Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Of course I could have chosen the ever popular robert walser is dead photo with him lying in the snow face down smothered in snow,  but it's depressing and really doesn't reflect the man, the one who would be happy to die outside, in the snow, alone and unaided, the appropriate photo of an event that had already happened to him years earlier, before he was committed to that dire place, and was an idol to young Franz Kafka and Herman Hesse -and everyone else who had somehow  managed to read him.

But it is only now, thanks to jochen greven that we can read him at all.  And thank god for that.



Esteemed gentlemen,
I am a poor, young, unemployed person in the business field, my name is Wenzel, I am seeking a suitable position, and I take the liberty of asking you, nicely and politely, if perhaps in your airy, bright, amiable rooms such a position might be free. I know that your good firm is large, proud, old, and rich, thus I may yield to the pleasing supposition that a nice, easy, pretty little place would be available, into which, as into a kind of warm cubbyhole, I can slip. I am excellently suited, you should know, to occupy just such a modest haven, for my nature is altogether delicate, and I am essentially a quiet, polite, and dreamy child, who is made to feel cheerful by people thinking of him that he does not ask for much, and allowing him to take possession of a very, very small patch of existence, where he can be useful in his own way and thus feel at ease. A quiet, sweet, small place in the shade has always been the tender substance of all my dreams, and if now the illusions I have about you grow so intense as to make me hope that my dream, young and old, might be transformed into delicious, vivid reality, then you have, in me, the most zealous and most loyal servitor, who will take it as a matter of conscience to discharge precisely and punctually all his duties. Large and difficult tasks I cannot perform, and obligations of a far-ranging sort are too strenuous for my mind. I am not particularly clever, and first and foremost I do not like to strain my intelligence overmuch. I am a dreamer rather than a thinker, a zero rather than a force, dim rather than sharp. Assuredly there exists in your extensive institution, which I imagine to be overflowing with main and subsidiary functions and offices, work of the kind that one can do as in a dream? —I am, to put it frankly, a Chinese; that is to say, a person who deems everything small and modest to be beautiful and pleasing, and to whom all that is big and exacting is fearsome and horrid. I know only the need to feel at my ease, so that each day I can thank God for life’s boon, with all its blessings. The passion to go far in the world is unknown to me. Africa with its deserts is to me not more foreign. Well, so now you know what sort of a person I am. —I write, as you see, a graceful and fluent hand, and you need not imagine me to be entirely without intelligence. My mind is clear, but it refuses to grasp things that are many, or too many by far, shunning them. I am sincere and honest, and I am aware that this signifies precious little in the world in which we live, so I shall be waiting, esteemed gentlemen, to see what it will be your pleasure to reply to your respectful servant, positively drowning in obedience.

Here is his pencil script.  It took them near fifty years to figure out that it is simply German.

and if it's okay let's toss in a little Melville:

-- Can you send me about fifty fast-writing youths, with an easy style & not averse to polishing their labors? If you can, I wish you would, because since I have been here I have planned about that number of future works & cant find enough time to think about them separately. -- But I don't know but a book in a man's brain is better off than a book bound in calf -- at any rate it is safer from criticism. And taking a book off the brain, is akin to the ticklish and dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel -- you have to scrape off the whole brain in order to get at it with due safety -- & even then, the painting may not be worth the trouble. --Letter to Evert Duyckinck, December 13 1850

I heard sometime that if we had like 10,000 monkeys and gave each one a typewriter, in 10 years they could write Ulysses.  Ever since then I've wished I had 10,000 monkeys and I'd give each some paints, and by god I'd never have to work again.

I would wish it on no one to be me.
Only I am capable of bearing myself.
To know so much, to have seen so much, and
To say nothing, just about nothing.
- Robert Walser

billy childish a beautiful painting. robert walser lying dead in the snow.

With all my ideas and follies I could one day found a corporate company for the propagation of beautiful but unreliable imaginings.
- Robert Walser

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I'm not sure if I should even talk about my favorite painters.  For one thing there are thousands of them and also I wouldn't want to disparage any of them by comparing them by proximity to someone they consider maybe not so good a painter.

Some of them like to paint big and some like to paint small.  The thing about painting is that no matter what you do, how you apply it, what mediums you use or what your intentions are -in the end what you've got is a picture.

And as almost all of them know, it doesn't matter what anyone does or thinks or acts, nothing will make them famous, nothing will provide them money, nothing except genuine friendship will provide them with goodwill and a measure of happiness.  Certainly there are no goals to provide a framework for making good pictures, no intentions or aspirations, no study or lack of study, no opinions, no sales, there is only ones own opinion that the picture is made.

Now two of my favorites are Josh Smith and Christopher Wool. Josh's stuff appeals to me because of it's apparent casualness, as if it is just random scribblings and maybe of piece of today's paper thrown on for good luck.  Of course as much as he might wish, this is not the case. But they also look to me like desperate notes he's leaving for himself to remind himself of something. He used to have the coolest website and on it he had every picture he had ever made, and my god I could weep every time I went through the next five pages, it was like reading Dostoyevsky again.  What a struggle.  God all that wood and plywood and those gory can I say ugly colors and the beautiful painfully delicate ones in bubblegum pink brilliant beautiful.

Christopher (I don't know either of these guys I don't know why I should use their first names like this),
I didn't really "get him" even from his interesting videos until he did what I call the new show.

And I died as they say, I love the clever white one on the lower right, and the pink off balanced one, I adore the lack of image and seeming lack of control which is betrayed by the black ones each of which shows a complex sensibility and individuation. Hell I don't know what I'm talking about.  Help me Laura!

And I love Henry Miller and Kenneth Patchen and Alvin Lustig but they are all dead and don't count just a minute ! judges I ask you where does it say living painters ? nowhere And anyway people are alive today dead tomorrow .  And Robert Motherwell and Marc Rothko.  What the hell, I love Jules Olitski Arthur Dove Julian Schnabel Leon Ferrari Sam Francis and Paul Klee  but most of all Mark Tobey I swear that was a painter who seemed to have discovered peace.  My first dentist had Mark Tobey pieces all over the office and also in the entrance hallway.  I always felt even as a child that this was a testament to his own competence.

But one who is not dead is Phillip Taafe who I met at a cool show a book sale actually on 80th I think on my way to go see Laura and he was introduced to me by Paola Igliori who was there selling that Mohammed Mrabet book of which I bought some four copies but I couldn't afford the one with Phillip's small piece in it and anyway I was tripping out totally because I was standing next to Alan Ginsburg and Peter Orlovsky and Herbert Huncke was slumped on the floor and here I was just a shameful fool and I wanted to run away but Paola was so beautiful and nice and talkative and everyone was so smart and stuff.  I think Michael McClure was there too.  And it was probably him and Phillip, both of whom were calm and silent smiling like happy angels that kept me from screaming and running out.

And I saw Alan the next week again in Chicago.  He was at Waterson's signing his book with Peter there and I stood outside smoking and getting wound up, sick with anxiety but then I went inside and shamefully guiltily got Alan to sign the book and thanked heaven above that Alan didn't remember me or pretended not to but I had a thousand things to say but I didn't say any of them.  I left.

Who I really love is well Turner of course but I mean living and that is these mad book plate illustrators.  You'd think that would be a dead art huh, but these guys are fantastic ruthless and sly with their work well at least one or two of them are.  That Russian guy living in America, I think he's great.

My dad used to take me to the Phillips Collection and in that comfortable building I discovered the "small" artists and I don't mean lesser I mean smaller pieces and I loved it.  Your eyes could take it all in from up close, they were more intimate and inviting more exciting to me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

where have all the flowers gone?

What happened to all my old paintings?  Where have they gone?

Well, the greatest loss occurred when I moved to the midwest from the east coast, and a bunch of stuff went into storage.  When it came out much of it was gone including what I thought were all of the old ones. And for the most part that was true.

But thank god I had given many away before that. And generously, some of my friends had bought some.  Most of those survived though I don't have pictures of most of them. Some of the ones I still have have never been photographed.

The other more shameful but much smaller loss was my own destruction.  I just got sick of hauling large ones around (and hundreds maybe thousands of small ones) and destroyed them myself.  This is done by artists every day, though I disagree with it. Of course this is nothing new. After all Barnett Newman had destroyed all his old work, Hans Hoffman had a fire that destroyed his.

Pissarro lost most of his work in 1871 when the Germans cut them up and wrapped their feet and bodies in them to keep warm and dry on their march.  I've always thought that would be a great scene in a movie.  Take it if you can use it! Imagine them going into battle with their feet wrapped in the paintings of one of the greatest French painters, with cloaks of the same wrapped around them.

Mine was not romantic or pretty.  It was just ugly destruction.  And they are gone.  All the same there are some few left, and even some that exist only in old photographs.

The rest have disappeared.

Goodbye my old friends, my beautiful children.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

conspiracy theory

Now and then I like to look a like at the fema coffins and stuff and I wonder what they are all for?  What do they know that I don't?  And sometimes I'll look at celebrities and vaguely wonder are they all so lost?  Or, sometimes, especially after watching a real bad film about some artist, I'll wonder did all these artists suffer? or just a few of them?  what is this all about?

And that's about as far as I go.  Then I'll go pick up an honest book, and pretty much I get subsumed by it.  It is as if I thought of the things they say.  Especially the brave things, though of course it isn't true.

And even in painting, no matter what type, it is the same way.  Why can't we all be Kandinskys, painting what we believe needs to be painted?  Well of course we don't even have any faith left, that is over a hundred years ago.  Then why not Motherwells or Pollacks?  Well, I think we are close to them, yet not quite as brave.  And that is the crux.  We cannot paint to make money nor to get famous nor any of that.  We must paint exactly what our blind path demands, and follow that road where it leads.

In fact, I think Motherwell's best painting came at the end, and at that point he no longer was famous, no longer made money, no longer had a family.  I think it had to be a rough period for him.

Now Warhol was famous and everything that came after.  The old was old.  The new was new.

And now is now.  It looks shoddy to me, worn out, rewoven, patched and darn, derivative, youth orientated, academic and pale, transgendered and play-by-the-prejudice. and it seems cynical and weak.

And it is.  It's okay, those are the things it is now.

But what are you?  What is your voice?  Remember please, now and always, your voice is the one you were born with and it is the only one you will ever have.  So sing, sing out of key, make up the lyrics, just let us hear your voice in the choir.

That's what passes for quality thought around here.  Yep, except for the books, I'd rather just look at images.  I like looking at my own too so I can go what does he think he's doing?  Why does he make these things in the first place?  And that brings me round to the fema coffins.

And that is the complete circle. Very very dull doncha know?

Getting past these blocks is the most difficult thing.   They are inside you.  The most insidious conspiracy is the one you play on yourself.

Friday, January 18, 2013

laura my dear

I felt like a farmer with a shotgun in one hand a plug of tobacco buck teeth and a straw in my mouth. I was such a fool then, and now too I suppose.

Now Laura Miner on the other hand was fine boned and delicate.  She was also troublesome smart. Certainly she was something I had never seen nor even imagined being able to see before.  Just graduated from Berkeley and on her way to the Sorbonne, she  was truly ambitious and had an intelligence like I had never quite imagined and couldn't imagine existed.  I'd say she was the first first and finest of this type I have ever encountered.

But this was all belied by her gentle beauty, endless empathy, consideration, and kindness.  And her conversational skills!  I had never heard anyone talk like that, ever.  It was like taking a warm bath while taking speed and jumping out to do frenetic exercise, plugging in the guitar and playing real loud, diving back in the tub and jabbing a needle in your head for direct knowledge enhancement, while taking merge (thanks Rudy).

There used to be a phrase whip-smart.  I only heard it on tv, but she was it.

But what I want to talk about is her helpfulness.  I was I think just graduating and I had a long long paper I had done, ah but it was kind of sloppy, as usual for me, and I had never bothered to tighten it edit it anything like that.  But she was visiting us and volunteered to type it for me.

And she did, all 64 pages of it and my god could she type!  She was fast and accurate.  Now she said she didn't know anything about my subject (literature) and she didn't, but about three pages in she started asking questions, real penetrating questions, and I started thinking, it was queer, I think I wrote that entire thing without a thought.  And this paper began to grow at last in my mind, and I would walk around actually thinking, and she kept asking questions and I couldn't always find an answer.

Suddenly we started blowing holes in the paper, straightening it out, by god she had stepped on the gas It now had a theme, a philosophy. She had found some brilliant literate theme, and we were driving down that road. I was shocked, dizzy, wild.  --and then, she decided to retype it, change the title, the entire thing, I was thrilled,  I could barely take it, but she sat there, for days, working on it, now we were adding to our trumped up new theme, just brilliant, and finally it was done.

And she said well, here is your graduate thesis.  And she was right.

Now you might think I'm done.  But I was listening to Martha My Dear and trying to play it on my piano and she said Do you want to learn it? and yea I want to.  Well she didn't play piano but she had perfect pitch and didn't forget things she'd heard, so she went over and picked it out and taught it to me, the entire song in all its detail.

And one day she met me at the Guggenheim. Laura knows art and artists.  Inside and out.  It was a miracle, for she changed every single thing in the place.  What I had once found boring along  with being drilled and filled. Now all the artists were exciting, all the struggles were changed into an adventure and a quest.  And I was changed.

I was no longer useless.  I had found a calling I could follow.

That girl changed my life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

chester himes

Why this picture?  Of course Evan S Connell died this week and that is a sad as it can get.  But his greatest books, Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge aren't shown here.  They're here somewhere, but there are are a lot of pictures.

But here are some pictures of Chester Himes, and he's fun to talk about no matter what he writes.  Plan B is a fantastic book don't you think? It is both desperate and at the same time calmly and quietly damning and sarcastic.  And Pinktoes, god what a book.  It seemed almost impossible when I read it, but that was then, and now is now.  A Case of Rape is so sad, so straight.  Yesterday Will Make You Cry  makes you just go why did they screw around with his writing?  What were they thinking?

And look Plan B sits next to Russell Hoban's The Mouse and It's Child, another book that touched me deeply when I read it and it sits next to The Wind in The Willows, a book which taught me it is alright to be be Toad.

And by the way, let's settle this.  Who is Beauregard James?  Is he Chester Himes Incognito?  One of you bright young things must know.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

turn off your mind and float downstream

I know of course this is beginning to look like my book of friends, one of my favorite miller books, but I'll be done soon since I wish I had more but don't.  This here is Nick, and a better friend and more creative guy you will never find.

What a life ! I won't get into it, cause he doesn't want me to, but he can make anything, except books, he just wrecks those.

But my sitting room is stuffed with his amazing sculptures. In an already vanished world of another time, when he could haul into a hot old car junkyard and begin mining them for parts, gutting them hauling out black greasy pieces,  ripping engines apart searching for the spinning platinum in these abandoned machines.  And then he'd clean them up shine them and make beautiful statues of them.  There they stand surrounding my Ganesha.

And food! and coffee! Oh god, can he make coffee! He used to have a shop called the cafe chaos and he would make the best stuff in there.  Made with coffee and other stuff in it. damn it was good.  I saw Timothy Leary in there one day just dancing and singing.  What a place to hang out. As dr. Leary said, turn off your mind and float downstream.   Nick took down all the ceiling tiles and gave one to each kid who came in, asked the kid to paint something on it and return it.  The place was a madhouse of images!

And he got hold of my boring white sheets and duvet covers!  He and my niece and nephew turned them into, well look at the picture!

This guy is born fluency.  I wake up some mornings and think I can speak French and Spanish now, how great! but then I find my think method didn't last past my sleep.  But Nick is fluent in all things.  If you think you know a book he hasn't read well he has.  If you want to play sitar and guitar music, he's all over it. A living and breathing genius.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

McCabe Ash

When I first met McCabe I was struck by his calm seriousness.  He moves like a craftsman, slow and measured.  He unwrapped my small paintings and he looked at them, one by one, turned them over, looked at the backs, each of his movements carefully controlled.   I could tell he was like memorizing them. He was looking at each image and asking it how do I bring you to life?

 He asked how do you want to do them and I answered The best way.  He said yes, the best way.

And you knew he knew what that was.  I didn't though.  But later, when I got them back, they were astounding.  He'd casually go yea all archival museum glass and hand formed spacers, archival backing and mats...  But of course it was the care he took, looking at them, setting them up, choosing mats and frames then assembling them with great concentration, and giving them life.

It's kind of dumb to call him a framer, as it is only one of his varied and immense talents. And anyway he is not my framer, he is anybody's, from football fans to art collectors, from obscure painters like myself to well-known artists.

McCabe is also a great painter himself.  He had a closet in his house retrofitted to hold nothing but binders full of slides.  They were all pictures of his work, some thousands of them.  And it's a bit daunting when you  see an entire scope of a man's work. (I want that picture of the dam in China!)

And he is also a collector of work, most of it I'm sure traded for or given to him by artists who feel   they must give back for all he does.  I went through his house and saw the most brilliant set of works I had ever seen, some but not all his own.

He has taken these immense skills and sensibilities and now channels them into this work he does.  And the result is like an illuminated letter.  We know it is just a T but it looks like a new world of tentacles and vines leaves berries small animals and winsome maids.  Each image he is presented is transformed, given new life, and then sent back into the world to provide joy for us all.

And I wish I could keep him in work just framing my stuff.

the best:  734-769-5110

Friday, January 11, 2013


Every time I look at a painting I like regardless of whether I painted it or not I think I wish I could do that.  It really hurts when I look at stuff that is maybe two years old.  I can barely stand to look at it cause I just think I could never do that, not in a million years.

Now I know what you are thinking my blue bubble friend.  You look back those distant years ago (come on what is it?  twenty? thirty?) and think he should have done hundreds of these.  These are the only good ones.  Well tell me now not then.  Which ones are they?  And why should I paint more of them?

Already painting is difficult first because I am the painter and I am annoying and dunning.  And second each painting is more often than not a sort of painful extraction, a debilitating and total immersion in something I don't understand.   I am trying to say something about which I know nothing.  So my friend,  my only dear companion can you not travel back in time to today to let me know that it's okay, that I have said something, something worth saying, even if it is only like a complex mathematical formula that only a half dozen surly baked geeks understand.

But I promise, my work is my best work there is no other work, this is it.  Maybe if you've got one of them time travel machines you could stop by...?  I'll be here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

the eye - garin horner

The best thing is to have friends. Work takes up a bunch of time and can be isolating.  I like that but I love friends as well.   And in the case of my paintings a new friend appeared almost as soon as I needed him.

Now there are eyes and there are eyes.  Garin has eyes clear and calm and they came to my rescue time and again.

One time, when I was talking about my paintings that disappeared in a move across country, he volunteered to take pictures of the new ones.  I was a bit surprised but I said yea let's do it.  I don't think I had the vaguest idea he was a photographer.

Well the next week I found out just how a photographer works. He showed up with what looked like a drum kit  and proceeded to tape up all the windows, set up stands, pull out a huge camera, run lights to what looked like a giant car battery, set up black cloth over cardboard, bring out pins, and proceeded to start taking pictures.

And then he disappeared for a couple of weeks.  He came back with a little stick.   I put it in my computer and I was blown away.  I saw my pictures bright and clear, each one isolated each one as a single important piece.

He'd stand looking through his camera and he'd say doug come look at this.  I stood there looking and then he smiled and said look through the lens.  And in the lens I saw my painting.  It had somehow changed maybe showered and put on clean clothes or got a haircut or something.  I just knew it had changed.  It was quite amazing.

I must say this was only one of the many things he has done for me.  But it was the first.  It gave me faith.

Monday, January 7, 2013

hi my friends

Sometimes when I'm looking at photographs of my books I just fall into a dream.  I can remember reading many of them, stumbling through some sputtering to a stop and then others I read through like I'm body surfing and they carry me to shore.  My favorites I think are the ones that are like images broken and shattered yet somehow creating a whole.  Certainly reading Giorgio de Chirico left me feeling that yet I couldn't remember the image and had to read it again.  The same was true for  Joseph Delteil.  What poetry.  No wonder the movie is so beautiful. And there they sit keeping each other warm while they stand shoulder to shoulder in stillness like trees.

Now look how Laura Kasischke has snuck in there.  What a brilliant book, what a frightening confession, if that is what it is.

And then on this next shelf we have Mohammed Mrabet's The Lemon. All his books are clever and funny.  These books are all so pretty to me such handsome young men and women. Wow, here is Louis Celine,  some of the most astounding books I have been privileged to read.  Wicked, holy and confessional.

Yet they are all gracious and humble and I am allowed to drop my guard to enjoy the light of their company no matter how gruesome and often so sad.