Wolves, Whores, Trump & Immigration

Read poet Shelley Puhak’s essay at the Columbia Journal.

Is it any surprise then, that after passing from one iron cage to another, passing from one blue-serge inspector to another, my great-grandmother was detained for further inspection?

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The Hot Hands of Summer: Ric McCauley

(Detail from “Hot Hands of Summer”)

The Hot Hands of Summer: New Paintings by Ric McCauley

Opening Reception July 16, 2016
Gallery 209, Cape Charles, VA

(Detail from “Forgotten Floods”)

Gallery 209 welcomes new work by painter Ric McCauley following his near sell-out show of May 2015. Whales and sea life make return appearances, as does the artist’s sly, understated commentary on the way the natural world is affected by technology. After Hurricane Sandy, surely no one in Cape Charles can underestimate the impact Mother Nature has on humans. McCauley looks at such things from the animal world’s point of view, as in his acrylic painting “Forgotten Floods”, in which an elephant makes an escape by boat. Other paintings question mankind’s impact on nature, such as “Autocorrect”, which depicts a whale turning into metal to ward off human hunters.

(“Ground Control to Major Tom”)

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Mostly McCauley’ work is full of joy and humor. His is a world where dogs are as likely to be found on telephone lines as birds are… and usually those dogs are Labrador retrievers. McCauley and his partner have owned two such dogs. Their current pet, Ellie, models for several of these paintings. Most notably is “Ground Control to Major Tom”, which reworks recently departed musician David Bowie’s 1969 song “Space Oddity” into a lament between a satellite and a blond canine wearing a cone collar that doubles as a radio dish. When Ellie is not modeling, she can be found rolling in the castoff paint covering her master’s drop cloth. McCauley employs a splatter and scrubbing technique for many of his backgrounds and textures, and sometimes the price for such work is a yellow Lab with a blue tail.

Miss Ellie supervises her master’s work

In Cape Charles, you just might spot McCauley painting in his back yard. He typically starts a canvas by first layering broad washes of acrylic color down on canvases that sometimes reach 4 feet by 6 feet. He scrubs at the surface or sprays it with water to remove excess paint and achieve texture, a process that allows random images to emerge and helps him intuit the detail work that comes next as he brings each painting to its final resolution.

(Detail from “Operation Migration”)

McCauley’s current show consists of fourteen large-scale new works as well as a small suite of miniature paintings. His whales, jellyfish and other sea life ground him as a thoroughly Eastern Shore artist, and his large-scale painting “Midnight on Mason” is an homage to the home he’s found here.

 

“Midnight on Mason” (Detail from a larger canvas)

McCauley grew up in rural West Virginia, and the traces of his early country living–exploring wildlife, growing his own food in the family garden–can be found in the foxes and plants that sneak into his other paintings. He graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a BA in Fine Arts in 1993. There he studied printmaking, photography, and oil and acrylic painting. Recently McCauley recently won Best in Show at the St. Mary’s alumni exhibition (Boyden Gallery, 2014). His work is part of several private collections and his commercial clients include the Cape Charles Hotel. Recently his art was featured in Sports Business Daily’s write-up on Billy Casper Golf, whose Reston, VA, corporate office features one of McCauley’s buffalo paintings.

To contact the Artist: RicMcCauley [at] yahoo.com

or contact Gallery 209 (ask for Sandy)
209 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, VA 23310
 (757) 331-2433

gallery209@gmail.com

Poetry Means Making: The Empathy Machine

A Process Essay

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In working on “The Empathy Machine”, a visual essay on poetics recently published by Cleaver Magazine, I wrote and drew part 1 in the summer of 2015, and finished part 2 on the kitchen table over a snowy January weekend. Part two was much longer than part 1, which had CleaverFaceIssue-13-Front-500-px-1been subtitled A Visual Narrative on the Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith. Part 2 expanded on those musings into something that took the form of an ars poetica. (You can read part 2 here.) For a long time, the ideas had been stewing in my imagination and coming to life in my sketchpad. But there comes a point when you have to pull it all together, even if that means doing so with tools as simple as glue sticks, a watercolor set, and some Faber Castell artist pens.

 

IMG_4877What appeared as part 1 in issue #11 of Cleaver started off as a series of New Yorker-style cartoons calling out poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s for his insensitivity in turning the autopsy report of Michael Brown into a performance piece. I was angry. I was MAD. I cmadouldn’t understand how the “material” Goldsmith was performing and the poetry I was writing could all supposedly fall into the same genre. Other people were outraged, too, and when Vanessa Place, Michael Derrick Hudson, and Sherman Alexie entered the equation it all built to a critical mass. (It didn’t hurt that Goldsmith, with his penchant for wild suits and his long beard, was a fun figure to draw.) The anger and energy I felt proved to be a vehicle for me to look outward and inward, a way to ask myself questions to guide me in terms of future art-making, whether that be in words or pictures (or the two combined). Karen Rile, Editor-in-Chief, and Raymond Rorke, Art Editor, would prove invaluable to me along the way in terms of critical feedback.

Goldsmith cartoon-McQuain-draft 1

 

 

As new ideas came to me, I found that working in a  “New Yorker” style wasn’t going to cut it. The project was opening up into an essay, stretching its shoulders, wanting more space.

My thoughts tend to bounce around in a ricochet, one idea playing off another. I decided my method needed to be old school (literally “cut and paste”) as well as very personal: a journal style to match my journey. I’m a huge fan of cartoonist Lynda Barry, and I’ve followed her work for years, even reviewing some of her early comic strip collections. Using legal pads — which Barry did in What It Is, her fantastic meditation on image-making — proved extremely liberating. Cheap paper gave me a freedom with the material aspect of the project. More color began to enter the drawings as I dug out the paints and Prismacolor pencils I had accumulated over the years. Why hadn’t I been using them? What had I been saving them for? For this?

Over Christmas, through a New Year’s Day plagued with a head cold, and well into a January snowstorm, I made steady progress toward the end of the project. My partner and I did not eat at the kitchen table for weeks.

As I was working on the project, David Bowie died. I loved Bowie, a grand statesman of the ’80s British Invasion that I loved, and so much more. Bowie became another of the visual homages that the narrative called for. Others included Keith Haring’s pop art from the 1980s, haringPulloutwhich seemed to be everywhere back when I was coming out (and is long overdue for a resurgence in popularity). Another inspiration was the current  plight of the honeybee in the face of colony collapse disorder. The list goes on: GaMonsterPullOutnesh and Cthulhu and Superman; Calvin & Hobbes cartoons; the art of activist Rini Templeton, whose brilliant drawings I happily discovered by way of Christopher Soto’s poetry book, Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press). Templeton’s image suggested connectivity and transformation to me, and were ripe to combine with the image of a mermaid, a sometimes-symbol of the trans community as well as a symbol of the connection between humankind and nature. Other allusions included The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, which I smermaidPulloutaw once in the Michener collection at the Honolulu Museum in Hawai’i. Most importantly, I relied on a sketchbook filled with faces of the inspirational people I met during the summer of 2015 at the Crosstalk, Color, Composition conference, the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. To those  amazing people and their inspiring words, I am grateful. I am changed.

In terms of negative inspirations, I’ve been bothered by this era’s bad habit of people anonymously attacking one another through social media channels when they disagree, and how if anyone critiques that practice he or she is quickly accused of toGoldsmithPulloutne-policing or censorship. I understand that anonymity is an appealing veil when one fears for personal safety, but we also diminish our nobility on occasions when we don’t fight fair. If you ask me, there is enough micro-aggression going around these days that it all very quickly adds up to full-sized aggression. Such tactics should be used with caution. That might sound funny coming from someone who has taken a number of shots at Goldsmith and Place, but I also believe in the power of satire as a vehicle for critique and an instrument for social change. Certainly there are voices that get too often heard, and certainly we need new platforms to raise up those voices needing better representation. Yet every time I see a dialogue opportunity get crushed, I hear the creak of more minds closing.

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Poetry is essentially about making. It’s a messy process, and one often feels pulled in different directions at once, torn by competing ideologies.

What did I learn about image making? Poems and visual art rely on images, and these images are not always seen with our eyes but with our mind. Ezra Pound described an image as an “interpretative metaphor” or “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”.  I think sometimes images can be sounds. Or smells. Or things we touch or things that touch us. These images take us on a journey that at times feels circular and difficult, an uneasy game–but that path is not without purpose. 
EmpathyProcessOn a practical level, I found it useful to lay my pages out on the floor in order to get a sense of narrative flow and design. l was reminded how easily paper crinkles when watercolor is added, and that sometimes you need to make your better half gently iron pages the way Carson the butler irons the Earl of Grantham’s newspaper on Downton Abbey. I learned that there are probably better glue sticks out there than the ones Staples sells, and that there is great  joy to be found in the smudge-proof nib of a good Faber Castell drawing pen.

I learned that even with ironing it is best to have heavy books on hand to continue flattening your pages prior to scanning. I combined the weight of an atlas, Chip Kidd’s Batman Collected, and a collection of nude studies by photographer George Platt Lynes for a little extra frisson.

In my work, I’ve often felt pulled in many directions at once, that my different art-making impulses compete with each other. This has often left me frustrated. In teasing out the reasons why I think art-making should be viewed as an empathy machine, I learned that what I’ve feared can also be a strength. That the mistakes of others can teach us almost as much as the mistakes we make on our own. I’ve learned that hybrid, ekphrastic constructs bring great satisfaction. Along the way, I developed an Empathy Credo to guide my future making. It might not be the same approach as yours, and my own credo might change and evolve over time. Most of all, this project reminded me that poetry—and all art—is in the making, that the key to overcoming obstacles can be found in the words “try” and “do”.

Now I need to go get busy. What about you?

How Do We Pollinate Identity? The Empathy Machine, Part 2

MonsterPullOutGanesh, Cthulhu, Keats and honeybees! Sherman Alexie, Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place, and the Muppets!  What can this strange mash-up teach us about the pitfalls and triumphs of poetry and art-making? Part two of my comix essay, The Empathy Machine, is out now. Click here! It’s a hybrid graphic narrative I’ve worked on for Cleaver Magazine, a meditation on art-making, poetics, identity and appropriation. There’s even a board game you can play. You can read last fall’s part 1 of the project at the link below if you missed it (the Cleaver editors nominated it to Best American Essays!)
Make sure to link to the cartoon version. Cleaver published a text version as well for the visually impaired and for search engines that can’t (yet?) read comix.

Are Santa and Sinterklaas the same character?

Last year I was part of a Facebook discussion thread where JH Cové, a Dutch anthropologist, took to task someone who equated the two: He wrote, “The Dutch Sinterklaas, or Sint Nicolaas, has nothing to do with Christmas. It is celebrated on Dec. 5th [the20141228-192559-69959348.jpg eve of St. Nicholas’s Feast Day], after which he goes back to Spain, and Christmas preparations can begin all over Holland. He’s got his own songs, his own history (from Myra, Turkey, correct), and, these days, is rivaled by Santa Claus (or Father Christmas or Papa Noel). I’m sure there are anthropologists that find connections somewhere—and there is a resemblance in the fact that they both use chimneys (who came up with that first?), even though in Holland Santa Claus doesn’t!—but take it from this Dutch anthropologist, they’re very different.”

 

A lot of strong Dutch pride there. My take? Santa and Sinterklaas both share the same Catholic saint as their inspiration, and Santa derives from the Dutch version via the Dutch immigrants arriving in the New York area in the 1600/1700s. Without Sinterklaas, and perhaps without Father Christmas from England, there would be no modern Santa, since he is essentially a mash-up of the two. It’s true, Sinterklaas and Santa have markedly different personalities in the way they are portrayed. I think of them as cousins, or brothers in the Yuletide spirit.

Someone else in the conversation brought up the Dutch customs surrounding the black men mentioned in the David Sedaris story “Six to Eight Black Men” (from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim). Those characters are Sinterklaas’s Zwarte Piet companions, and they sometimes play a role similar to Santa’s elves. At other times, as in the Sedaris story, they play a “bad cop” role to Sinterklaas’s good cop. Like Krampus, the Zwarte Piet characters are sometimes said to carry bad children off. In the Sedaris essay, that’s back to Spain, where Sinterklaas is said to live. Unlike his cousin, Santa, who lives at the North Pole. I’d say Sinterklaas has the better deal there.

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Getty images.

Most of the time the Zwarte Piet companions play the role of cheerful assistants, but they are not without controversy (for evidence, see the article below from a 2014 issue of The Economist).. As the Dutch become more racially diverse,  people are beginning to question the use of black-face as a means for white people to portray the diminutive imp, whose roots lie in the history of the Moors conquest of Europe. Some people now make up new stories (the black is ash from chimney soot) while others have turned to using  face paint in a variety of colors–red, blue, green etc, making the new Piets as colorful as a bag of Skittles. http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21635517-worsening-clash-over-tradition-and-racial-sensitivities-blacked-up

 

For more info on KRAMPUS, the star of a new horror film this year, check out this post. It tells how folks in Philadelphia are celebrating with an array of European characters and traditions.

For more on holiday folklore, join the Krampuslauf Philly Folklore group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/966987013330153/edit/

ALSO, if you live near Philadelphia and wish to take part in this year’s fun Alpine Christmas tradition, check out the Krampuslauf Parade of Spirits website.
Event: Krampuslauf Philadelphia 2015
Sat. Dec. 12, 3 pm. Parade is usually at dusk.
Venue: Liberty Lands Park
Philadelphia
913-961 N 3rd St, Philadelphia, US

 

Murder Mystery on South Street!

Who is poisoning people on local college campuses? On Sunday The Philadelphia Inquirer published the first chapter of NAKED CAME THE CHEESESTEAK, a serial murder mystery I co-wrote with 12 other #PhillyWriters. Read it here. Kelly Simmons offers the first rollicking chapter… but don’t get too attached to her characters. This novel comes with a high body count.
Join us for the launch party Thursday night of this week at Tattooed Mom. 5th and South Street, 21+.
My chapter debuts online during week 6 of this fun project from Philadelphia Stories‘ book dNCTC.bookcover_WEBivision.   Each week, a new chapter will drop at the link!

From Hippos to KISS albums to Yanni: The Best Hobby Collections of the Alameda County Fair! View my collection!

You won’t believe what you’ll learn in #7.–it’s HUGE!!!
#collections #AlamedaCountyFair #ACFair

#1 Collect a soft drink!

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One of the best pavilions at the Alameda Co. Fair is the HOBBIES pavilion, where you can get ribbons for artfully displaying the stuff you collect. Notice the judicious use of quotation marks in the detailed description by the Pepsi memorabilia collector here. Is “Antiques Dealer” really just a euphemism for mom being a “hoarder”? I think so!


#2 Collect a decade!

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Hobbies can be anything, but they are the most fun when they involve STUFF. Not sports. Who wants to sweat? Going to yard sales to get STUFF is so much better! Hooray for STUFF! Let’s call this collection “The ’80s!!!” I had all this stuff. Do you think this collector is gay? I do!!! Yay for the Thompson Twins and ’80s hair! Yay for the Psychedelic Furs and teenage melancholia!

#3 Collect things that don’t really go together!

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Hobbies are great!!! Especially when they involve Yanni! Let’s put up a display booth of New Age shitty music and some weird things to balance it all out, like a Wicked playbill. Yay for hobbies! Yay for non-traditional thinking!


#4 Collect rock and roll memorabilia–a no-brainer!

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Let’s collect KISS! Are they Knights In Satan’s Service or are they just a bunch of so-so musicians with kick-ass makeup and amazing marketing skills? When you get famous you should diversify, right? So notice the bottle of KISS wine on the far right. Do you think they stomped the grapes with their platform boots? KISS THIS! But don’t drink it! Save it for your collection! Tasty!

#5 Collect Smokey the Bear!

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As a child, I had a Smokey the Bear doll, so I am predisposed to liking this collection quite a bit. Plus Smokey has emerged as an unexpected emblem of gay subculture! Bears are great! Smokey also helps prevent forest fires! Some people might want to burn this collection, but not this aficionado! I hope he has a Smokey suit he can wear to the Furries Con in San Jose. Yay for Smokey! Fun fact: Smokey really existed! There is a comic book to prove it. But sadly the real Smokey was not nearly so anthropomorphic as the one on TV. (Don’t expect a good bio-pic. A lot of plot points similar to Bambie. #TriggerWarning) Love Smokey anyway! Mmmm! Fur! Stroke it! Be nice!


#6 Collect an Amazon superhero!

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Who wouldn’t want to collect Wonder Woman? (Boys, probably. At least straight boys.) A Wonder Woman collection is probably not going to go over well with the fellas on the football team, but who cares? Grab your magic lasso and make them tell the truth! EVERYONE loves Wonder Woman! Little girls in the 1970s spun in front of their TVs trying to turn into her. This little boy did too. MS. Magazine put her on their cover! She’s a freaking icon! How more wonderful does it GET?


#7 Collect Hippos!

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Hobbies are informative! And you know what? Hippos ARE HUGE! This girl doesn’t lie. I would give hobby #17 a blue ribbon for artfulness and attention to basic facts. Plus, it’s always a strategic idea, once you’ve made the basic case for your argument, to leave your audience with a new lingering question. Like, “Where’s Rhino?” I wanna know! Don’t you? Let’s hear it for HUGE!

#8 Collect semi-perishable foodstuff!

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You know what? If you can’t think of anything else to collect, COLLECT SUGAR! Who knew sugar could be so beautiful? This hobby is a real steal, and it encourages you to get out of the house more and into restaurants! Grandma can help! Just make her bring her pocketbook! Steal, steal, steal! Sugar, sugar, sugar! It’s almost poetry! (This collection can also help start a new one: ANTS!)

Don’t let Alameda County, CA, have all the fun! You TOO can start a collection. Some collections I’d like to see next year:

Stuff I Stole from Church
Parts of Bugs
Broken Hummels
Belly Button Lint Portraiture
Things That Are Invisible (like Wonder Woman’s plane! And ideas!)

There’s always so much more! What do YOU want to collect? (Tell me below). Open your eyes! Fill a display case! Consider joining a group like 4-H to help legitimize your collecting habits. Make a list of yard sales. Get started now! Remember, the more the merrier. Nothing is too insignificant. Egg cups, erasers, old gum in interesting shapes. Hobbies are the folk art of the common man! Let your collection help you fly your freak flag!
(Hey, who wants to help me start collecting actual freak flags?)

Kelly McQuain, June 19, 2015
California