Table of Contents: > A Commonplace Book


Quandry

My favorite Doctor Seuss art by a country mile… It’s a QUANDRY, who lives on a shelf, in a hole in the ocean alone by himself. And he worries from dawn’s early light. And he worries, just worries, far into the night. He stands there and worries. He simply can’t stop… Is his top side his bottom? Or bottom side top? (Seuss’ September 26th, 1991,New York Times obituary, here)

Sculptures by Christyl Boger

[Reposting on the occasion of a recent visit back to the Clay Studio. On my way out I caught sight of a fundraising postcard with an image of Boger’s Girl with Dolphin. Even in reproduction, partially obscured by type, the piece still captivated. Here again, then…]

Swan Float, a sculpture by Christyl Boger was a highlight of a recent show at Philadelphia’s Clay Studio filled with strong work: Of This Century: Residents, Fellows and Select Guest Artists. While not pictured, it was of a piece with the work above – a classically elegant, expressive nude entwined with an inflatable beach toy. I was bowled over by its formal beauty, impressed with the perfection of its craft, and amused by its absurdity. The world is a richer place for art that can, without being glazed in snark, simultaneously recall both Bernini and Jeff Koons.

Girl with Dolphin, 2007, earthenware, glaze
BroodXX, 2005, earthenware, glaze
Float, 2006, earthenware, glaze

http://www.chrisbogerart.com

Going to Melody…

Leon Wieseltier writing in the New Republic on the closing of his local record store. It’s an perfectly articulated tribute to the deep pleasures of browsing; a eulogy; and a defiant, fierce refusal to accept all this as collateral damage in the interest of progress. Read, treasure – and if it stirs you, take time to tend to and nourish the analog rhythms…

# # #

GOING TO MELODY, February 2, 2012

In a country as injured as ours, there is something unseemly about all this sagacious talk of creative destruction. A concept that was designed to suggest the ironic cruelty of innovation has been twisted into an extenuation of economic misery—into capitalism’s theodicy. Where there are winners, there are losers: praise the Lord and pass the Kindle. I have always believed that the losers know more about life than the winners, though I wish affluence upon us all; but it does not romanticize the poor to demythologize the rich, and to propose that sometimes creative destruction is not very creative but very destructive. The brutality of large businesses toward small businesses, for example, is neither brilliant nor heroic. They do it because they can. Last week a record store in Dupont Circle announced that it was closing. The immediate cause of its demise—it had outlasted national and regional chains—was Price Check, Amazon’s new idea for exterminating competition. It is an app that allows shoppers to scan the bar code on any item in any store and transmit it to Amazon for purposes of comparison, and if it compares favorably to Amazon’s price, Amazon’s special promotion promises a discount on the same item. In this way shoppers become spies, and stores, merely by letting customers through their doors, become complicit in their own undoing. It will not do to shrug that this is capitalism, because it is a particular kind of capitalism: the kind that entertains fantasies of monopoly. For all its technological newness, Amazon’s “vision” is disgustingly familiar. (“Amazon is coming to eat me,” a small publisher of fine religious books stoically told me a few weeks ago.) Nor will it do to explain that Amazon’s app is convenient, unless one is prepared to acquiesce in a view of American existence according to which its supreme consideration must be convenience. How easy must every little thing be? A record store in your neighborhood is also convenient, and so is a bookstore. There is also a sinister side to the convenience of online shopping: hours once spent in the sensory world, in the diversified satisfaction of material needs and desires, can now be surrendered to work. It appears to be a law of American life that there shall be no respite from screens. And so Amazon’s practices raise the old question of the cultural consequences of market piggishness. For there are businesses that are not only businesses, that also have non-monetary reasons for being, that are public goods. Their devastation in the name of profit may be economically legitimate, but it is culturally calamitous. In a word, wrong.

WHEN MY FRIEND at Melody Records told me about the death of his store, I was bereft. This was in part because he is my friend—after my father died, I received a letter from the Holocaust Museum informing me that he had made a donation in my father’s memory—and now he must fend for himself and his family and his staff in the American wreckage. But my dejection was owed also to the fact that this store was one of the primary scenes of my personal cultivation. For thirty years it stimulated me, and provided a sanctuary from sadness and sterility. “Going to Melody” was a reliable way of improving my mind’s weather. The people who worked there had knowledge and taste: they apprised me of obscure pressings of Frank Martin’s chamber music, and warned me about the sound quality of certain reissues of Lucky Thompson and Don Byas, and turned me on to old salsa and new fado. They even teased me about my insane affection for Rihanna. When they added DVDs to the store, my pleasures multiplied. (Also my amusements. Not long ago Marcel Ophuls’ great film arrived in the shop, and the box declared: “Woody Allen presents The Sorrow and The Pity.” Beat that.) Of course all these discs can be found online. But the motive of my visits to the store was not acquisitiveness, it was inquisitiveness. I went there to engage in the time-honored intellectual and cultural activity known as browsing.

IT IS A MATTER OF some importance that the nature of browsing be properly understood. Browsing is a method of humanistic education. It gathers not information but impressions, and refines them by brief (but longer than 29 seconds!) immersions in sound or language. Browsing is to Amazon what flaneurie is to Google Earth. It is an immediate encounter with the actual object of curiosity. The browser (no, not that one) is the flaneur in a room. Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations. On Amazon, by contrast, there are no accidents. Its adjacencies are expected and its associations are probable, because it is programmed for precedents. It takes you to where you have already been—to what you have already bought or thought of buying, and to similar things. It sells similarities. After all, serendipity is a poor business model. But serendipity is how the spirit is renewed; and a record store, like a bookstore, is nothing less than an institution of spiritual renewal.

MY FATHER HAD furniture stores. I grew up with the pathos of retail: you throw all your money into a location and an inventory, you hang out a sign, you trick out a window, you unlock a door, and (if you lack the resources to advertise formidably) you wait. If they come in, you use your skill; but they have to come in. When my father was ill, I would quit the library and mind the store. One day I set a house record for sofas sold because the store was located in a neighborhood where many U.N. people lived, and I knew more than most furniture salesmen about the crises in Iran and Cyprus. Eventually the store failed. But the failure of some stores is more repercussive than the failure of other stores. The commerce of culture is a trade in ideals of beauty, goodness, and truth. A hunger for profit exploits a hunger for meaning. If the one gets too ravenous, the other may find it harder to subsist. The disappearance of our bookstores and our record stores constitutes one of the great self-inflicted wounds of this wounding time.

NOTE: I’ve quoted this essay in its entirety because it deserves to be read widely. It says important things in beautiful ways. I’ve taken it, though, from behind The New Republic’s paywall. Pay them a visit. Linger, read, and please consider subscribing… thank you.

For Christopher Hitchens…

The first time I read an essay by Christopher Hitchens it triggered in me an almost magnetic alignment. It is what influence feels like, palpably. Your notions, deductions, biases, obsessions, interests, and proclivities drift, loosely organized in patchwork clumps, downstream. They bump up, shift, and self organize, when suddenly a forceful current snaps them into order. Everything just locks into place.

I wish I could remember what it was about, my first draught of this amazing, lusty, brilliant mind. Maybe it was about the culture of snitching in East Berlin, or the necessary example of Thomas Paine. A full throated and eloquently argued brief against the very notion of the divine. The disgrace of Clinton. The grace of the Kurds. The hangover scene in Lucky Jim. Orwell with a side of Orwell in an Orwell sauce. Later it may have been on poetry, the lovely considerations of Czesław Miłosz, or Fenton, Seidel, and Larkin. Reading Lolita as a father. The rallying, with righteous and sometimes nearly blind fervor, to the fight against Islamofacism. Amidst the pamphleteering, a steady stream of passionate criticism, elegant and lingering appreciations of Wodehouse, Wolf Hall, and, most delightfully, that libidinous rogue, Sir Harry Flashman.

In a way, though, it hardly matters. It wasn’t really about concurring with his arguments; it was following the manner of his thought, tracing its grain. Wanting to think like that, argue like that. In conversation or argument insisting on the significance of the melodramatic flourish, a theatrical toss off… the gregariousness, the bonhomie, the relish…. the decency of it all.

# # #

People disproportionally focus on the atheism, lately. I get it, as it really was the topic that propelled him, like Richard Dawkins, to general fame. It’s a shame, though, because it misses the larger point of it all. It was religion’s ongoing project to extinguish the nourishing legacy of the Enlightenment that fueled his fury. Broadly speaking, Hitch advocated for the credit due to a species that could put aside its animal nature and build and nurture this miraculous idea of civilization. To suppress, punish, or deny humanity this achievement and its benefits was an act of the basest evil – a denial of humanity itself. The stupid, pointless loss, the vandalism – the human cost of all of this idiocy – is what called him to the thick of it. It was a front he never tired of patrolling and a battle he never failed to enjoin.

Hitch’s ultimate argument, then, was to not to advocate against religion but for literature. He resolutely maintained that it was in our poems, our books and our paintings that we really grapple the most honestly, the most subtly, and the most fully with the fundamental questions and dilemmas of our existence.

Oh, and yes, there’s the drinking. And yes, it was herculean. But looking at it through the framing conceit of mere drinking, whether to condemn or to celebrate, is shortsighted and, I think, a little vulgar. Again, we’re missing the essential point of it all. As he put it:

I always knew there was a risk in the bohemian lifestyle… I decided to take it because it helped my concentration, it stopped me being bored — it stopped other people being boring. It would make me want to prolong the conversation and enhance the moment. If you ask: would I do it again? I would probably say yes. But I would have quit earlier hoping to get away with the whole thing. I decided all of life is a wager and I’m going to wager on this bit… In a strange way I don’t regret it. It’s just impossible for me to picture life without wine, and other things, fueling the company, keeping me reading, energizing me. It worked for me. It really did.

Exactly. No, seriously – exactly. This is the wager we enthusiasts make – appetite and curiosity always pushing, unbalancing our keel, lurching into the waves to feel the contour of experience…. Hitch nailed it here. He’s written reams of defiant endorsements of bohemian life before, squarely standing his ground against pious pick-nose hall monitors, amidst a swirl of smoke, clinking glass in hand. This time it’s tempered. Caution enters the frame. The bet has been called. He wagered too much. He didn’t get away with the whole thing. With this last dash of restraint, the recipe is complete. Mix well and enjoy.

# # #

Appreciations of Hitch are always anchored by anecdotes. It seems his essence was in person, when all these aspects were gathered up in the full force of his personality. Like many of this readers, I’m sure, I’d daydream now and then of what it would be like to find myself in his company. Absurdly enough, chance and accident tumbled in my favor one evening in Los Angeles, in the late 90’s.

Hitch was touring his new broadside, No One Left to Lie To-The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton and I went to go see him read. The reading was raucous, funny, and bracing. Afterwords (after the cops led out the LaRouche plant) he held a signing, and when my turn arrived I basically thanked him for the company of his bullshit detector, and, if I remember right, mentioned the Chicago journal The Baffler, with which I was really besotted at the time.. After some appreciative nods Hitch thanked me, and as I walked away, a young Anglo-Indian named Palash Davé, who was filming the reading, asked me if he could interview me for a documentary about the book tour. Sure, I said, and asked him to join me for a smoke outside. After a bit of a filmed banter between me and a young black labor organizer we just started grousing as the crowd dispersed.

I asked him if there was a way I could keep in touch with him to keep track of the project. He said yes, then asked if I would like to have a drink with him and Hitchens that night. Cue all sputtering cliches…

So I end up going back to his hotel room… Hitch greeted us at the door and wolfishly explained that it was the same suite where Clinton stays when he’s in Los Angeles (he couldn’t wait to mark the room with smoke and whiskey). Along with Hitchens and Palash were his wife Carol Blue, Steve Wasserman- the editor at the time of the LA Times book review, and old leftie whose name I can’t recall, and the guy who shot Saturday Night Fever.

Hitchens was an effusive and diligent host. Asked me what I wanted to drink, and then led me out to the balcony, where he and I talked for about an hour, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking his Rothmans’s… Folk began to leave and the night eventually boiled down to me, Hitchens and Palash, drinking and talking until we cleaned out the mini-bar.

What a chat – From Clinton, of course, to the fate of the Left, our generation, Dylan, more on the Baffler and the art/music/politics mafia of Chicago, a long boozy dissertation on the film “Glory,” books and more books, authors (Murry Kempton & John Dos Passos, mostly) and the private tax revolt of home packed cigarettes.

The drink and tobacco exhausted, he offered a round of coffee and room service. I declined, feeling the onset of the mental fog I could no longer hold back. The bill had come due. Home, then.

# # #

There’s a reason we’re anxious about influence. To be shaped by external forces means, as individuals, that we need to yield, to go just a little slack, so our posture shifts, changes, molds. We surrender. We risk being supple for the promise of being shaped. You strike a balance between being propelled and being subsumed.

The exhilaration, though! – when you encounter, and engage such a force, and, under your shaky grip, you let it sweep you away…. His moral clarity, his insistence on literature, and art, really, as the soul of humanity, and the lusty brio with which he lived have profoundly formed and informed me. If all the world’s a stage, he was a character for the ages. We are vastly poorer for his absence. Civilization has lost one of it’s great knights and I have lost one of my brightest guiding stars. Farewell Hitch. That was a damn good show.

A Motto

I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself” – Claes Oldenburg, 1961

Insanely Great

Steve Jobs changed my life three times. In 1982 the Apple II was the tractor beam (along with D&D) that pulled me into my first encounter with counterculture – the edges of the assembly language writing, phone-phreaking, copy protection cracking, dip switch flicking homebrew computer scene. It was the first time I really discovered something covert in culture. It was electric.

In 1985 I went for a routine visit to the Computer Connection outside of Albany, NY. There I saw a strange looking beige appliance looking thing. I remember, vividly, seeing a “folder” dragged into the “trash” with a “mouse.” And MacPaint. The Macintosh was the tool I would end up making my living on over the past 18 years.

My affection for older household appliances and everyday objects comes from the fact that I genuinely think they were far more attractive back then. You could sense aesthetics as a fundamental part of their design. They were also, in many cases, incredibly well manufactured. Nowadays, Apple’s products are among the few heirs to that tradition. I use them everyday to work, to read, to talk to people, to listen to music, to relax, and to look up how Nigella Lawson would make scampi with anchovies.

It’s woven up in who I am, what I do and how I live. Thanks Steve.

From Nature…

Actually, the principle of copying nature faithfully hardly has any meaning. Since it is impossible to exhaust her individuality with any one copy; and since a copy must always choose which traits it leaves out or includes, the question of imitation becomes the new question: following what law, by the hand of what artist, is nature raised into the realm of poetry? Jean Paul Richter, The Horn of Oberon: Jean Paul Richter’s School for Aesthetics. (Image, James W. Voshell, Apple tree in snow, 1993, pencil on paper.)

Fine art’s always gone for filthy lucre

Seriously, this is a must read. It’s a detailed description of the unhinged, lunatic magnificence of a 15th century “living painting.” As the author Anita Albus makes vividly clear – “it’s pointless to look for the line where kitsch ends and fine art begins.” Utterly gobsmacking… just contemplating it nearly defeats the imagination.

(Taken from Albus’ The Art of Arts, which I’ve only just begun, but is emerging as one of the best books I’ve ever read on the mechanics and philosophy of painting.)

Swinburne’s Cleopatra

Batshit. Pardon the vernacular, but it’s really the only way to describe Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem Cleopatra. What ridiculous swoops of melodrama. Overripe to the point of sugary bursting. It begins with a vivid litany of Cleopatra’s superlative qualities. It quickly unravels into a hysterical parade of phantasmagoric noodling – histories crushed under her eyelids, something about molten heaven drier than sand, and culminating in a psychedelic apocalypse. Or something. But of course it’s all a dream, but the dream of a lurid goddess, laughing with a red sweet mouth of wine, with history itself under her sway. Superb stuff, enjoy! (By the way Swinburne’s story is riveting and well, well worth reading.)

HER mouth is fragrant as a vine,
A vine with birds in all its boughs;
Serpent and scarab for a sign
Between the beauty of her brows
And the amorous deep lids divine.

Her great curled hair makes luminous
Her cheeks, her lifted throat and chin.
Shall she not have the hearts of us
To shatter, and the loves therein
To shred between her fingers thus?

Small ruined broken strays of light,
Pearl after pearl she shreds them through
Her long sweet sleepy fingers, white
As any pearl’s heart veined with blue,
And soft as dew on a soft night.

As if the very eyes of love
Shone through her shutting lids, and stole
The slow looks of a snake or dove;
As if her lips absorbed the whole
Of love, her soul the soul thereof.

Lost, all the lordly pearls that were
Wrung from the sea’s heart, from the green
Coasts of the Indian gulf-river;
Lost, all the loves of the world—so keen
Towards this queen for love of her.

You see against her throat the small
Sharp glittering shadows of them shake;
And through her hair the imperial
Curled likeness of the river snake,
Whose bite shall make an end of all.

Through the scales sheathing him like wings,
Through hieroglyphs of gold and gem,
The strong sense of her beauty stings,
Like a keen pulse of love in them,
A running flame through all his rings.

Under those low large lids of hers
She hath the histories of all time;
The fruit of foliage-stricken years;
The old seasons with their heavy chime
That leaves its rhyme in the world’s ears.

She sees the hand of death made bare,
The ravelled riddle of the skies,
The faces faded that were fair,
The mouths made speechless that were wise,
The hollow eyes and dusty hair;

The shape and shadow of mystic things,
Things that fate fashions or forbids;
The staff of time-forgotten Kings
Whose name falls off the Pyramids,
Their coffin-lids and grave-clothings;

Dank dregs, the scum of pool or clod,
God-spawn of lizard-footed clans,
And those dog-headed hulks that trod
Swart necks of the old Egyptians,
Raw draughts of man’s beginning God;

The poised hawk, quivering ere he smote,
With plume-like gems on breast and back;
The asps and water-worms afloat
Between the rush-flowers moist and slack;
The cat’s warm black bright rising throat.

The purple days of drouth expand
Like a scroll opened out again;
The molten heaven drier than sand,
The hot red heaven without rain,
Sheds iron pain on the empty land.

All Egypt aches in the sun’s sight;
The lips of men are harsh for drouth,
The fierce air leaves their cheeks burnt white,
Charred by the bitter blowing south,
Whose dusty mouth is sharp to bite.

All this she dreams of, and her eyes
Are wrought after the sense hereof.
There is no heart in her for sighs;
The face of her is more than love—
A name above the Ptolemies.

Her great grave beauty covers her
As that sleek spoil beneath her feet
Clothed once the anointed soothsayer;
The hallowing is gone forth from it
Now, made unmeet for priests to wear.

She treads on gods and god-like things,
On fate and fear and life and death,
On hate that cleaves and love that clings,
All that is brought forth of man’s breath
And perisheth with what it brings.

She holds her future close, her lips
Hold fast the face of things to be;
Actium, and sound of war that dips
Down the blown valleys of the sea,
Far sails that flee, and storms of ships;

The laughing red sweet mouth of wine
At ending of life’s festival;
That spice of cerecloths, and the fine
White bitter dust funereal
Sprinkled on all things for a sign;

His face, who was and was not he,
In whom, alive, her life abode;
The end, when she gained heart to see
Those ways of death wherein she trod,
Goddess by god, with Antony.

chronic personal tourism

We read… enraptured by [a] gallant attempt to distill a precious meaning from life’s experience – to make a spot on a globe a window into universal circumstance, and to fashion of one’s personal chronic tourism a crystal whose facts reflect an entire life…  – John Updike

Came across the Updike blurb on the back cover of Joseph Brodkey’s Watermark, a vivid personal account of his travels in Venice. What struck me first, as it always does, is the precision cut finish of the language. But as I read, and re-read the quote, it’s impact bloomed and broadened to nothing less than a pocket manifesto. Isn’t this “gallant attempt,” this “chronic personal tourism” the very enterprise we’re up to over here. Updike nails exactly the motives behind documenting the passionate appreciation of the quintessence of things in daily life that so delight and move us. It’s not just cerebral, chin scratching, aesthetic trainspotting. It’s a double act of alchemy – to distill an essence, and to extract from that essence something fundamental to human experience.

Art: Lee Price, Cocoa Puffs, Oil on Linen, 44” x 62”

The Art Imperative, Part I

The Lives of Others is among my absolute favorite films – every time I see it I dwell on its themes and implications for days. In light of a recent viewing, three interconnected posts: this appreciation, an appeal, and some verse.

The flick is about many things: The mechanics of loyalty under duress, the immutability of human corruption, the tragedy of moral compromise, the perverse bond of the spy to his quarry. It has the scaffolding of a tightly wound Cold War thriller and the drapery of a melodrama.

At its core, though, is what it has to say about art and its role in society and, ultimately, to the human condition.

Art, it makes clear, is far from ornament – it is fundamental and necessary. It is the power to reorder our world, to interrogate it. It is a question and an answer. It allows us to explore the topography of our lives and society, the edges of what is permissible or possible. Art gives the idea of freedom shape, tangibility.

It’s why, when oppression looms, art becomes an imperative – an act of bravery and service. Art forms a haven where freedom can pool, exist, be tended to, shepherded, and protected. It becomes elevated ground from which to fight back.

The entire film frames a simple, gigantic, sobering question – What would we do? This dilemma is what throws the three main characters into sharp relief; the surveillance drone and true believer softened by by prolonged exposure to art and the vitality of life; the self-assured, savvy director galvanized to bravery; the wreck of an actress who’s collapsing under a slurry of accommodations, addictions, compromises and betrayals. Their situations serve the plot, yes, but taken together they provoke an implicit challenge, especially to those who live by and for the arts today. What would we do?

(art by Claudia Varosio)


The Art Imperative, Part III

The Power of Taste
Zbigniew Herbert

It didn’t require great character at all
our refusal disagreement and resistance
we had a shred of necessary courage
but fundamentally it was a matter of taste
…Yes taste
in which there are fibers of soul the cartilage of conscience

Who knows if we had been better and more attractively tempted sent
rose-skinned women thin as a wafer
or fantastic creatures from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch
but what kind of hell was there at this time
a wet pit the murderers’ alley the barrack
called a palace of justice
a home-brewed Mephisto in a Lenin jacket
sent Aurora’s grandchildren out into the field
boys with potato faces
very ugly girls with red hands

Verily their rhetoric was made of cheap sacking
(Marcus Tullius kept turning in his grave)
chains of tautologies a couple of concepts like flails
the dialectics of slaughterers no distinctions in reasoning
syntax deprived of beauty of the subjunctive

So aesthetics can be helpful in life
one should not neglect the study of beauty

Before we declare our consent we must carefully examine
the shape of the architecture the rhythm of the drums and pipes
official colors the despicable ritual of funerals

Our eyes and ears refused obedience
the princes of our senses proudly chose exile

It did not require great character at all
we had a shred of necessary courage
but fundamentally it was a matter of taste
…Yes taste
that commands us to get out to make a wry face draw out a sneer
even if for this the precious capital of the body the head
must fall

(art: Pax Sovietica Polish Solidarity Movement Poster, 1980s, © Stapleton Collection)

Multum in Parvo

The compact power of this beautifully rendered instance of Chinese calligraphy, and it’s accompanying description, is breathtaking. Underneath the seaming simplicity of the rendering and the relationships of brushstrokes lies a mechanism as precise and interdependent as a timepiece.

It’s emblematic of the profound pleasures of its source – an essay called Multum in Parvo, by Carl Zigrosser, the Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the 50’s and 60’s. The phrase means “Much in little” – where “a multiplicity of detail is concentrated into a unified principle, the particular is transformed into the universal, a largeness of meaning is conveyed with the utmost economy of means.” The essay was published in a elegant, carefully crafted, hardbound edition in 1965. Out of print, copies are plentiful and cheap, and can be found here.

Wish I was here…

Given the way this week is going, I wish this notepad cover was dimensional portal rather than a simple piece of fab period ephemera. Oh well… This Del E. Webb’s an interesting cat. Time’s Man of Year in 1964, Webb, “a  Phoenix construction man with a can-do reputation” helped Bugsy Siegal build Las Vegas. From scratch. Interesting bio here.

Robert Longo’s Place

Shots taken by Todd Selby of Robert Longo in his studio. For me it’s the smudgy texture of everything surrounding his deep, velvety drawings. Especially evocative are the shots of his supplies – more like mechanics gear, overlaid with an archipelago of black smears. Everything here suggests a great physicality behind the smooth rich sheen and stark contrast of his finished work. Longo has compared his drawing style to sculpture, saying “when I draw with graphite I smudge it with my fingers, move it around physically, it’s like clay. Painting is painting on the surface, covering up, where drawing is putting the picture into the paper like a photograph.”

It’s a testament to their power that they retain a so much of this muscularity, materiality, and weight when hung in the hermetic space of a gallery. However, they seem especially at home in the studio. It’s like seeing a big ship being assembled in dry-dock from far overhead, and seeing the complex mechanics behind something that will later glide with such heavy grace on the water.

(Below for your pleasure, are a few selections from his iconic 80’s series Men in the Cities. They have, I think, aged particularly well, and seem, now, emblematic of their era rather than beholden to it. Longo also maintains an excellent, comprehensive website with generous galleries spanning his entire career. Also, Selby’s ongoing, long running series of arty glitterati in their homes is amazing and worth checking out frequently)