlin by the dramatic addition of a lone spotlight splayed across a simpleton scenic canvas. The dark walls, the heraldic framing, the implied investment value - it was a pageant of every signifier of art with none of the challenges with which great art confronts its viewers and its times. Nothing summed up the soulless center of suburban American culture more - it was of its time.

Rewind the clock fourteen years - George Bush was the president of the United States and the most popular artist in the country was Thomas Kinkade. Both were sentimentalists deemed cloying by their opposition. Each was either oblivious to criticism or disinterested as their styles were strictly about engaging the public without pretense or any accommodations that modernity had ever occurred. In policy and paint-stroke they pined for a yesteryear that was constructed on what their audience saw as lacking in the present day. At the core of each man’s approach was an engineered simplicity to re-establish their audience’s collective agreement about what yesteryear had delivered.

But their personal journeys now seem to be eerily opposite. Thomas Kinkade evolved from an earnest art student to a much-mocked but successful careerist who incorporated Christian beliefs into his art only to see a slide into alcohol tarnish his legacy and cut short his life. Meanwhile George Bush had a silver spoon party boy legacy altered by discovering Christ, sobering up, going on to a much-mocked but two term presidency and is now seen as an earnest painter.

So how does the painting of an American political conservative leader stack up against the most popular conservative American painter since Norman Rockwell?

Kinkade’s signature work invokes a rigid realism that Bush seems to aspire toward. While a painter can be trained, an artist must be born at some point in the process. Kinkade never deviated from the most predictable compositions and leaned heavily on the techniques of nineteenth century classical landscape painters. Bush is far more complex. He has been quoted as approaching his painting teacher with the self-assurance that “there is a Rembrandt in me trying to break out.” He hasn’t gotten there yet but he has developed a consistent visual vocabulary that has more hallmarks of originality than decades worth of Kinkades. Bush paints with an economy of means, rarely building up any paint above the surface. He avoids the ultimate trope of the novice - symmetry. His subjects all have distinctive facial structure where most amateurs plot out faces on a grid. Bush’s limitations are in not mastering the layering that oil paint requires of those seeking realism This is where Kinkade runs circles around the former President. But Kinkade’s mastery of technique ends at technique. Einstein said imagination was more important than knowledge and in art an imaginative application of one’s medium always trumps the systematic conventions of copycats. Thomas Kinkade is a better technical PAINTER than George Bush, but in his inventive quest to develop a visual vocabulary that captures an emotional recollection of the world leaders with whom he bonded, George Bush is already a far superior ARTIST to Thomas Kinkade.

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 12.03.22 PM
(Me at the desk of the recreated Oval Office at the George W. Bush library in Dallas)
Sunday, March 30th, 2014
2:24 pm
Chinatown Aftershock
So there was that 5.1 quake on Friday and maybe that had something to do with the whole Weird Saturday or maybe not but here goes...

I get to the gallery five minutes before Noon and my two interns are there waiting (90% of success is showing up) and I go to unlock the door and this really short Asian dude, kinda street, kinda too clean for the street so maybe gang, he walks up and says "Hey you got a cigarette?", he looks a little loaded. "Nope" and I open the door and we walk in and he follows us in. "Oh its nice and cool in here, ahhhh..." he says as he sits down on one of the couches up front in the gallery. We are kind of looking at each other like, "okay, how can this go wrong..." and he says "I got so sunburned man.." and he passes out.

So okay, I guess we should all just get to work. I hope the guy doesn't snore and I hope is not on the run from some Chinatown Gang shit, that's all, can we have a pleasant Saturday at the art gallery? So a little while of no drama goes by and I step out to get a bag of Fritos. You know, here is a little something, Fritos are vegan in case you need a fix. So I go to the market and get a bag of Fritos and a Shaq soda. The Shaq soda is seriously the greatest thing ever invented in the world of Soda Pop and they are 99 cents, so this is my lunch. I come back to the gallery and the dude is up, He is wearing a white teeshirt and has lots of tattoos on his arms and he is sunburned. And so I am eating my fritos and he is talking and it comes up that he doesn't even know he is in Chinatown. So basically he must have gotten fucked up and ended up here, probably passed out outside and got sunburned in the morning sun.

"So where you from, man?" I ask him knowing that if you ask this wrong, with a scintilla of hostility in your voice, well men have been murdered for saying that question in a tone of voice that isn't sympathetic. SO I ask him this in as non-judgmental tone as possible. He says Gardena. I have my laptop out and say "You on Facebook?" He is, I ask his name.

"Jennifer."

Oh shit, the dude is a chick.

So then I scope her FB page. It becomes terribly apparent right away that this chick is mentally ill. Ranting against court-mandated anti-psychotic medication is a common theme of her posts and the "being raped by demons" theme shows up a lot as well, in between selfies of her tattoos and pretty girlfriends. So sad. Then she asks for a sip of my Shaq soda. Remember that scene in Papillon where the guy with leprosy asks for a puff of Steve McQueen's cigar? What was I to do? I gave her her gulp. A day later nothing appears to have been contagious.

About this time I notice some sketchy homeless guys hanging out front. Now, Chinatown isn't Beverly Hills but the tourist plaza doesn't really pull in the dregs of downtown in such high-concentration numbers. As Jennifer rants aloud about how fucked up Long Beach is these two guys are nursing beers. One is sitting on the steps at the end of Chung King Road, long matted homeless hair looking extra greasy in the mid-day sun. The other, more menacingly, is standing still looking straight ahead. He has a backpack, a heavy duty one that in my experience dealing with the element is probably full of changes of clothing in order to avoid looking like a described suspect once a little number has been pulled.

Then the redshirts came. Someone else had noticed the sketchy side of town looming over here. The two unbathed guys and sunburnt Jennifer can smell cop and the red shirted private security that rules over Chinatown has the same odor. They all got up and skeedaddled. Just then an aftershock from Friday's quake hit. I'm not saying it was inter-related or cosmically timed, I'm just saying that was what happened. Nothing fell off the walls but the weirdness had sure come out of the rafters.
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