It is unfortunate that Jerde’s picturesque, ersatz, façade-driven shopping centers (loosely rooted in Robert Venturi / Denise Scott Brown’s “Main Street is almost alright” theory —Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966) have so successfully altered both suburban and urban commercial American architecture, that the general public fails to note a complete substitution for real place, real time, and actual communal experience. So complete is the influence of this ubiquitous falseness, it barely matters which shopping center is or isn’t a Jerde product. No reason to hate these locations, but an hour of targeted shopping is long enough for me. I’ve worked as a grip at Universal Studios several times; the Studio is amazing (probably not by design) from any number of angles, yet the adjacent Universal CityWalk is nothing more than a pleasant theme park. I was amused –certainly not annoyed– when a open trailer contraption loaded with tourists observed me eating my light lunch on a pile of 2″ X 8″s during one of those work gigs. There are superior alternatives to the Jerde retail commerce model. Genuine vitality flows naturally from real places offering real experience, including the mundane or serene. Give me a “serious” dead mall (with stores where I want to buy goods) over a Jerde-inspired concoction any day.
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Letter to the Editor: Bacon’s Staying Power
[Published February 25, 1990, Los Angeles Times]
Regarding William Wilson’s Feb. 11 review of the Francis Bacon exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
I admit to snickering at a recent LACMA exhibition. Not at Francis Bacon’s paintings –I snickered at all the people fawning over Robert Longo’s superficiality. So Bacon belongs to the era of Existentialists and beatniks. Fine. Kurt Schwitters belongs to the era of Dadaists, revolutionaries and prophets. Cezanne and Goya belong to their times. I do not snicker at art because it belongs to another time.
Francis Bacon has not changed much over the decades. He paints the same images. He chooses to refine, rather than add new techniques. His subjects –death, alienation, violence and sex– remain unchanged. Bacon rescues the viewer from Western “sophistication” of not feeling anything about much of anything. His paintings make us feel. Over and over again.
While his art belongs to another era, his place in art will not pass like so may fads. Wilson’s confused opinions will soon be forgotten. Like his MTV and “electronic culture.” Violence, sex and death do not bore me. Banality does. .
Remembering…[Shared moments with Hollywood innovators who’ve left us]
© 2014 by Steven Dornbusch
It must have been 1992…I was barely a grip when my not-so-well-established studio-and-equipment-for-hire bosses asked me (their sole some-time employee) to join them in a freebie evening. “It should be good for us…” were the words left on my answering machine. I roll my eyes and say “Sure” to shooting talking heads outside a Century City Oscars party hosted jointly by Swifty Lazar and Diane Ladd (and her poetry organization). The only grip / juicer, I handled 2 little key lights plus a halo. That left me lots of free time to roam (and scarf the buffet). I doubted a party hosted in 1992 by Swifty Lazar (d. 1993) would bring in any big fish. I was right. But also very wrong. The typical couple in attendance were caricatures: a guy with a leased red Ferrari dating a whorish gal with unnatural tits. FOBs, up-and-comers, loudmouth show-off nobodies. The other attendees were talented forgotten stars, long left off every other Oscars party guest list.
Oscar has a Party
Inside, I met a very polite but harried Diane Ladd who, sensing I was crew (i was, just not her crew), relayed some instructions to me. I was a big fan of her ex, Bruce Dern, not to mention their lovely young daughter Laura Dern (neither in attendance). I graciously complied, then went to a desolate balcony area (grips love heights) where an elegant young African-American lady, (voice actress) Iona Morris, was standing along side a bent-over somewhat shrunken man, her Father, Greg Morris, the two looking quietly down on attendees. We three enjoyed lightly dishing on the diners below. All the while, I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that this prematurely aged man (brain tumor) next to me was the gorgeous stud from Mission Impossible I watched growing up. As I returned to work at the front door, a short-statured elderly African-American man was readied for interview. His eyes sparkled. My cameraman boss lowered his tripod to the height of a spry, still-handsome half of the outrageously talented Nicholas Brothers. I told Fayard Nicholas it only took a few minutes (no Youtube back then) of Swing Era Nicholas Brothers acrobatics to be “totally blown away.” Turns out the highest dancers ever were also the shortest limbed. Go figure! A grinning Fayard shook my hand long and hard. Before anyone cries “Uncle Tom”, check out how Howard and Fayard Nicholas refused studio boss’s insistence they ditch the tux & tails outfits for Swanee River plantation slave garb (It must have cost the Brothers dearly). My bosses didn’t know either Nicholas. Nobody did (except Swifty). Next break (I had a lot of them), I caught the cool breeze by the side door. A finely dressed white-haired women –complete with light-colored fur wrap– sat in a wheelchair, alone, in near darkness. So as not to scare her, I introduced myself to…Peggy Lee! I had just met the only white woman I knew who could sing Blues (other than Janis Joplin). Ms. Lee’s driver / escort had left to park. When he returned, we three chatted a bit before Peggy Lee entered the hall on cue to the DJ’s announcement. Ignoramuses couldn’t he bothered to lower their utensils long enough to provide so much as polite applause. I did what I could with my own applause. It’s one thing not to know Fayard Nicholas, but Peggy Lee? No shortage of yahoos. Though regal in style, Peggy Lee belonged to everyone. Less than three hours after arrival, we packed our gear and returned to our little slice of Hollywood, in Glendale. Neither my bosses’ nor my career benefited from this evening. But what an evening!
© 2014 by Steven Dornbusch
Digital Prints, Unwanted Stepchild, OR How I Learned to Love the New Technology By Steven Dornbusch
[appeared originally on U.K.-Based Printworks magazine’s website, 1998]
“For Miles”, AP lll, 1993, Epson archival Ink-Jet print
I must confess, I have never touched an engraving plate, or pulled a screen print. According to accepted definitions, I am not a printmaker at all. I do not use stones, blocks, or plates, acids, washes, or inks. I do not get cut, or dirty, breath harmful fumes, or need upper body strength. I work alone, with near complete control of my image from start to finish.
Yet I make prints: Iris prints, laser prints, and ink-jet prints, limited edition prints on fine archival papers. I have exhibited them, just as I have exhibited my sculptural work. Whether my Prints are good, mediocre, or unacceptable, depends not only on aesthetic judgment, but also on the operative definition of original fine art print.
From the Barricades to the Salon
From time to time, the upstarts shake up the academy. From my side of the Atlantic, the R.E. after many of the names associated with Printworks looks a bit stuffy – a Royalist holdover from previous times. Actually the R.E. stands for Royal Engraver, a proud hundred-year old moniker that memorializes a successful past struggle against critical hostility.
Lounge crooners the world over sing Mack the Knife, obscuring The Three Penny Opera’s avant-garde origins. The ghosts of Kurt Weil, Scott Joplin, and Duke Ellington rub shoulders in the establishment. The output of the revolutionaries eventually becomes the status quo.
A century ago, it would have seemed aesthetically laughable and financially idiotic to collect a large commercial screen print by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Today it is more than a safe bet, like collecting Impressionist art. All screen-printing was once excluded from the fine art print family. Today, a lingering Inferiority Complex survives; many still prefer the more ‘high falutin’ term ‘lithograph’ over ‘screen print.’
The Digital Printmaker
Artists have been making digital prints for years now. I started experimenting in 1984 with my 512K Mac and a black ink daisy wheel printer (Remember those?). The tools were so primitive that I felt like I was making potato prints with my ‘wrong hand.’
In the early 1990’s came the sophisticated painting/drawing programs along with powerful computer processing chips and memory storage capabilities needed to run the new applications. These programs are enough to make many an artist salivate.
The capabilities include a reputed 2.4 million colors, layering, multiple masking, perfect registration, truer colors, unlimited collaging of images, resizing, expanded tinting, and the ability to save earlier versions of a work. While some of these capabilities mimic those in hands-on printing, others far surpass them. True, I have lost work to glitches, suffered a frozen digitizing pen, been unhappy with output colors, and frustrated by output size restrictions. But it is the advantages of digital over hands-on printing that attracts me to the medium.
Why Make Digital Prints
What artist has not been well along a significant road only to make the wrong turn and ruin a work? How wonderful to return to the fork in the road, where the errant turn was made, but this time choose the right path. When I ruin an exciting ‘painting,’ I have the option of returning to an earlier saved version, and starting back from there. In my Print Triad, I tried more than twenty different ways to fill, overprint, and blend a masked bubble-shaped area, until I got it right.
Why not enjoy the freedom of unlimited color mixing without the mess, risk, cost, and time consumption of multiple pass screen-printing? I doubt I can see 2.4 million colors, but that is how many my Mac painting application allows me to create.
Why not save the color palette of every ‘painting’ made? Inks run out, mixtures dry up, and recipes never seem to produce quite the same color twice. I can preserve my palettes forever. By sampling any area in a ‘painting’ I can also create a palette from scratch.
‘Theoretical colors’ have advantages over printer’s inks. Imagine incredible possibilities for under painting, washes, and off-registration blending, and tinting. In my Print Recreation, I have a pink horizontal figure that overprints gray and olive areas above, and below it. These perimeter areas are clearly tinted by the pink figure. Yet they remain very visible, while the tint is still a rich saturated color everywhere else. Printer’s inks preclude this. With the Mac, I mix a very deep color (close to a black), and then tint at just seven to twelve percent. The best part is I can even work backwards, starting with the final tint result I want.
Unlimited Collaging is possible without scissors and paste. Imagine if the prolific American Artist Romare Bearden (1911-88) had lived another decade or two. He could have scanned his many black and white original photos (or downloaded his own original color or black and white digital photographs), color scraps from magazines, pieces of cloth, or other media. He could have stored these images in vast libraries, used them over and over, combined them in multiples, resized them, or tinted them.
Right now I am working on a series that alters and combines digital photographs of the most commercial of squalor, Los Angeles’ Pico Boulevard. I am collaging for aesthetic or formal effect, not social commentary –fresh ways of seeing everyday visual phenomena. I like to take my own images using my digital SLR. This allows me collage sources outside the typical clipped (art directed) magazine spreads. Digital collaging allows me greater originality.
Why Must Digital Technology be a Threat?
Digital images can be stored, replicated, and communicated indefinitely. Unlimited editions and no stone to deface or plate to destroy, offer a democratic anti-commercial alternative to traditional fine art printing. They also undermine the artist’s control over printing, papers, ownership, payment, and piracy. For these reasons, digital printmakers share, no less than the traditional print community, a pressing need to establish standards of definition, originality, technical quality, and the like.
We computer artists must not wait for traditional printmakers to come to us to establish new standards of fine art printmaking that include us. We must propose tests for inclusion and exclusion. It is not enough to require limited editions; is a scanned watercolor painting printed on an Iris printer original? What kind of art is a collage of painted pieces of photocopy? How about David Hockney’s Faxed prints? Digital print standards must answer these kinds of questions. Neither technology nor aesthetics stand still.
It is a cliche that the world turns faster and faster; fortunately or unfortunately, it is true. Maybe artists are not getting better or smarter, but art technology is. Printmakers, and indeed all creative people, need to keep up with changes in the world. Authentic artists will always get the most from any tool or media. Digital printmaking has much to offer these explorers. The wrinkles can be ironed out along the way.
All Prints were drawn on a Wacom computer drawing tablet using Pixelpaint software on a Mac cpu. Printed on Hannemühle Frankfurt digital paper using an Epson ink-jet or Canon laser printer. Printed in tabloid size; hand torn down to 13″h. x 10″w. (or similar size) to better define the edges. There was no use of a scanner, and no introduction of photography, in these works. All works shown were computer-composed / produced.
Photos, ©1998, William Nettles, Los Angeles
All artwork and text © 1998 / © 2014 by Steven Dornbusch