Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ray Turner and Long Beach

Recently I wrote about seeking out smaller museums when on the road. Well I have to add the Long Beach Museum of Art to the list. Last weekend I visited Long Beach for the first time. The setting of the museum itself is a winner. It was warm and sunny (definitely not San Francisco in the Summer). The museum sits on a bluff overlooking a beach and the expanse of Long Beach Harbor with the Pacific as a backdrop. It’s a two building museum with an historic Arts & Crafts house and an architecturally appropriate contemporary museum building that houses most of the collection.

The current highlight of the museum is an exhibit called Ray Turner: Population. Long Beach artist Ray Turner has a created a series of portraits of the people of Long Beach. They are all done on thick plates of glass and installed in a grid. Phenomenal painting plus a grid — I was in heaven. If this show was up in San Francisco, I’d have to see it three or four times before it left town. Like so much great painting, photographs just do not do the work justice. The show is only up in Long Beach until September 11th. From there it travels to a museum in the Midwest. This is a work in progress and I hope it can make a stop up in the Bay Area sometime in 2012.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Favorites at the Museum

I’ve been a regular museum visitor all my life. One of my habits is always to “visit” my favorite paintings on each visit. I can’t go into the de Young without saying hello to Elmer Bischoff’s Yellow Lampshade. I have a handful of must sees every time I pop into the de Young. I miss Charles Burchfield’s Spring Flood. They haven’t had it up since the new museum opened. If they don’t want to display it, I would gladly give it a home.

I have a few favorites at pretty much any art museum I regularly visit, even museums beyond the Bay Area. I was just down in Los Angeles at the LACMA. I took the opportunity to introduce my nephew and young cousin to a few of my friends at the museum. Thomas Hart Benton’s The Kentuckian is a perennial favorite.

If I wasn’t an artist, I’d want to be a curator. I would love an opportunity to curate some museum shows. I have a head full of ideas. Maybe one day the world will come to see Tofu’s Favorite Works and then everyone can endlessly analyze why I chose what a chose for the show. But I am getting ahead of myself, I haven’t even designed the coffee mugs for the gift shop.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Happy 75th Birthday Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park celebrates its 75th Anniversary today. I still tend to call it “The Monument” recalling that it was only recently changed from a National Monument to a National Park. I’ve been visiting once or twice a year for nearly 20 years now. And it’s nice to acknowledge the 75th Anniversary, but the place is timeless. So much of my inspiration emanates from Joshua Tree. My artwork would not be the same without Joshua Tree National Park.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art Museum Road Trips

I am a road tripper. I have traveled all over the Western United States on numerous road trips. It’s a style of travel that I enjoy. It gets me to national and state parks as well as many historical sites. My other interest when I travel is art. Unfortunately many travelers only think of art museums when visiting the biggest cities. I know plenty of people who will visit national parks, but they only think about going to art museums when they are in cities like San Francisco, New York, London, etc. When you’re on the road, I think it is important to seek out art museums.

Most of my favorite “road trip” museums are smaller than big city museums. Many of them are located in smaller cities. I would never advise anyone to take a trip to Reno or Boise for the purpose of just going to the art museum. But, I would definitely say you don’t want to miss either museum if you find yourself in Reno or Boise These are both small city museums with solid regional collections. It’s an opportunity to see work by artists that often have been overlooked by big city museums. Smaller museums also get traveling shows that usually feature less well known and emerging artists. The big cities get the blockbusters, but some of the most interesting art I have seen has been in these far flung museums.

Sometimes these small cities are not that small. Many large cities are normally not thought of as destinations to visit art museums. Portland, Phoenix and El Paso all have solid art museums worth taking a look at. Many people pass through El Paso on their art pilgrimages to Marfa, Texas. Marfa is amazing, but it’s a shame more art lovers don’t spend a few hours in the El Paso Museum of Art. It’s also a striking architectural space in a converted Greyhound Bus Terminal.

Often the small museums are in small cities known for their wealthy retirees. Museums in places like Palm Springs, Palm Beach and Santa Barbara all have collections of big name art donated by wealthy local patrons. Because these museums usually only have one piece by a major artist, their collections are often overlooked when large traveling shows are curated. The collections in these smaller museums rarely find their way into art books as well. Santa Barbara has quite a few treasures of this kind, and you’re going to have visit if you want to see paintings like a fantastic George Belllows streetscape.

Finally, many of these small city museums are in cities that are near or even adjacent to bigger cities. Museums located in cities that are overshadowed by bigger cities are usually overlooked. Only the most determined by art travelers seek them out. Tacoma shares an airport with Seattle but few visitors to Seattle take the time to visit Tacoma’s two art museums. Sacramento and San Jose are cities with good art museums that are both overshadowed by San Francisco. And right across the Bay in Oakland is one of the West Coast’s best art museums. Many San Franciscans have never been, even thought it easier to reach the Oakland Museum on public transportation than many San Francisco museums. In Southern California one my very favorites is the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Already overshadowed by the bigger museums in Los Angeles, then when art lovers do trek to Pasadena they are more likely to seek out the better-known museums in Pasadena. Having visited all the museums in Pasadena, it’s the PMCA that has me returning and going out of my way when I am in Southern California.

Below is a list of the museums mentioned above with links to their websites:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why Maps?

Why do you like maps?

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question….

I have always incorporated old maps into my mixed media work. in 2001 I started making pieces that were exclusively made of maps. People are always curious about my “obsession” with maps. I just like maps. Well no, I love them. It’s a simple answer, and I find that anyone else into maps usually just nods with approval.

Below are some details about my relationship with maps.

How long has this been going on?

Even as a child, I was attracted to maps. It’s hard to remember a time when I did not own an atlas. I could spend hours at the library looking at the collection of atlases. Even my interest in history is connected to maps. By the time I was eight I began drawing imaginary maps. I spent hours of leisure time through my teens drawing imaginary maps.

It’s hard to say where this interest in maps originates. I am definitely a spatially oriented person. I have an innate sense of direction yet am terrible when it comes to remembering names and faces. My spatial memory is quite strong. For example, I could draw an accurate floor plan of the apartment I lived in between ages two and four.

There is a natural relationship between maps and travel and I have always been drawn to travel. Before I had the opportunity to extensively travel, I travelled through maps. One might even say I approached maps as works of conceptual art.

What are some of the reasons you like using maps in art?

There are a number of ideas that emerge in my work and there are some basic reasons that I prefer maps as a medium:

  1. I like the “control” of the work when I exclusively use maps as a collage source.
  2. I like using the places on the maps for their symbolic significance. Many times I choose specific places in a piece.
  3. The recycled/repurposing nature of using old maps has a great deal of appeal. Often maps, particularly road maps, can be infused with a great deal of energy from the previous users.
  4. The impermanence of the information on maps fascinates me. Names change, borders move, small towns disappear or get swallowed up by bigger towns, small towns become cities in a matter of a decade or two. And even the physical features are not permanent. Rivers dry up, coasts erode, volcanoes blow their tops. When I use an out-of-date map in a work of art, I am taking that former-reality and giving it a permanent place in time.
  5. There are universal and similar patterns that appear in traditional art throughout the world. I use maps to express the patterns in an alternate medium. Many of the patterns I use in my work are influenced by and can be found in the art of different and diverse cultures around the world. I have been influenced by everything from American Quilts to Japanese Textiles to Native American Rugs. Some of my pieces are non-traditional mandalas.
  6. Working with maps in the way that I do is personally very beneficial. The reaction that I usually hear, is that my works of art are very calming. Personally, my entire creation process can often be a very calming and centering experience for myself. Preparing and cutting then gluing down one small piece after another is, at times, nearly trance inducing.

I continue to create map-based work and am exploring new patterns and configurations. This year I also am working on an ongoing piece called the 2011 Project. Many of the mixed media pieces include maps. The project is also giving me an opportunity to experiment with new media beyond maps including vintage postcards, photos and other ephemera. Examples of my map work can be seen on my site,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Map of San Francisco – 10 Years Later

10 years ago this summer my living room was a mess. A large canvas (50”x40”) was on the easel. The floor was a sea of small bits of map. I was in the middle of creating a new map of San Francisco.

I had decided to render the City in a detailed map where each city block would be represented by a piece of map from someplace else. I wanted the piece to reflect the immigrant nature of our City. To that effect, certain places dominate various parts of the map. For example there are a lot of pieces of China in Chinatown, the Mission contains pieces of Latin America, Bayview has pieces of the U.S. South. True to San Francisco, there are pieces of all sorts of places throughout the map. There are also hidden little messages. For example, the block where the Transamerica Pyramid stands is represented by Cairo. And if you’re a serious history buff, you’ll know where to look for a piece of Sydney to represent the notorious Sydney Ducks.

In 2001, when I was in the middle of this piece, I realized that I never would have undertaken the task had I truly understood the amount of effort that would be involved. Often when I am the most pleased with my results, they are the pieces that that end up being far more involved and a greater challenge than I had anticipated.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Adventure People get their own poster

I've been been working on this series of photos for about a year now. There is a poster available that includes 20 of the images.

The Adventure People were Carter-Era, Fisher-Price toys that looked suspiciously like the Village People. Action figures from the days when toys saved endangered species, joined the Peace Corps and put up solar panels. It was an era when Barbie learned math and GI Joe had a beard. This couple was lost in an East Coast attic since the 1970’s. They finally made it to the Bay Area where they can go hiking in their sensible shoes and have, well, adventures. Trying to figure out MUNI or what’s the difference between a latte and a macchiato, San Francisco has plenty of excitement for these two.