Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Supermarket Panic part 2

Most of my time goes to teaching related things these days.  Although officially I have classes one day per week, in reality I'm working 7 days per week, since the students and administrators contact you with questions and demands that often in this age of the internet.  Today was no exception.

But I do try getting in some art when I can, and in recent days I have devoted time here and there to what I see as my next print, the latest in the supermarket series.  This one was inspired by the current state of supermarkets, which are one of the main businesses still open these days.  As I have often stated in the past, everyone needs to eat, so eventually everyone shows up to shop, thus the universal nature of the supermarket in our culture.  When this current pandemic was first announced, one effect was a wave of panic buying at supermarkets, like what we usually see just before a major storm. Normally, a few days later life resumes and shelves are restocked. This time around, not so much.  Last week on one of my shopping trips, the only product for sale in the paper goods aisle was a large open cardboard box with some individually wrapped rolls of toilet paper inside. Since I was down to my last roll, I decided to grab one.  Meanwhile, toilet paper producers are regularly advertising their products on television, which seems odd to me, since no brand has been available in stores for months.  Some of the ads were the companies claiming that they are still making the stuff, even it never shows up in stores.  (one news story showed some companies are now just selling it directly to customers over the internet)  Then two days ago, my supermarket actually had a shelf with a display of 12 roll packages of toilet paper, an amount that can last for a few months. Didn't know if it would be available the next day, so got one while I could.  Glad it may be coming back, because if the news is accurate, we are about to lose the meat industry.  No shortage of animals, but the meat processing industry, already known for low pay, hazardous and dangerous conditions, and sketchy practices, is now dealing with a wave of contagion, and it may get difficult to find employees to do the job and keep them going.  But that's not my topic with this print.

My inspiration is the overlap between the current state of supermarkets and the post-apocalyptic vision of The Road Warrior and similar movies.  My goal is to keep it from getting too exaggerated, but it's not easy staying away from reality.  In the movie, most of the cars are customized hot rods, with lots of weapons, giant tires, exhaust pipes, etc.  I could easily add such things to my rendering of a shopping cart, but it would make no sense.  Since the carts belong to the stores, there is no incentive for the stores to do this to their own property.  Also common in the movies are old automobile tires or parts of tires to be repurposed as walls and armor, and being tough and resilient, they could be effective this way, but tires are not often seen inside a supermarket.  (maybe the super-Walmart might have them, but I haven't shopped at one of those since I moved back east)  What did make sense was large sheets of thick plexiglass, since as part of this situation, supermarkets started building the equivalent of booths of plexiglass around cashiers.  Employees that monitor who goes in and exits each store are not armed (as in Road Warrior or Soylent Green). but the attitude is similar.  One of my area supermarkets has installed One Way signs in each aisle, I guess part of an effort to keep customers from having to pass each other while shopping.  (of course most customers ignore these and go the way they want to go) In the movie, all kinds of face masks are common, which works out as most businesses either request or require some kind of face covering to enter the establishment. Here's an early paper sketch:

The flat of cans at the bottom of the cart could be soup, or beans, both sometimes missing from supermarket shelves, or could be canned dog food, something people were fighting for the chance to eat in the film.  Maybe I'll keep them generic, let the viewer decide what they are.  Right now the shelves in this early sketch are fairly empty or just have isolated items, which are common sights these days.  Have a lot to be worked out before I'm ready to start sketching on the wood, but this shows some of the things I am thinking about right now.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Around the World with Jim part 23

Weather reports on the news tell me that today is expected to be cloudy, but dry, while tomorrow we can expect significant rain. Also on the news today, the governor has opened the marinas for personal use. (people can take their own boats out, but no party boats yet, leaving fishermen with mixed emotions) And I haven't heard anything new regarding the Studio building. All this points to a day of getting some art made. Spent the morning working on this week's lesson. and in the afternoon took the ride up to Ocean Grove.  As usual, the place was dark and quiet, with very few cars in the lot, but the gate was unlocked and the alarms not on.  Turned on enough lights to find my way to the basement.

Had half a piece of Rives Lightweight (actually a quarter of a full sheet) left from my last visit, enough for a new proof.  Took out my ink can and extracted a knife full of black ink, and worked it a bit to warm it up. Been sitting in my car for more than a week, and the weather is a bit chilly these days. Took a moment to take out my paper, removed the old tape from the block, used my tools to clean up a few undesirable bits, then got ready to ink.

This is the 3rd proof I've taken from this block, so it inked up pretty easily.  Music for this occasion was the short version of Live at Raji's from the Dream Syndicate. I first heard the band on WCWM, the radio station at my college, on my housemate Susan's show. Normally I didn't agree with her tastes, but I liked the song she played (a cover of an old blues tune) and made a note.  A few years later I saw this compact disc in the discount rack of a mall record store (malls used to have lots of record stores) and decided to take a chance, despite not having that one song.  Turned out to be quite excellent and became a frequently played bit of music. The reason I called it the "short version" is because a few decades later the music passed to another company (original label out of business) and was reissued as a 2 disc set, so the show was a lot longer than I had known.  I eventually got that one, too, but I made this copy of the first one I had. The 11 songs were just about right for the work I planned for today.

Printing a block that has already been printed is always easier than a first time block.  Inked it, taped it, and printed it quite efficiently.  The proof looked good.  I cleaned up the block, my ink, and my tools, and got out of there.  Made sure the main doors were locked as I left.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Supermarket Panic

When people ask me why I do supermarket prints, the short answer is that there are so many stories to tell.  My work always starts with narrative, an idea that can be visualized.  When this comes up before a large group (such as in a class, or a gallery talk), I ask if anyone present has worked in a supermarket, and if I get anyone saying yes, ask if they have seen anything weird.  Of course, they have stories of their own.   Oddly, none of my supermarket prints are of things I saw during the time I worked in a supermarket, close to 6 months.  Probably because I was too busy working to see what else was going on, and nothing in my own department lent itself to art.

I do a lot of shopping, though, because like everyone else, I need to eat.  The idea I've been thinking about lately relates to things I've seen recently, and also a conversation from over a decade ago.  The conversation was with John Lustig, one of my fellow grads out in Illinois.  As another artist and educator, he had to deal with the changes in the slide industry.  As I mentioned earlier this month, back in my student years slides were a huge part of the art world.  I saw them in classes I took, used them in classes I taught.  Shot them as an artist, and when I became a teacher, shot them for that and showed them to my students.  Then suddenly they were over.  Film photography disappeared overnight. One day at my community college I was told that if I wanted anything from the photo classroom I should take it.  I rescued two working slide projectors, one went to my current classroom the other went home, where I used it a few weeks ago.  The file cabinets from the slide library were moved into a closet in my classroom and I was invited to help myself before they were gotten rid of.  As students worked on projects, I'd sneak in and go through the disorganized drawers, found a few dozen that are now part of my teaching collection.  The projector I brought home I used to bring back to the school during the semesters I taught Art History I, to show slides I had borrowed from the big slide library at the university, where I was teaching at the same time.  By that point hardly anyone was still using them, and I only borrowed slides that existed in multiple duplicates, but I doubt anyone noticed anyway.  (when I had a summer Art History II class a few years later, couldn't access that big slide library, but it didn't matter, as the department lent me an overhead projector that plugged into the ceiling based projector- projected images right out of the textbook) I used the slide projector in the studio classroom for the classes I taught there, and when I had 3D in that building, I'd borrow it to carry to that classroom, then return it when I was done.

Anyway, around the time slides were eliminated, some wondered about the future of them.  A slide projector is fairly low-tech, a lens, and a strong light bulb, plus the means to rotate the carousel and slide the images in and out.  In recent years, some of my students are mystified by the machine, no idea how such a thing even works.  If the bulb fails, the whole thing is useless until it's replaced, and they can be quite expensive.  At least they were, but I don't even know if they are sold any more, or where.  This led John to speculate (phone conversation of course) that "in the future, artists will be driving around the desert in hot rods, wearing bondage gear, searching for slide projector light bulbs."  Anyone my age would know instantly he was referring to the film, The Road Warrior (technically Mad Max 2, but released in America under the other title as they feared not enough people would know what the Australian import was). The producers shouldn't have been afraid.  Ended up being a huge hit, one of the most influential movies of its era, and made Mel Gibson a star.  The first film had been set as civilization is collapsing, and the main character is a police officer working the highways, unable to save his wife and child from gang violence.  In this sequel, war has brought the collapse of civilization, and gangs have taken over.  Some members may be former police, based on their cars and clothing.  The cars have been souped up with turbochargers and weapons, and on both sides, people often wear elaborate masks, football pads, and sometimes the leather outfits favored by S&M types.  People fight for the chance to eat canned dog food.  The conflict isn't over light bulbs, but the endless search for gasoline to power all these cars.  It became the blueprint for countless post apocalyptic movies.   If you were a sci-fi fan in that era, you knew the film well. And John's age is near mine.

And that brings us to today. Right now a corvid-19 epidemic has mostly shut down our country.  More than a month ago my university shut down all classes, moving to a remote learning system, all on the internet.  Anything that involves meeting in a public place has been gradually banned.  Supermarkets are seen as essential, but they are not what they were. When this all began there was a huge wave of panic buying at supermarkets, like what we sometimes see before an approaching storm, but worse.  All shelves emptied.  Some products have been restocked, but some aren't. A month later, there is still no soap.  Paper products, like toilet paper and paper towels, still non-existent.  Self serve baked goods are gone. And no good reasons are given for these changes.  Yet the news includes stories of farmers dumping collected milk and farm products, no longer needed by restaurants (all closed), but they can't figure out how to package if for stores.  The materials that are used to make toilet paper are in this country, but the manufacturers can't figure out how to make it and get it into stores.  All the empty shelves seem to indicate that there is a demand, potentials for large profits, but the suppliers don't seem interested in selling the products.

Other weird behaviors in stores. Sheets of plexiglass installed all around the cashiers.   Some stores have employees watching the doors, to see who enters and leaves.  Everyone who enters the store is required to wear some kind of mask, even if it is just a homemade thing from cloth.  One way signs directing foot traffic in the aisles.  Haven't seen it myself yet, but the news has had stories of fights breaking out in aisles, completion for certain items.  So many stories.

The idea I have been developing is somewhere between all this.  Likely less extreme than what is actually happening.  There's a lot of overlap between that 30 year old movie and what is going on now.  Nothing drawn yet,  just taking notes, finding source materials, considering options.  Have a piece of wood ready when the time comes.  Assuming I can get into my Studio, I may try to pull a few more decent proofs of the Vesuvio image, and while the ink dries, start doing some sketching.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Vesuvio part 22

Weather around here changes rapidly and at times violently. Today turned out to be a very nice day, though tomorrow they are expecting huge storms and hurricane type winds (in recent days we have had all those things put in appearances), so I thought it a good idea to get this proof done and get a photo of it in the nice light. And since I have everything at home these days, I had a lot of opportunity to work on it. Did some experiments on scrap paper, more work on the actual printed piece, both last night and early today.

After a lot of looking, I decided that the wall was too light.  Some of it had to be darker than the pale wash of New Gamboge I had put down, but not quite as bold as the more full strength version of that color I had tried on the first proof. On a large scrap of the same paper put down another wash, then overlaid it with a wash of burnt sienna.  That would work.  Applied that to my newer proof. Then more colors all around- on some people, some food, the floor, some pale coloring on those background paintings, so that there wasn't any bright white of the paper left in the final version.  And then while I had plenty of daylight and sunshine, got a good photo of it.

I think I am going to declare this piece done. I'm sure that the more I look at it, the more things I'll find that I could improve, but such is the fate of all artists.  Meanwhile, I think it's what I want.   Came up with the official title, Around the World with Jim.  After all, food was a big influence here, and I show the restaurant's two best known dishes- the "Vesuvio Around the World Special" pizza, and their "Our Famous Jim Salad." The combination made for a fine meal.

Looking at the piece does make me miss this place.  I miss the very tasty food.  I miss their period decoration, unchanged over the decades. And I miss the idea of people being able to go to a crowded place and get something to eat.  Probably someday (the day keeps getting pushed further and further away) we'll be able to do things in public again, and at least in this area there are still places that serve good pizza (take out only).  I don't know if there are any places left that look like Vesuvio did.  At least I have the art.  This one will serve as the BAT, and when I can I'll go pull another proof and color that to match this one.  Won't be tomorrow (to wet and windy predicted), and after that who knows what we'll be allowed to do?

Today is Easter, a holiday that often gets people together for family celebrations, but these days not so much.  Heard my brother stopped by my parent's house today, children rang the doorbell, then ran away.  Easter candy for the kids was put on the steps so they could come back and collect it after my parents were safe back inside.  I was down there briefly to finish the mowing of their lawn (batteries that were used up yesterday now recharged, taking advantage of the nice weather).  While I was there, got a call from him on my cell, an offer of their excess holiday food, so we'll have to work out an exchange tomorrow.  While I was mowing yesterday, my mother gave me a gift of what she's not ready to eat with me today, a box of manicotti from Pastosa, a specialty store that opened in this area recently.  (package says they started in Brooklyn) Make a tasty filling for their pastas and stuff them nice and full.  So after my lawn mowing was done today, back home for a feast.  

I had made a batch of sauce this morning, so it was just a matter of assembling the parts, putting it in the oven for about 20 minutes, adding some freshly grated cheese.  As tasty as I expected. Did I go back and get a third one- of course I did.  And I still have some left for tomorrow.  Making art on Easter is not a given, but it has happened before.  I documented one such case as part of my Fourth of July series.  The open blow slot for the beginner glass blowing class was on Sundays, so I gave up an invitation to a dinner at someone's house to use the time, which resulted in one of my best glass pieces.  


Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Vesuvio part 21

TV is full of news these days, and news is about the pandemic, and it's generally not good news. One effect is to get me up and out of the house, as there is a fear that the next time I need to do something there may be some new regulation or policy that doesn't allow it. A few days ago we got an mass email from Nichole and as usual I had no idea what it meant for me, so we had an email exchange and I got some clarity.  Essentially, no change for me.  Nothing going on in the building, but my keys will still get me access during the day.  She's seeking information about possible financial restitution (for her and for us residents), and if it's out there we'll take it, but I'm not counting on anything.  Besides, that's up to Molly to deal with- she's the lease holder.

A call came in this morning and I didn't recognize the number, so I didn't answer. A voice mail was left, so I decided to listen to that- might be important. And it kind of was, Janet from our department office, starting to put together the fall schedule, wanting to know if I can work the same thing again. I just sent her my updated CV yesterday; maybe this is related.  Decided to hold off on calling her back until after I checked for email, and got on with my day.

Studio business.  Not to work on a new print- still have a lot to do at home.  However, it is still my best place to use for photography.  Only a few cars in the lot and the building looked pretty dark. What I expected.  Got in and went to my basement space.

One task was to get a good shot of the latest status of my Vesuvio print. Working at home in recent days, more color has been added.  Not quite done yet, but progress is being made.  Here's where it's at right now-

The pizza has gotten a few layers, most of the clothing and hair has been worked out.  Added a little tone to the tabletops to move them away from the white of the paper.  But the people aren't quite done, the floor and wall paintings aren't started yet, and no doubt some touch up will be required.  So far I like what I see.

Another task was to take a photo for the next class lesson. Two of the next 3 assignments start with assigned topics, from randomly generated phrases.  This fits in with some traditions in art, and normally we do it in the classroom

but that's not happening this semester, so I'll have to send them by email, probably over the next few days, since I am due to send out another instruction mail.  So instead of picking from hats themselves,  I'll send them several options, and they can choose which ones to use for what, and discard the rest. The words are all taken from headlines in the New York Times, and in theory all should be known to college students, but I expect some will need to look them up, knowing how these students are. They will have time to think about it- no class this week with an Easter break.

The other thing I wanted to do was pick up something.  Another thing in the news lately is face masks. Are they a rule, or a suggestion? News is pretty vague right now.  It is known that where they are needed most, the medical profession, there aren't near enough available. When my supermarket switched form A&P to Acme, I had to start wearing one in the deli, ostensibly to protect people from my mustache.  (more hair in my eyebrows than above my lip, but whatever)  Are they more for the wearer or the people around them?  Answers are still vague.  A lot of people are walking around with bandanas on their faces, like robbers in an old western.  Been keeping an old Boy Scout neckerchief in my pocket when I go to the store, but so far no one has told me to put something on, so I haven't.  And I haven't found any of my old deli ones.  One thing I knew I had in my Studio was the mask I used to wear when I had to mix up batches of acid (water plus Nitric Acid) for etching classes.

This is a serious professional mask, and would likely scare the wits out of the other shoppers in the supermarket (with their bandanas and such), so for now I'll keep it at home, but if it's needed, I'm glad I have it.

After lunch I called Janet at home (the number she left me) and confirmed that I can work my same schedule again.  Of course, we have no guarantees that there is a fall semester right now, but we are all hoping.  And now I am pencilled in.  She confirmed that she had received my updated CV.  Don't know if that's why this happened, but it probably didn't hurt.

Monday, April 06, 2020

School Goes On

Seems like the thing that takes most of my time these days is things related to my college job. In recent days I have graded and replied to dozens of papers and artworks.  But now it's been about 24 hours since I have received anything from a student.  Many still owe work, so perhaps this is because due to fluke in the calendar, we have no class scheduled for this week.  But school goes on.  One email that came in late last week was from out department secretary, a request from the Dean for an updated CV. I imagine this is because the dean moved out of our building years ago, halfway across campus, and probably has no idea who we are and what we do. I've had my current computer almost as long as I have been there, which means I have almost every document that I have produced related to my job there.  Dug it up, and saw that it was produced several years ago.  I guess it was due for an update.  So I spent a good bit of today doing just that.  I had started a few days ago, finding dates for material that happened since the last one, making notes.  There have been several shows worth reporting, and several new classes taught.  The one I sent last time was a 3 page CV, and I didn't want to go longer than that, so for every new line I added, I had to find something to remove.  Looked for places mentioned elsewhere, or places of lesser importance. Exported it as a PDF, and sent it to the office.  If they need more, they can let me know.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Vesuvio part 20

Been working from home a lot lately.  The demands of online teaching are heavy- even today I had to answer several school related emails.  Brought home all my proofs from the current project, and all my watercolor materials, just in case I'm not allowed back into my space.  So far so good, but it's best to be prepared.

When I have time, I advance the coloring process a little.  I'm getting information from my experimental proof, but some is being figured out as I go,  a gradual process as I try to keep the balance in the piece.  While the sun was out today I carried my drawing board downstairs and got a picture.

Still has a long way to go, but it's starting to come together.  That this is a better printing than the first proof helps, and so far none of the color choices are bad.  It occurred to me that this print is very much a fantasy.  First because the place closed a few years ago, and the interior completely replaced in what followed.  But also because around here you can't eat in restaurants any more.  Some have take out, but going out to eat pizza, that doesn't happen any more.  I would have done this piece anyway, but now it has a new connotation.

By the way, that wall is a pale wash of a color my tube calls New Gamboge.  Was there an old gamboge?  There may be a bad virus out there, but we have electricity and an working internet, so answers are out there too.  The original gamboge was derived from a plant sap found in certain asian trees (same root word that gave us "Cambodia"), and is the color used in traditional Buddhist robes.  Natural version can range from mustardy to saffron color. This "new" one is derived from a nickel compound and is closer to the saffron effect, but in pure form was too intense for this piece.  So far this pale wash is working for me, but if I need more color, I have the tube.

Thursday, April 02, 2020


One way that life has changed for artists since I got started in this field is the use of slides, 35 mm transparencies.  Decades ago, they were a necessity and everywhere.  Now they are completely gone. We adapt.

In my student days they were commonly used in classrooms, in studio classes professors showed them to show art examples. In art history classes, it's how we saw the art.  Everyone could see it at once.  We also learned how to shoot slides of our own artwork.  Don't recall it getting covered in a class, just one of those things you picked up.  Slides were how you sent work to galleries, applied to shows, applied to graduate schools or for jobs. When I started teaching, I started shooting slides of work by my students, something I would need when applying for other teaching jobs, plus useful for teaching the classes I had.  When I finished my last degree, the internet had just been invented and wasn't universal yet.

Besides the school needs, slides were the way artists sent work to galleries, applied for fellowships, entered juried shows, except for those places who insisted on seeing the actual work itself. inconvenient if you live far away.  When I started my current college job, slides were still the standard. Showed them in my classes, shot them of my students' works. At my university, we had an extensive slide library, and at busy times slide projectors had to be reserved.  I didn't even own a digital camera- very expensive.  At one of my jobs they invested in one to make photo ID's, cost several hundred dollars, so they kept it locked up.

Then all that changed.  Digital photography got much cheaper. And film kind of disappeared. Kodak pretty much got out of the business.  Colleges dropped their traditional photography classes, despite still begin popular. A lot of professional photographers closed their shops- no more business.

Meanwhile, I had accumulated a considerable collection of slides- historical, and student work, plus my own work.  I was still shooting student work in slide format for showing, jobs, etc.  One service provided by the slide librarian at my university was to make slides of artworks (shot from books, etc), and I got a bunch made over the years,  things I'd want students to see.  I also got a digital camera, so I could use the internet as part of my teaching.

Now, the slide librarian has been let go, and while the slide library is still there, the room is mostly used to hold computer and DVD carts.  I still use slides in my classes, still the easiest way to show a whole class something. Often my current students look at it with confusion, wondering how such a thing works.  Of course, when I asked them recently how a camera works, none could tell me.  They use them all the time but have no curiosity about how it happens.  Very worrisome.

Right now we have the problem that faculty and students are banned from coming to campus, so all classes are being taught online, so slides are not possible.  For my class this week I have slides that demonstrate the idea quite well, but I can't show them. What to do? Actually I figured this out years ago, when I had student artwork on slides and needed to show it on the class blog.  Project the slide, take a digital photo of the projection, and now I have a digital photo of the artwork.  Not the clearest, but suitable for my needs.  So I did that last night, taking advantage of the dark in my apartment, taking digital photos of a bunch of Mondrian slides I have, putting them on the site I am teaching from on Friday.  I'd rather be there in person, but this is where we are at these days.  Changes occur, we adapt.