Dead Letter Office: New Series

As I experiment and attempt to bring ideas together different series are conceived. The "Dead Letter Office" is one of those. There were pieces I've done on postcards and fragments of old letters (handwritten, from days when that was the "norm") over the last few years.... some included in other series but that hadn't been explored on their own. This new series brings those ideas to a broader and deeper exploration. What follows is the "statement" on this series from it's new page:

Dead letters! Does it not sound like dead men?” ~Herman Melville

Postcard #1.jpg

This series is about what becomes forgotten, what becomes lost. Like the reproductions of old postcards and letters on which they are painted, the landscapes superimposed upon them speak to the ever-changing places where human activity (“progress”) occurs. Throughout history, cities rise up where land meets water. Farms rise up where the cities end. Suburbs rise up out of farmland. And eventually commercial zones (strip malls, shopping malls etc..) rise up in and around those. All in the “service of progress and needs”. Eventually there is nothing left of what was before.

Old (handwritten) postcards and letters postmarked with dates and city names relegated to the “Dead Letter Office” -eventually auctioned off, sold on the internet- become metaphors for loss. Loss of our collective humanity, loss of the personal, handmade communication, loss of the slow, deliberate, thoughtful ways that connect(ed) us. Densely populated cities… faster, easier methods of “communication” giving rise to more atomization among us is ironic (at least). And is an illustration of “unintended consequences”.

Change is inevitable. “Progress” is a double-edged sword at best. It is difficult to “see” where it all leads us. I’m certain that (for example), the Native peoples living there, that (later) the colonist families that farmed (what would become) the “Lower East Side” of Manhattan…. the De Lancey Orchard, the Rivington Farm etc… could have ever conceived of what that place is now. I doubt that the immigrants who came to settle (in the tenements that would be built there) from Europe in the early 20th century could either. I, myself, would never have imagined that the blighted area I knew in the 1970’s would be the up-scale, desirable, “hip” place it is now, either.

The postcards & letters used in this series, with the landscapes painted on them… the surfaces scraped and worn and patinated- are an attempt to speak to these ideas.

"Tackling Big Issues Through Tiny Works of Art"

I find these thoughts on small works interesting. As I come across them, I want to share them here..............

The following is an excerpt from an article on

"These Artists Are Tackling Big Issues through Tiny Works of Art"
By  Alexxa Gotthardt ~ Nov 30, 2016

“When something so large is brought down to such a tiny, boiled-down, concentrated moment, it’s shocking and fascinating all at once,” Santiago offers. “For me, that’s the impact I want my work to have, and I feel like miniatures do have.” - artist Curtis Talwst Santiago

Santiago is one of a number of contemporary artists working on a very, very small scale. The choice may seem at odds with an art world that, in the past 20-odd years, has seen both the size and price of contemporary art balloon to epic proportions (Jeff Koons’s towering balloon dog and Carsten Höller’s suspended sculptural slide come to mind). But these creatives find they can communicate more effectively by tapping into the age-old allure of small, sometimes downright microscopic forms, which bear a shock value all their own.

Making art on a small scale is by no means a new feat; for centuries, artists have crafted at a pint-size scale to depict and communicate cherished, esteemed, and intimate subjects. As early as the 13th century, Persians used miniscule, intricate brushstrokes to illuminate both secular and religious texts. So detailed are these tiny paintings that at times museums have exhibited them alongside magnifying glasses for visitors to use—a testament to the artists’ small-scale craftsmanship. Elizabethans, during the 1500s, wore miniature portraits of lovers—objects meant to induce “private pleasure”—around their necks. And in the 18th century, the Vatican pioneered the art of the micro-mosaic: jewel-like patchworks, some packing as many as 5,000 pieces of enamelling into a single square inch, that depicted tiny likenesses of celebrated classical sculptures.

Contemporary artists forging small works build on this rich history.

The challenge of creating tiny work, and the concentration and dexterity it requires, is the initial draw for many artists working in miniature. “It was the challenge of figuring out how to miniaturize every step of the process that really drew me in,” explains Jon Almeda, a Tacoma, Washington-based sculptor

The risk that all of these artists take—and take pains to circumvent and manipulate—is that of their work being fetishized, or not taken seriously, for being small.

“The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it,” French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote in The Poetics of Space (1958), a meditation on the ability of creative output of all kinds to shift our perception of the world. “But in doing this, it must be understood that values become condensed and enriched in miniature.” He, like these artists, understood the conceptual, eye-opening power of smallness.

(note: I did not have permission to use images of the works referred to here.)





“What’s the polemic? Why small? This exhibition, of small, sometimes very small, works of contemporary art is essentially a rant about the outmoded rhetoric of size that is still embraced by what likes to call itself the avant-garde. New cutting-edge artists have been painting small now for some time. It’s happening here in London; it’s happening in Germany, still the real centre for avant-garde activity in Europe; it is happening among a certain number of Italian artists. It may be happening elsewhere as well. The interest in small-scale art is inevitably starting to spread to other genres – sculpture, photography and video.

Huge art, in Modernist terms, was essentially an invention of America in the 1940s. Very big Abstract Expressionist paintings were the “barbaric yawp” (to quote Walt Whitman) that proclaimed the new cultural dominance of the United States. Before that the important Modernist painters had only occasionally painted on a very big scale, to suit a special occasion. Picasso’s Guernica is a good example.

Big abstract paintings made themselves at home in the lofts of South-of-Houston-Street New York, then being colonized by artists. These originally industrial spaces seemed to offer plenty of wall. Love it, live with it, if necessary trash it. New art, though big, was still cheap. Later, with the multiplication of new museums in America and elsewhere, big paintings seemed to have a logical purpose. Admiring critics wrote pieces about the way in which these overweening canvases offered a new experience in wraparound vision. Inevitably, however, the space available soon started to run out. How many Pollocks, de Koonings and Rothkos does it take to fill a vast gallery space to the point of bursting? Too many painters were producing big canvases, with the result that a lot of contemporary art, even art safely in the possession of museums, now spends most of its time in store. Where ambitious private collectors are concerned, we have become used to the term ‘warehouse art’. The proud possessors are known to own it. It’s also known that they don’t live with most of it. In a real sense, art that isn’t being looked at doesn’t exist. Warehouse art is non-art. An awful lot of ambitious but misguided artists are still producing it.

If we look at the art of the past, art earlier than Modernism, we find a mixture of big art and small art. The big art was almost invariably produced for absolutely specific purposes – never on spec. It adorned churches and palaces. It offered a focal point to a public square. Small scale art was sometimes produced without a patron in mind, simply for the market, as most art is produced today. Many of the great masterpieces of the past are disconcertingly small. Portraits by Van Eyck and Memling. Religious paintings by Antonello da Messina. Some, though not all, of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Samuel Palmer’s landscapes of the Shoreham period. Even the Mona Lisa. They need to be looked at in a different way from wraparound art – slower, more contemplative – dare one say it? – more loving.

Today many young artists are forced, through economic necessity, to work in very small spaces. Collectors, even when prosperous, don’t have unlimited wall space. How many wraparound canvases can you house in a two-bedroom flat or even a large house? There is an obvious disjuncture between what is being made and its supposed destination. An art market that produces solely for museums and warehouses surely isn’t in a healthy condition.

These exhibitions are meant to do two rather ambitious things within a physically small space. First, to suggest that contemporary art is changing, and changing rather faster than usual. An important part of this change is the rebellion against huge size. Artists are making small work not because they are forced to (though in some cases that is increasingly true), but because they actually want to – because small art, in current conditions, is actually cutting edge, and delivers a new and dissident message. “Look at me in a different way,” it says. Secondly, linked to this, the show invites visitors to explore, on their own terms, how this different way of looking functions, and what it may possibly deliver.”

Polemically Small was an ambitious and expansive exhibition of small works curated by the acclaimed British art writer, historian and critic Edward Lucie-Smith, spanning two Los Angeles area venues—GARBOUSHIAN GALLERY in Beverly Hills and the Torrance Art Museum during May & June of 2011.

More Thoughts On Small Paintings.....

The following is an excerpt from an article by art writer Roberta Smith from Art & Design Magazine. This article pertains to abstract works in a gallery show. The ideas (I believe) transcend any particular genre.

Art & Design | Art
"Is Painting Small the Next Big Thing?"

Small may be beautiful, but where (abstract) painting is concerned, it is rarely fashionable. Big has held center stage at least since Jackson Pollock; the small abstractions of painters like Myron Stout, Forrest Bess and Steve Wheeler are mostly relegated to the wings, there to be considered eccentric or overly precious. Paul Klee was arguably the last genius of small abstraction to be granted full-fledged membership in the Modernist canon.

But what is marginalized can also become a form of dissent, a way to counter the prevailing arguments and sidestep their pitfalls. It is hard, for example, to work small and indulge in the mind-boggling degree of spectacle that afflicts so much art today. In a time of glut and waste on every front, compression and economy have undeniable appeal. And if a great work of art is one that is essential in all its parts, that has nothing superfluous or that can be subtracted, working small may improve the odds.

Small (abstractions) avoid the long realist tradition of painting as a window, and also the shorter, late-Modernist one of painting as a flat wall. Instead these smaller works align themselves with less vaunted (and sometimes less masculine) conventions: the printed page, illuminated manuscripts, icons and plaques.


Places Between Places

Untitled (Places Between Places #13).jpg

The “veil of memory”, as Thomas Cole described, is a key component of these works….. the “patina” of time on memory. The surfaces of these works are a visual component illustrating these ideas, transposing the “place” (and it’s memory) into an art object…. giving them the feeling of being from another time. While there is no overt reference to ecological issues, the “old or vintage look” of the work refers to the idea of what “once was”….. un-managed, wild, open spaces now overtly or covertly threatened.

The series also references the idea that beautiful, unspoiled areas can still be found in the spaces in between the clutter of human development, small remnants that require more focused looking and seeing.

Paper Towns

Untitled (Paper Towns #21).jpg

This series is about the human impulse to name and claim places. A human construct and therefore a "fiction" created within the mind.... as places themselves exist without such constructs. The series title refers to an old map maker's "trick". When maps were drawn by hand, map makers would include a town on their maps that did not exist. They did this as a way of insuring that their maps were not copied by forgers. If a map was a copy (forgery) the non-existent town would be included in the forgery. Since those "towns" only existed on the maps as fictions, they were referred to as "Paper Towns". The works in this series are a sort of "fiction" as well. The map images used in these works are a mechanism to that end.

Bucolic Scenes & The Lens Of Asperger's

"I wish that there were some wonderful place In the Land of Beginning Again. Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches And all of our poor selfish grief Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door and never put on again." ~ Louisa Fletcher

Places Between Places #26.jpg

I decided to re-post this Blog Post from January of 2018.... In the search for answers and self awareness, ideas like these recirculate in my mind. Also, as the months have passed into nearly a year, the triggers of being back to city life have become somewhat mitigated by exposure over and over.... a sort of built up "immunity" for the AS mind & soul.

I have been thinking about the work. And beginning to work in the new place. I have been thinking about the work I've been doing over these many decades. Thinking about "why" (which is normally a question that I do not like to ask about anything..... because there is never any real, definitive answer). And yet... I ask: Why these "scenes"? Devoid of human impact, devoid of human beings, with only tangential reference to human activity.

For as long as I can remember, one of my "goals in life" was to live far from city life. Perhaps a reaction to growing up in New York City? That would seem to be a logical reason and "answer" to THAT question of "why".  But over the course of this past year back in the city, with the Asperger's Syndrome (diagnosis) at the forefront of most of my thinking and self reflection, the need for respite from the stimulation of city life (now) has come up again. Of course I DID achieve that early goal, early on in New Mexico.... living in the small, rural village of Rowe, NM. where I began making landscape works. But life is like a river.... and we are like leaves floating along in the current. And that way of life gave way to "needs" and wants dictated by the floating into small pools along the river banks..... where we "land" and even will ourselves to land!

I was happy to move on from rural life, which is in reality, much harder than one imagines. I remember the book "The Good Life" by Helen & Scott Nearing. That book (actually two books that make up that volume) spoke to me. And as I also found out.... the simple life is not that simple! Especially as one gets older and the need for accessibility to do business (even the art business) becomes critical. The time & energy required by "the simple life" is quite a lot. Semi-rural was a good option. Over time, even urban life seemed to take on an attractive quality (in the mind).

Which brings me to the reflections upon painting, this place and today. With the events of life over the last many years, gratitude is something I also consciously try to hold. Gratitude for what is and how it came to be. Sometimes holding it is like trying to steer a car on an icy road..... knuckles white from grasping the wheel tightly, correcting and re-correcting, steering into the skid, brakes useless......on the black ice of Asperger's Syndrome.

I find myself within the city now. My "respite” comes in the form of walking my dog along the river.... which, while running through the city itself, has enough "space"and quiet- sometimes. It is the last vestige of any kind of "wild place" within the city..... I find myself dodging people still... trying to find the small "windows" of time when there will not be others walking there..... It has been decades since I lived in the city. Now, through the lens of Asperger's I know why. The AS seems to get "triggered" almost every time we are out. The people milling about, the leaf blowers, the traffic, the other dog walkers etc.... Moments when that is not the case are rare. In those moments, I have the river (and the pre-dawn streets) to myself. And even though this painting is not a transcription of the place itself.... it IS an evocation of that quietude and peace of those moments. It is a way for me to "hold" those rare moments. And in thinking about all of this, I realized that that is what I have been doing with this work.... creating (or re-creating) those moments..... and suddenly I realize "why" I have been doing that..... because my Asperger's mind needs it. As with all "new" situations, time and the wearing off of newness will make it less of an issue.

I wasn't going to produce Blog Posts with such a "personal" hue to them. When I look at the art market, the galleries, and even most of the artists.... I find that the very personal is not something that is "done". Perhaps presenting the work and the artist as "stable" or "professional" means sanitizing the personal from any communiques by us? I too am guilty of employing that "strategy" myself much of the time throughout the years. The idea of separating the art from the artist seems legitimate on the surface. But I think it hides what I have always found interesting and telling and even reassuring about art & artists..... their humanity. Their "human-ness".... before all the "curated" life which defines our communications now..... We have the greatest access to one another now..... and yet, the "distance" is greater between us. "Sanitized for your protection"..... as the wrappers on toilets in hotel rooms inform us.

I don't want to sanitize. Beside the actual work of the artists, writers, film-makers, musicians, composers and all the other creatives that I love and admire..... their stories, their struggles, their lives and thoughts on work and life..... connected me to them and the work.  Personally, I like to "know" things.... about people.... real things...and one of the few things that seems self evident.... is that there is no light without darkness.