MSB brainstorming

25 September 2014

Philip Ursprung Laudatio für Mark Staff Brandl 2013

Laudation, Vernissagerede, von Prof Dr Philip Ursprung zur Painting-Installation Ausstellung "My Metaphor(m)" in (28 February - 18 April) 2013 in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zürich. Speech by Prof Dr Philip Ursprung for the Opening Reception of the painting-installation exhibition "My Metaphor(m)" in (28 February - 18 April) 2013 at the Jedlitschka Gallery in Zurich Switzerland. In German. Auf Deutsch.

I was very lucky and happy to have Dr Philip Ursprung, the best art historian in Europe as my PhD prof/advisor ("Doktorvater" in Deutsch) and to get him later to speak at my opening (he never does that as he is so busy). And he was very amusing! Opening Reception speech, Vernissage Laudatio, in German, auf Deutsch. A short film excerpt by Axel Kirchhoff.

The exhibition is documented here.

24 August 2014

Gratefulness fb Challenge

I was challenged by my cousin, Dr Michael Brandl, in a facebook chain. He picked me as one of his choices to do as he had jus done (and very interestingly): list and explain three things for which they are grateful (or positive thoughts) for the next 5 days. I decided, at the encouragement of Alexandra Samios Nelson, to post it here too, in order to refer to it easily again in the future!

Day 1. The first three things I am grateful for:

1) Art. Of course. Here, fine art. The interest and technical drive and first education I inherited and got from my Dad. The calling came to me later, at 13 I gave myself fully to art. Although I have done lots of stuff on the side, even becoming an art historian and theoretician of art, that was and is all for additional fun. i do it ail as, and see myself as an artist. And have never wavered. I love it!

2) The experience(s) of living in foreign cultures. Not just visiting, living. I am 99% of the time in places I am not "from," living in Europe, having lived in the Caribbean, etc., --- being often in other parts of the world, seldom in Chicago, where I am from. It is a great eye-opening experience. One is often treated according to local clichés of what an American is, a Midwesterner, a Swiss (if they take me for that), etc. Both positive but usually negative stereotypes that have little to do with oneself. So as a white American man, it gives a bit of the feel of what it is to be a minority, a foreigner, etc,. to be subjected to stereotype-based judgment. It has made me a much better human, made me try to do this myself as little as possible. Although I am from the workingclass, and thus not privileged, I could not notice it so clearly and see the otherside if I did not constantly have these experience. Living in other cultures and in other languages is thrilling in other ways too.

3a) African-American Culture. The Blues and what grew out of them, especially, like Rock. But also African-American Christianity. They both often gave me hope when I had lost all, when I was younger especially. The Blues and all its interaction, Rock, Jazz, Soul etc. gives me wonderful models for my “creole” approach to art. I owe that community tons, as do we all.
3b) Jewish-American Culture. Verrrry similar. Most of all, their great creativity in Sequential Art, Comics, during my youth! The word, the book, storytelling, the image. It is much of the basis of my aesthetic. And seeing myself as a Christian, I did a lot of research into its basis in Judism, in what Jesus would have believed, not just what he was later made into. This I found very interesting and eye-opening and inspiring.

Day 2 of gratefulness. I was challenged by my cousin, Dr Michael Brandl, in a facebook chain: list and explain three things for which I am grateful (or positive thoughts) for the next 5 days. I did 1 - 3 last time. Now 4 - 6.

4) I am extremely grateful for, to, and in love with my wife Cornelia. We have been together 27 years, married 25. I feel gifted. After having made a career of making really stupid choices in partners, screwing things up, or getting screwed over, and then repeatedly doing the heart-of-stone thing and having truckloads of sexual escapades, I hardly deserved the gift of her presence in my life. As Frank Zappa said, true love is not the answer or end as much as it is the beginning and basis of everything else. beyond love and emotional and intellectual support beyond what I have ever experienced, I also greatly appreciate what she does with her life, such as her profession for the last several decades of building, fixing, organizing social and health programs. She achieves in a very real way many of the things I value, but only point at with art. Smart, pretty, hilariously amusing, strong, independent. I love her!

5) My animals; right now that is two shelter dogs (each found on the street in Spain and then in shelters in Switzerland), River and Ola, and a cat rescued from starving, being left behind in an abandoned "hoarders" house, Babette, and a cat from a shelter, Emma. And all the earlier ones. Bimbo, my first dog buddy, Mousie my first cat, then Buddy and Gina, two dogs, Mosquito, Nuris, Lil Blackie, Toby, Grisu, all wonderful cats. My life is so enriched by having them share it. I learn continually and appreciate them. I love giving them a great life.

6) My two countries, The USA and Switzerland. Both for their positive elements and what I can learn from their negative elements.

America: (esp the Midwest) independence, self-reliance, straightforwardness, how to work, opportunity to become an artist; Esp. Chicago: starting me off, becoming the place I really feel at home. Its music and literature. New York being such cultural wonder. Inspirational. My friends and family from their. Producing people like Martin Luther King and Gene Colan. A large part of my joy in America I described in my gratefulness in 3 a and b above (gratefulness for our "mongrel" culture!)

Switzerland: teaching me how it really IS possible to have a great social, supportive society that looks after its weakest as well as strongest and how to have essentially free education for all, and still be a hardworking place that supports individual achievement. How to run a government based on consensus and referendum. Even the conservatives are social and green. As close to a real democracy as it gets to nowadays. The value of treasuring nature.
The Appenticeship system, the best on earth --- not every one has the college-or-nothing choice. Something that has largely disappeared since the 50s elsewhere.
The negatives ... but I have learned there too.
America: arrogance internationally, destroying friendships there; becoming one of THE most rightwing-propagandized nations on earth while believing (as they are told) the opposite --- the US has largely drunk the Goebbels's Kool-Aid. Racism. Switzerland: smugness; addiction to consensus (which is good in politics but horrendous for art and culture); hidden racism (foreigners, particularly asylum seekers, are accepted more or less --- and the Swiss pride themselves on this --- yet usually only when they are submissive and accept a secondary-citizen status, and this most Swiss deny).

In both countries, destroying the middleclass slowly while worshipping wealth too much and without enough day-to-day Lebensfreude!

But, in general, I love them both and would defend them both, and try my best to do my little part to preserve what is good and help progressive cause to improve what is not! I am thankful to be both American and Swiss.

Day 3 of gratefulness. I was challenged by my cousin, Dr Michael Brandl, in a facebook chain: list and explain three things for which I am grateful (or positive thoughts) for the next 5 days. I did 1 - 3 and 4 - 6 already. Now 7- 9.

7) I am grateful for my friends, those who have stuck by me and believed in me even when I probably did not deserve it, or was doing everything to be a pain, or when I was making yet another of my crazy changes. Like Thomas Emil Homerin since age 10, Verena Koller since about 1988, Daniel Ammann by inspirational and best intellectual partner for about 26 years, and so many more.

8) My Students. I never intended to be a teacher, and although I only do it part-time, being so completely an artist my whole life. I do not think I am much of a "real" teacher, but I work hard to be a good influence, to get people excited about art, art history, and just pursuing knowledge. And to become themselves, not someone else, to build their identity by following their own star, not mine, not the consensus, not whatever. And so many have indeed done that and do wonderful things. perhaps because I do not have my own children, but they are all my "kids" and I love to see them develop and do great. You see many of them on my facebook page. As a matter of fact, my teachers too, like Dr Philip Ursprung in art history, Dr Clemens Müller in Latin, and others.

9) My acquaintances. Those who are not close friends, but yet enrich my life so much. An artist spends way too much time alone, alternating with superficial meetings with people in openings and so on. Acquaintances who truly interest you, and come from the "rest" of life, not only ones chosen field(s) or profession. Like Edy the retired Master Gardener, the Swiss man living near me, who is the greatest lover of animals and nature, with whom I can discuss in German so many things other than art! 

Day 4 of gratefulness. I was challenged by my cousin, Dr Michael Brandl, in a facebook chain: list and explain three things for which I am grateful (or positive thoughts) for the next 5 days. I did 1 - 3, 4 - 6, and 7- 9 already. Now 10-12.

10) I am grateful for my parents. Although there were difficulties in our relationship. From my Dad, Earl Brandl, I inherited my art ability and love of art. He also gave me all my initial instruction. Where he got it from no one knows. Self-driven. He had a very difficult life.  Largely rampant poverty while growing up in the Great Depression, due to which he had to work full time from the age of 11. He told me he had never had enough to eat until he was in the Navy in WWII. Thus, he got his education from self-study, books. He had several art-related careers: sign painter, display man (now called Polydesigner, before that visual mechandizing, etc.), graphic designer, and interior architect. He loved sign painting most of all, and would have loved the opportunity to do more fine art. I forgive him his escapist alcoholism, and hope he, looking down from the afterlife, forgives me my rebellious spoiledness.

My Mom, Ruth Brandl. She was also talented at art, but mostly I got from her the love of knowledge and reading, reading, reading. She also built in me the double-edged sword of ambition. My parents were inverted from the stereotype. My Dad was the nurturing one, my Mom the driving one. She and my Dad were great parents alone, but had a bad marriage, thus were not good together. I forgive her for her for her almost destroying my hopes with her pressure for me to be a medical doctor and her poisoning of my mind against my Dad, often. I hope she forgives me for being so abstinent and becoming something she now supports but could not even imagine.

11) My sister Marcia. She was such a sweet little girl and grew up in the difficult part of my parents relationship, and my relationship with them. Far more difficult than I had had as a very young child. She continued and continues to love and support all of us emotionally. Her strength is amazing, even if tinged with a Weltschmerz.

12) Historians. Especially as they have now become better and better authors! Particularly the new breed of authors-writing-art history has enlivened the field. On the other hand, many academic art historians have gone off the deep end into unreadable, cliched composites of badly digested "Theory" --- but that is a discussion for another time. Real historians allow us to draw conclusions and make analogies to work on our own times, putting everything into perspective and showing us that there is a landscape of possibilities far beyond those sophistically hammered into us in the minute present

Day 5 of gratefulness. The closing shot. I was challenged by my cousin, Dr Michael Brandl, in a facebook chain: list and explain three things for which I am grateful (or positive thoughts) for the next 5 days. I did 1 - 3, 4 - 6, 7- 9, 10-12, now 13-15.

13) Musicians. Especially my RocknRoll Friends, like Brad Elvis and Chloe Orwell. I grew up with them and Rock, Blues, Soul were along with comics and painting the first things I really remember speaking to my innermost being. I remember it well at age 11. I said --- due to them --- that I wanted to become an artist. How that was linked was not clear to me, but now I see it was through a life of courting creativity and expression. Thus my "inspirational" self-portrait paintings with Lennon as a Beatle, Superman, Gene Colan, etc. My Mount Rushmore. They continue to inspire me, including (but not limited to) Mike Isenberg, Thomas Walker, new Music composers like Duncan Youngerman, Matthew Swyers, and on and on. I turn most of my interests into careers, into subjects of intense intellectual attack. The Leonardo in me, I guess. NOT music. It hits me emotionally and I am an appreciator of it, not a professional. And I love it that way.

14) Podcasts. A new development I LOVE. I have always enjoyed radio more than TV or film, e.g. --- I can listen and learn in the car, in the studio while painting. At my choice of time, my subjects. From The Brain Science Podcast, to Bad at Sports, to Big Picture Science, to Archaeology Channel, to Philosophy Bites and on and on.  The keep me inspired, egg me on. A great new media development. 

15) Sequential Art (i.e. Comics). although it has been clear that I love comics from the art and culture references above, I call it out on its own here. My first great inspiration to art after my father's sign painting and just before fine art painting. It has, as a medium, only begun to reach its possibilities at the present, but I love it in all its forms. My great hero (and I am not afraid of that word) is Gene Colan. Who I could, and do, go on and on about at every opportunity. My favorite living philosopher, David Carrier sees comics as an inherently impure entity; I would amplify this, claiming that comics offer a positively anti-purist emancipation from narrow formalist reductivism. This is a trait to applaud and emulate in the fine arts in order to construct a new road out of the cul-de-sac of Late and Post-Modernism. Objections to comics are usually objections to the form’s impurity. "Breaking down seemingly essential boundaries is often thought to be unnatural, and so morally pernicious." Comics are radically technically non-exclusive, even expansive. The in-betweenness of comics has important social, psychological, even ethical implications — as well as historical-philosophical ones
Comics have greatly influenced me: My work is something of a "mongrel" or "creole" combination of installation, painting and comics.

The end of the challenge!


16 July 2014

Brandl's Drawer of 45s

Here are some quick photos of my art object of 2011, Drawer of 45s. It is a drawer with a painting in enamel, oil and acrylic on canvas and several additional cut-out paintings in enamel, oil and acrylic on cardboard. They mimic old 45 single records. Each is an homage to various people and interests of mine; the labels are additionally allusions to various actual record labels and a couple sleeves.

The whole drawer:

The 45 presaging the creation of my actual Theme Song "Shut Up and Paint" by the Handcuffs.

The 45 for Marcel duchamp's single musical composition:

An imaginary sleeve for music from or about Whorl Earl (tm), a character I up who appears in several of my paintings:

The 45 and sleeve for Kurt Schwitters, Merzmusik, an Urblues instead of an Ursonata:

Just a hint of an imaginary sleeve for something about Vlies und Vlügel, or Fleece and Flock, both (tm), characters from a comic by Th Emil Homerin and I of several years ago. Something we did just for fun.

A 45 for a favorite quotation of mine, by St. Augustine about hope:

An imaginary sleeve for how I conceive of much of my art, "Big Beat Art." There was an actual LP in the 60s similar to this for Big Beat music in France, which is what we Americans call "British Invasion" rock:

A 45 with another of critical outcries in despair over the contemporary artworld:

A 45 as an homage to fellow artist H.R. Fricker, a mail/correspondence/networker/Fluxus artist living near me in Switzerland:

A 45 with a declaration of love for Cornelia. The ability to write real love songs is something I envy musicians:

A 45 riffing on the title of the first real concept album, with the name of my house in Switzerland (yes, it has a name "Im Höckli") and my then pets, with an image of River:

 A 45 riffing on Chess records, written in Swissgerman form, and my intense relationship to vernacular culture, which is a relationship largely is absent in artists in the Germanophone world:

A 45 with label based on the visuals of one of the earliest known records in Switzerland. In Latin and German, critiquing the problem of Sophistry, something I often berate:

A 45 sleeve for my pals the great Rockers the Handcuffs. Imaginary 60s style, or so:

You know the "Meet the Beatles" album, I'm certain. Well here's a "Meet Brandl" 45 sleeve. Top left me about now, top 2nd from left me in the 80s, top right me in the 70s/late 60s, bottom, me a wee lad, as Zorro which was often then.

A 45 for the famous 4' 33" of silence piece by John Cage. I always fantasized performing it myself with a Garage Rock Band, like The Outsiders, whose hit "Time Won't Let Me" was fabulous. John is seen with his cat. i was at his 70th birthday party on a boat on Lake Michigan and talked to him. We talked about art and music, but mostly cats and mushroom hunting. The others references are to his an my interest in Zen. A friend of mine, composer Kyle Gann (with whom I collaborated on an installation back in the 80s in Chicago) wrote a great book about that Cage piece.

A sleeve for a project freind and filmmaker Stephen Krag and I still may realize someday, Art Tryst (tm):

A 45 for an imaginary single by a long-time friend of mine, a Blues fanatic, Jeff Timian:

A 45 making a visual allusion to the Capitol single "I Want to Hold Your hand," the first music I ever bought at the age of about 11. It changed my life. I made it a single here for some imaginary music based on my PhD dissertation:

And finally, a 45 of an imaginary Protest/Blues song "Innerhalb der Schweiz mit den Chicago Blues Schon Wieder,"something like "Stuck Inside of Switzerland with Chicago Blues Again." An obvious riff on Bob Dylan, and his name is on it translated in meaning and form to "Röbi Flusssohn," "Bob River-son", which is what 'Dylan' means:

My painting-object-usually-presented-as-an-installation thing. Based on a drawer of 45s.

15 July 2014

Art History: First, the Time-Lines, by Mark Staff Brandl

While I am primarily a visual artist, a painter and maker of what I call painting-installations, I am also an art historian (Ph.D. in art history and metaphor theory at the University of Zurich). Nevertheless, I have been known to criticize art history as it is taught. My criticism of the typical timeline models can be found here 

I will discuss my own “Braided Rope Model” (created together with John Perreault) in detail in the future. Right this moment, I would like to make certain that we are all on the same page, after a fashion, when discussing or using art history here on the Metaphor and Art website. 

Thus, I am simply presenting my “Quicky Art History Times” to be used as reference. The first page is the entire history of art from Prehistoric through now, Postmodern. In a grossly superficial fashion, of course, to fit on one page. the second sheet is a zoom-in close-up of the entry “Modernism” alone. The third a zoom-in to “Postmodernism.” This might indeed be the most interesting to many readers and viewers, as there are hardly any books on the entirety of this subject, and those that do discuss it are generally highly selective, limited and indeed often propagandistic attempts at promoting one single contemporary style, usually Neo-Conceptualism. The best book is Irving Sandler’s Art of the Postmodern Era, yet it is huge, 636 pages, and expensive; a book essentially for other art historians.
I lived through this era. I was doing my BFA in Late Modernism, began my art career and MA in beginning Postmodernism, finished my Ph.D. in the continuing Postmodernism — and I continue until now, what I would like to hope is Late Postmodernism. A note on the differences between these two eras: 

I, and most international art historians, see Modernism in visual art as roughly, very roughly, from the 1830s to 1979 (yet actually still continuing now, as some major practitioners are still alive and active, — indeed all periods and epochs always overlap anyway ). The (sub-)era known as Postmodernism began roughly 1970–79 or 80. Philosophical and literary proto- and prefigurations began in the 60s, yet there are always earlier precursory to be found for any situation, which is why we have the prefixes ‘pre-’ and ‘proto-’ in our languages. 

This era (from, very roughly, 1979/80 till now, as stated), is a transitional period very similar to, on the one hand, the transitional period now called Mannerism after the Renaissance and, on the other, the transitional period called Academicism shortly before Modernism began. (I have discussed this similarity here: “Mannerism is Now”). 

Postmodernism overlaps Late Modernism, yet is clearly AFTER Modernism in several philosophical, historical and visual ways. Thus, literally “Post-Modern,” generally trendily elided to Postmodernism in emulation of French. Modernism, especially in its the “Late” form, is progressively more reductive. Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Op, Kinetic, Minimalism, arte povera, Land Art and especially Conceptualism are all clearly Modernist in their goals and approaches, albeit in vastly differing fashions — this gets us to 1979. Postmodernism began (quite hopefully I might add) with architecture and Feminist art. Charles Jencks established the word in the visual arts, especially architecture, in a series of books from about 1977 onward, especially the artist-read favorite What is Post-Modernism? (The term had long had vogue in literary theory, however.) At the same time, the first wave of Feminist artists began introducing hard-hitting, clear, even heavy-handed content. We beginning artists clearly saw that this was “not” or ”after” Modernism in someway. All of this and more lead to the beginning of Postmodernism taking over what until then had simply been termed pluralism. How Post-Modernism later congealed into a permanent state of academic Neo-Conceptualism as it came under the influence of trendy French Poststructuralism and other literary theory, the power-grab in art schools of the at-that-point out-of-power Conceptualist professors, the demise of art criticism and the rise of the art curator, is another story. Soon to be told.
And do not forget: Yes history repeats, after a fashion. But it is primarily a tool for thought. Everything is always new, when it is personalized and arises out of real, lived experience in the time and culture of the creator. One gets a historical perspective, to an extent, by using history as a instrument for contemplation and making analogies. Thus once again, Mark G. Taber and my addiction to metaphor as a thought process.

History is not a limitation unless you make it so. We need this form of conversational, perhaps even argumentative, homage AND transgression. The relations among cultural aspects can be seen as not simply oedipally belligerent, but not as untroubled either: a model which presents the possibility of a productive transmission of culture, grounded in modes of vernacular interchange. This authorizes, in a sense, successors who also alter the traditions without being obliged to symbolically slay them. This is not a burden of tradition — when you examine the world of jazz you will find a culture and a model that has been, and remains a hot bed of innovation. Rock carried that on in open loud passion and interracial influence. Hip-hop now continues cross-generational cultural transmission by providing a new lyric to older tunes, quite literally. We in the visual arts can do likewise with our cultures. 

In my opinion, as an artist, one can do whatever arises out of the true experiences of your own background. Your sources must be personal and “earned.” Cognitive metaphor theory proffers a mode of thinking which can be applied to the analysis and creation of art, while accentuating the efforts of the makers of these objects. After the object-only orientation of Formalism, after the medium-only focus of Deconstruction, this may lead to a feeling of liberation, of agency. Nevertheless, my metaphor(m) is a theory which brings with it a new sense of the the past. Whereas the Formalist Modernists felt free from the past and the Deconstructivist Postmodernists are endlessly tangled in an inescapable present, authors and artists as viewed through my cognitive metaphor theory are directly responsible for fashioning their own tropes through the processes of extension, elaboration, composition and/or questioning. Once again, more about this will arise in future articles on this website. 

Artists in particular should learn art history. Such knowledge does not give rise to fear, to a burden of the past, as is frequently fretted (particularly by Europeans), but rather the opposite. One has more of a burden of the past when one knows little to nothing of history. A vaguely threatening cloud hangs over your thoughts and your work. When you know it you can respect it by wrestling with it. Artists develop their own, perhaps idiosyncratic, inheritance by knowingly, actively re-writing the timeline. Creators are able to discover their preferred precursors, find their own artistic fathers (and fortunately, ever increasingly, mothers). The friendship and conversation with the dead that Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset saw in history allows creators to find as much sustenance in Goya as in their contemporaries. Yet such conversance also imparts opportunities for antithetical, critical historical and cultural awareness.

I think, as well, that too many people fixate on the term “Postmodern,” thinking that by denying it, or rewriting history in some way, they can eliminate it. The Big Question we should be pondering is how to mature, to get “healthier” to use Donald Kuspit’s term. How to use art history as a tool for making analogies to help us get onwards to a situation beyond the current malaise of disintegrating academicism. 

The overview I have illustrated below is the most, logical and international view. The best for reference and learning; it is correct, yet vastly limited. We do not need to ignore history but to expand it (see my critique and braid theory once again).
Please use these charts. They are the foundational reference in all the art historical discussions on this site