Friday, April 15, 2016

Look! Book Arts | Healdsburg, CA

God's Femur

It's 1965, I'm twenty-two years old, and six men in suits are hustling me through the basement of the shopping center that is host to the Nebraska Governor's Annual Art Competition.  They lead me to a stairway that descends deeper yet, into some sort of sub-basement--and a small windowless office, lit by a single 100-watt bulb and furnished with a desk, two chairs and a walk-in safe.  It's in this safe they have sequestered the painting I've entered into their show--but I don't know that yet.

A short bald man sits at the desk, studying a piece of paper.  I'm directed to sit in front and the six men-in-suits form a semi-circle behind him.  He must be the big honcho, I figure, and suddenly I realize: of course! he's the guy who's gonna tell me I've won first place and give me the $400 prize!--which I desperately need in order to pay the tuition for my last semester at college.

In school I'm known for painting derivatives of Marc Rothko, but I couldn't see that kind of thing winning.  So, taking a cue from my anatomy class, I've created something figurative, Biblical even, in hopes of winning first prize.  And because Pop Art is de rigeur, I've included a comic book touch: a word balloon springing from the mouth of the figure.

But instead of congratulating me, the short bald man at the desk looks up, stares directly into my forehead and says: "I am certain you know that it is illegal to sell pornography in the state of Nebraska."  

"What's that?"

He repeats himself. "It is illegal to sell pornography in the state of Nebraska, and these men," (he motions behind him) "our lawyers, inform me that by entering the the competition and signing the form which stipulates the first-prize winner will be paid for his work, you have, in essence, placed your painting up for sale.

"And as you well know, the painting you have entered is obscene.

"But," he says.  "But.  We would not like to see you go to jail.  We would prefer that you sign this form."  And he hands me the piece of paper, an agreement to remove my work from the show, no matter that judges have apparently awarded it first place.

Now, I'm a college kid so I've read my Kafka, but I don't yet use drugs so I think this kind of thing can't happen here.  But it can and it is and I don't know what to do.  I try arguing that my painting isn't dirty, that it's based on Michaelangelo's Creation of Adam (which is in the Vatican for God's sake) and that it's sort of an x-ray anatomical lesson in that you can see into it, the bones inside the figure--but the man on the other side of the desk interrupts me.  "Mr. Schumaker," he says, "you know we cannot hang a painting like this in our shopping center.  Children and nuns will be viewing this show."

I do not understand, it's all so unexpected, but as in Kafka, I am assumed guilty, I do not escape, and I do not awaken from a dream.  Half-an-hour later, I emerge from this sub-basement inferno, having signed their piece of paper and sold my painting for $425.  Which is, they point out, twenty-five dollars more than the first-place prize!  And, as a concession to me, they have agreed not to destroy my painting, but to offer it instead to the local museum.


In the next few days, the incident grows.  Scores of artists remove their work in protest; the governor's wife calls my work "immoral and obscene" (later we hear she never actually saw it); and I am offered my first one-man show--which, unfortunately, I have to turn down because all of my other 'good' paintings (all three of them) I have spitefully left hanging in the Governor's show.

For weeks the story continues in the local papers and one day the short bald man behind the desk is provoked into inviting a group of newsmen to view my painting.  He removes it from the safe, untapes the cardboard used to cover "the offending portions" and when one of the reporters complains he doesn't see what is objectionable, he answers, "If you don't see the obscenity in it, then you don't have a perverted mind."

Which is a wonderful lesson if I'd only had ears to hear.  One which, years later, a French philosopher will cause considerable stir by proclaiming: "The viewer is the artist!  The reader is the author!"  Yet here in 1965, an unknown public relations man is offering me that information, in plain mid-western English, for free (more or less).

When I first tell this story to my wife, she demands, "I've got to see it!  Where's the dirty painting?"  At first I demur.  "It's not very good, it's embarrassing, and I told you, it's not even dirty!  But," I add, "you wouldn't believe the stories these guys made up!

"There's only one figure in the painting, God, but they see three.  The bone in His leg--God's femur--they see it as a dick entering His butt.  And the word balloon coming out of His mouth, they see it as a woman's naughty bits which God is manipulating orally.  And...and..."

But my wife doesn't hear me, she doesn't hear a word I'm saying. She's staring at a photo of the paintings, eyes agog: "Look at the size of that femur!" she hoots.  "Will you look at the size of that femur!"

And I look at it and for the very first time I realize: it's truly a very, very dirty painting.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Skin Fish

Skin Fish is a hand-painted book, page size 22.5" x 15" (opens to 22.5" x 30"), 40 pages plus cover, painted on Brown Stonehenge, created in 2016, with a binding by John Demerritt.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Paris Paper

Mary Judge of Schema Projects (Bushwick) will be including one of my edition hand-painted books, Coffin Laughter, at PaperParis, Tuesday 29 March and Wednesday 30 March, from 12pm -9pm, 3 Cité du Petit Thouars, 75003, Paris.

Yifat Gat of Look&Listen (St Chamas) will be manning the booth.

spreads from Coffin Laughter:

PAPER/PARIS is a new pop up mini art fair produced by Look&Listen, dedicated to contemporary drawing. The event is located just next to the DRAWING NOW art fair in Paris. PAPER/PARIS aims to offer a unique meeting ground for art enthusiasts and the greater public, through gathering international galleries to present a wide range of original works including editions, publications, and more.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Probe | Zeitgeist Gallery | Nashville

Growing up in Nebraska, I'd always planned on moving to New York to paint, but when I graduated college in 1966, a foolish and addled road trip sidetracked me to San Francisco, where I've now lived for half a century.

Except for 2012, when my wife and I relocated to Manhattan for a year.

I quickly found a midtown studio which fulfilled my childhood dreams, and it seemed only natural that my attention would also turn to the art I'd been doing before I got waylaid by the West Coast: small, minimalist sculptures; and paintings whose subjects were the Kennedy era space program and the first French atomic submarine.

The French Secret,
34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood,

34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood, 2013

I Am Big Heaven,
34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood, 2013

The works looked very different from the non-objective, painterly work I'd been doing in San Francisco; they included photo transfers and printouts from magazines of the time. (I had kept them all those years!) I spent two years working on them, both in Manhattan and later back in our home in San Francisco.

Jump Me,
34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood, 2013

The Photographer,
34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood, 2013

Mr. Nobody,
34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood, 2013

34" x 48" acrylic and archival photo on paper on wood, 2013

Because they were so different from what I'd been exhibiting, I showed them to very few people; they were my little secret. But when Zeitgeist offered me a show this year, I immediately thought of them. Zeitgeist had given me my very first shows, despite the fact I had no record at the time and was known as an illustrator, not a painter. This would be something similar: showing works that fell outside my comfort zone. 

Included with the paintings above are five small painted wood sculptures; and in the backroom  there are about a dozen smaller works with acrylic and transfer photos on wood.

Zeitgeist Gallery  
05 March thru 30 April 2016
516 Hagan Street #100
Nashville TN 37203
615 256 4805
Tuesday - Saturday 11 - 5