Archive for the Art Category

So in addition to a myriad of all sorts of other bad shit that was visited upon me on Sunday, Jan 25, a day in which the best parts were spent laying in bed in the morning and laying in bed at night, it appears that a bona fide art heist happened to me as well. Just like the Blue Dog that was stolen earlier this month.

Stolen from the back of my truck on Royal street in Bywater were several pieces of art.

Maybe I can get punk band / art vigilantes Stereo Fire Empire to help me recover them.

So, these were unique pieces, one-of-a-kinds. So keep an eye out and let me know if you see..

“nebula”
This assemblage piece of salvaged wood stars. Particularly valuable since it is a “study” for a series of astrophysics pieces I will be working on throughout this year….
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“use your muse”
Salvaged wood piece made from two planks of antique siding with swamp cypress figure.

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Also jacked but less original were three voodoo doll pineheads that resemble the three pictured below…

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And three ceiling fan blades with voodoo dolls painted on them that resemble this…

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Also missing are a bunch of my business cards, a solved Rubik’s Cube, some tools and the Amulet of Drunk Shorty and the Coin of Craig…

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This summer past… wait, is Summer over yet? Let me rephrase. This past August, I stopped working in yellow pine. Just plain yellow pine and plywood and all construction-grade wood that really is in abundance, I stopped salvaging it and stopped using it in my work. This is the stuff you get at Home Depot or any manufactured lumber store. It’s young wood, very easy to use, versatile. The plywood in particular was very useful because large shapes like these angels could all be cut out of one piece. Yellow pine can be used used for lucrative pieces of art that really stand out on a wall.

Yellow pine is a great return on investment also. A single 5′ 2×4 could yield a dozen or so pinehead sculptures and they sold on Jackson Square for $30. And these 2x4s are laying around everywhere. They stick out of dumpsters, sit on the side of the road, take up space in people’s sheds. Make a conscious effort to note every time you see a useless 2×4 and you’ll know what I mean. Yellow pine is great stuff for a salvaged wood artist. It’s the same stuff people build houses with except at some point its status has been transformed from “construction materials” to “salvaged wood” simply by it being left, abandoned or tossed out. So one can easily see how useful and abundant it is.

So, I’m not going to use it anymore.

There are a few reasons for this.

One is that I am trying to stand out a little further from the growing number of slavaged wood artists around New Orleans and the rest of the country. Let’s be honest, salvage works two ways. It saves the artists money on materials and gives the buyer a reason to buy since they become less of a mindless consumer and more of contributor to recycling. Win /win for both. So many artists are now doing it and that is a good thing for the world.

For particular artists however, it just washes out their particular appeal a little bit more. Comes with the territory. The Universe giveth and taketh away. Artists needs to do something to make themselves stand out other than the salvage, generally related to the content of the pieces. I certainly try to do that as much as possible and my being a bit of a twisted fuck has certainly helped. But I wanted to do something more.

So this is where the switch comes in. In less abundance around New Orleans is the very beautiful swamp wood cypress and its antique counterpart heart pine. These woods are special in a few ways.

Firstly because of their age. Growth rings within them almost always reveal a few centuries of growth. Customers who buy them often don’t realize they just bought the oldest thing they may ever own. Also, they are beautiful. Both cypress and heart pine have amazing textures and colors that transcend yellow pine. Third, they used to be houses. It’s not like these pieces of wood were just leftover from some job site. These were actually in New Orleans housing stock and usually functioned in a home for 100 years in addition to the two or three centuries they grew as a tree. The genesis of the piece really began before the Untied States was even a country. I love that and it’s easier to sell to people also.

Cypress and heart pine is indeed more difficult to find though. But I don’t mind that so much. It gives me a reason to hunt for it. I live in Algiers Point, one of New Orleans oldest ‘hoods. Renovations happen. A lot of the cypress I am using right now cam from my own renovation. But still, there is a certain thrill to the hunt. And clients like to think of me bumping around New Orleans in a truck collecting the stuff.

But, my oh my, is it fun to work with. Cypress cuts easy, smells great and leaves a fine, fine sawdust. Heartpine fights you the whole way, dulls your blades, has knots that seems impossible to saw through. It’s ornery but it is strong. I love it for that.

Clients like it also. I have displayed it on the Square for a few weeks now and they are responding to it. Paying full price and recognizing its beauty. Which is nice.

So from now on. Only antique woods, rarer woods and found objects. No more plywood or yellow pine. If you have a piece that contains this stuff, congratulations. You have a bit of a collectors item.

Some pieces using all cypress are below..

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I’m donating a piece of art to the medical fund for the great Big Red Cotton. For all she has done for us over the years. This is a great opportunity to get a soulful piece of art for a good cause. Details below:

100% of the final sale price will go to her fund.

The piece is large, approximately 4′x4′.
 
It is on 1/2″ plywood, painted and carved and mounted with found objects.
 
To get an idea of the scale, the eyes are made from gallon paint can lids.
 
The piece is titled “it’s alright to be afraid (sometimes)” and addresses the acceptability of anxiety and the true nature of bravery.
 
I thought it would be an excellent piece to donate due to the event and the ongoing issue of street violence within the culture of New Orleans.
 
I will deliver to local buyers.
 
National buyers will need to arrange shipping.

A portrait of the Beowulf monster Grendel as he is written in the 1971 novel “Grendel.” Title of the piece is lifted from a line in the book. Composition is directly depicted from cover portrait on paperback version of the novel by Emil Antonucci.

On rough-hewn heart pine wall stud salvaged in New Orleans.

Original painting by Antonucci below…

'Betty and the black dog' by Varg Vargas on salvaged Indian wooden cabinet door, spray paint and found objects.

A few times a year, for no emotional reason, out of nowhere, I get depressed. My “medicine man” theory is that it is tied into my gut and there is certainly some science to back that up. My genetic bad stomach is often acting up around the same time the depression shows up and the chemical difference along with the symptoms of the tummy trouble generates the glum. Again, just my theory.

Winston Churchill called his bouts with depression, his “black dog” and though it wasn’t he who originated it (Wikipedia credits his childhood nanny), his use of it helped spread the metaphor. It seems to me the use of the black dog probably sprang from British folk lore in which black dogs were used to symbolize more than anything else, apparitions and death. Both metaphors are apt. The ghost symbol fits because the condition seems to be controlled by something else, something unseen and beyond control. The death symbol fits because life seems not worth living. More on the latter a few paragraphs down.

During my unfortunate descents into chemical depression, I am allowed by the Universe to walk around in the skin of a person who can’t just “snap out of” their mood by going on a roller coaster ride or for a long walk on the levee or buying a pair of boots.

It’s pretty terrifying.

The most disheartening aspect of the black dog is the immediate awareness of it upon waking. In the first few moments of the morning (or early afternoon), I know it’s there. It’s not a physical feeling like a headache or a sore throat. It’s not within my five senses. I feel it, but not on my skin. It’s a presence, like something pressing down on me. This is a pretty accurate image.

I call the first few minutes of any day my “coming to terms.” Overnight, I have departed this Universe and ventured out into the ethereal and, upon waking, returned again. In that first 15 minutes, the Universe is recreated again and I sort through what has been unsorted. Is it all the same? What’s different? Where will I go. What will I do? What has happened? For the depressed person, this space is occupied by the black dog convincing them that getting out of bed would be the worst thing they could possibly do. There is defeat from the onset.

So they eventually rise and the black dog follows. They walk around with what I call “the filter.” A mask over everything that makes it all shit. A very dangerous, utterly uncondensed philosophy that consumes everything. All colors are desaturated. All enthusiasm is unwarranted. It’s all a cliche. Everything is finite and meaningless. Songs ring flat. Supper can’t be indulged. Company is a hardship, awkward. Relationships strained. Most bitterly for me, I see the Earth is as it will inevitably will be, a lifeless ashen rock. Then, just behind the bright faces of my friends and family are the images of their fetid, rotting corpses. Children are not the hopeful energetic inspirations but rather wheelchair bound and broken.

And this is everywhere. The black dog is a loyal dog. It follows.

Gratefully, I am only visited by it perhaps twice a year, sometimes less and never for very long. Whatever brings it, takes it away and I have not been able to conjure up why it enters or leaves. Some suggest probiotics will balance out the production of serotonin in my lower GI tract. Imagine that. I swallow little sprites that I go into my gut and fix my soul. Our Universe is so folk. We think sometime sit isn’t but it is.

There are so many others for whom the black dog is a regular visitor.

Its wiser, more knowing companions know it well. And they endure it with a bedrock truth that its effect on them is just a spell. A “spell” that is something they are under the influence of but also a “spell” that is something that will go away with time. They will eventually “come around” but certainly can’t “snap out of it.” But after many years and many visitations, they never do really overcome it as much as they simply just endure. They often bravely forgo medication because it makes them robots, incapable of feeling anything at all.

But younger people, whose human spiritual development has been arrested because of this black dog, who perhaps don’t have the spiritual armor against it, who perhaps don’t have supporting figures in their lives, who are misunderstood, who are self medicated, seeking solace, who have been victimized, whose failure to thrive proceeds for decades, for these sons and daughters the black dog’s visitation is most delicate and critical. They forgo medicine for ego, convinced nothing is wrong.

I have so much empathy for them all. To help me cope with this, I made “betty and the black dog.” Beware the black dog brothers and sisters.

After five years of working alongside, being associated with and thankfully developing friendships with visual artists, and since I avoided art school where perhaps a lot of this comes from, I find myself a bit vexed by a certain impulse I’ve noticed in them from time to time: Many deeply want to commodify their work, desperately want to commodify their imagery. And I don’t mean make a lot of money creating work after work of art and developing a great body of work in collections everywhere. I mean the opposite. I mean transforming their imagery into aprons, coffee cups, calendars, greeting cards, puzzles…schlock basically.

This isn’t the growing development of an artist through years and years. It’s getting good enough to create a singular image that everyone wants and then just creating that image over and over again for as much money as possible.

I can certainly see why. It’s more money for less work, an enterprise I have jokingly said I have desired for many years. You create one image that gives people their emotional need (“This New Orleans scene makes me soooo happy! It reminds me of when I was there!”) with their practical need (“How am I going to keep this food from getting all over my clothes? I know!  An apron!”) and that is where art gets very lucrative. But it certainly isn’t the only way to do so. Look at Rodrigue, who has done well for himself while doing his best to control his imagery and, time-after-time, rejecting the commodification of his Blue Dog image. But then, the richest painter of all time did indeed do this and made a ton of money in the process. Though, he wasn’t spiritually rich.

I always wondered why Rodrigue never made a Blue Dog plush. Now I know. He “kept it real.”

What has happened time after time though, in conversation after conversation with artists, has been this alpha priority, over being compelled by the Muse, to commodify the art from the get-go. There is no bliss following. I have even spoken with a fellow salvaged-wood artist who was looking into making resin renderings of his wooden wall hanging sculptures. That’s fake, plastic salvaged wood made in China. Some artists want to find that image that sells and mass produce it either by making those awful “series” of prints or by putting it on as many Chinese-produced products as possible. Ties, mousepads, iPhone covers, if you can put R2-D2 on it, they would put their art on it. At that point, is it really art anymore? Or is it a product? And is the artist a producer?

For something to be mass-produced and to be successful, it needs to be a pretty tame image. It can’t really challenge you in any way. And it must be consistently appealing. So no one is really evoked. The person buying it is safe. The artist / producer is safe. Whoever the third party is, is safe.

And let’s not forget this third party. Or the fourth party. Or however many parties there are going to be between the artist and the buyer. By the time the art lands in the buyer’s hands there will be such a separation between the artist and buyer they will relate to each other about as much as they relate to the Chinese factory worker making the shit.

And I suppose that is ultimately what is bothersome to me about mass produced art and it’s commodification. It’s also why Jackson Square or any outdoor market is such a great place to buy and sell art. There is a direct connection between the artist and the Universe he or she is tasked with capturing . You meet the people and if you did your job right, you exchange an idea or two with them. It’s suspicious to me why this richness would want to be exchanged for some other kind.


I was stopped in my tracks early Sunday morning on Jackson Square by this splendid painting by a fellow artist, Conroy.

Perhaps the performance of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild was still fresh in my head but never the less, the imagery in the painting was quite moving for me.

Painted from an evening photo taken around a streetcar line, the New Orleans girl defines her sassy, cool soul with a bold and brassy posture, bell bottomed pants and funky hair accessories. Though her face is shrouded by the back light there is no need for that form of expressions, the stance says it all. This is a pristine moment. But… night is falling on youthful exuberance, creeping in from the top of the piece in darker, bluer shades.

Don’t be fooled by all the fleur de lis and jazz men under lamposts that seem to stick out on Jackson Square, there is some very amazing and very affordable art out there every weekend.

As a full-fledged, self-supporting, fedora-sporting member of the growing creative class, I present these 12 tips in the best ways to buy from and deal with street artists or market vendors…

Do not devalue the art.
One can try to bring the price of a piece down by pointing out what they perceive as flaws in it. What they actually do is demean their own taste. Why would they want to hang something sub-par on their wall (or worse, give as as a gift)?

Don’t say, “I’ll be back” as a way of saying “I’m not interested.”
Many people don’t want to hurt the feelings of an artist by showing interest in the work but not buying. So they say, “I’ll be back” even though they have no intention of doing so. Just say, “Thanks, it’s beautiful.” The problem is the artist sometimes expects the person to be back and may even wait on them. It can be especially uncomfortable when someone forgets they told the artist they would be back and then by chance happens on by again and the artist sees them and says, “You’re back!” and the person embarrassingly has to sort of slip away. Awkward.

Especially don’t say,”I am coming back to buy this one, can you hold it for me?”
I never hold a piece unless there is some money down but some artists do. A better plan would be to just pay for it all and then have the artist put a “sold” sign on it. “Sold” signs up the value of the art. Otherwise, inevitably the piece that is being held with no money down is wanted by someone with money in hand and the artist has a dilemma. Worst case scenario, they pass on the person who wanted to buy it and the first party doesn’t return. Second worst, they go ahead and sell it and the first person returns and questions their ethics.

Never say, “I could do that.”
Pardon me for slipping into first person here. I mean them, not you reader.

First off, you couldn’t. Not without the artist having presented the composition for you to copy. It’s not your original idea and original ideas are where much of the value in the art is.

Second, You may think you could do it but, it won’t look as good. There are many details in most art. Much of that detail is discovered little by little by little as the artist develops their craft. Whatever bullshit attempt at the piece you are making will lack several of those details because you haven’t put in the time and not look as good.

Third off, I am assuming you know how to cook a steak too. So does that mean you have never bought one? You’re paying someone else to present a finished product to you. It’s not a competition between your skills and theirs. The artist could probably be a desk clerk or whatever the hell it is you do also.

Fourth, I make my stuff in a messy shop with tools I have bought one by one. You will need this shop and these tools to make the piece. It’s not cost effective to buy all this to make one piece. If you happen to have a chop saw, scroll saw, jig saw, clear coat, several bottles of spray paint, sandpaper, brad nails, floral wire, a staple gun with staples, and wood salvaged right here in New Orleans which might be hundreds of years old, go ahead.

But…

… I aint planning on living forever but I do plan on promoting myself and my art until the day I die and with luck that will make this stuff go up in value while your bullshit knockoff never will.

“I’ve got $50 CASH.”
At some point in the past, having folding money may have been preferable to a check that may not clear or a knuckle-busted credit card that would have to be phoned in and then not be approved. But these days, credit card transactions are instant through smart phones and go right into an artist’s bank account for a 2.7% fee. So if what the buyer if offering as an incentive is a greater amount than that percentage point, the CASH isn’t an incentive at all. It seems more like a way of saying, “Look you fool I am trying to give you MONEY here!” But honestly, there are all sorts of people who are offering money who aren’t trying use pejoratives to do so. Perhaps it’s like a wink, wink, nod, nod that I may not have to claim the cash on my tax return but it would look pretty funny if a street artist reported nothing but credit card sales wouldn’t it? Like there is no one using cash in this mostly cash business.

Carpe Diem
Never just leave it up to the Universe to make the decision. It is the will of the Universe if civilization gets destroyed by Planet X. It is not the will of the Universe that is deciding this art purchase. Horace said “SEIZE the day.” He didn’t say “Seize the day if it is there when you get back from Cafe Du Monde.” See more here.

How much is this? $100? How about 25?
As a rule, I will never go below a two-thirds of my asking price and only then under extenuating circumstances such as the piece being particularly heavy and difficult to schlep, or particularly delicate and in danger of being ruined, or having been in inventory a particularly long time. But I don’t go below that for anyone except a client who has been generous in the past, or a friend, or someone buying multiple items from me at one time. To just expect some vast discount of 50% or more, again, shows the attempt at a pejorative and is always shot down, often in a reverse pejorative that belittles the person and makes them look cheap. “I do take food stamps” and “Awww, $100 IS a lot of money for you isn’t it?” are favorites.

The art is priced at what it is because it has been proven to sell at that price.
If there are multiple pieces hanging that are similar in size and detail, it is usually because this item is not some lone artistic effort but rather a proven seller. It has a specific look, takes a specific amount of time and effort to create, requires a specific amount of effort to present and has a specific price. If one customer doesn’t buy it, another one will. So asking for money off of these pieces is akin to just asking the artist for $20 and then walking away. Some artists entire inventory is composed of art that all looks somewhat similar with slight differences. These artists are more calculated in their inventory and are less likely to just give money away. I often start certain types of pieces low and based on the comments I hear and how quickly they begin to sell, move them up to a price that seems to be reasonable for the clients and me.

Never treat money as “bait.”
Never, EVER, ever, ever, ever, ever, wave money around in front of the artist in an attempt to hypnotize them with its allure. It’s just not that enticing and especially isn’t in the hands of the individual who would do so. The artist has chosen to utilize their beautiful mind to beautify the world, if they were so seduced by money they would have run a 900 number or been a preacher something. ;)

A “starving” artist looks like one.
Most good artists aren’t “starving.” Romantic notion but not so common. They either have another job on the side or, if they don’t, can pay all their monthly bills with what they make from art which, by definition, includes groceries. A starving, or just broke-ass, artist will show their desperation early and won’t be asking much for their work in the first place.

If you are looking for some special deal…
…approach after the artist has just set up or on the verge of breaking down. Sometime they like to “break the ice” quickly. Sometimes they want to finish up with a sale and lighten the load.

More affordable prices can not be found anywhere.
If one encounters an artist on the street or at a market, they are getting direct-from-artist prices. Galleries often feature art marked-up by 40% to 60%. That’s acceptable, sure. Galleries (well, some galleries) promote the artist, provide a more stationary point of sale and so on. But if the opportunity presents itself at a market or on the street to buy the piece direct from the person who created it. Do so. There will be no middle man. You get to meet the artist and ask them questions and find out more about your piece than one normally would at a gallery or shop. And more money goes to the artist. I price my pieces the same in the gallery or out so, I do pay out to the gallery 40%. It’s worth it to me because they do some of the work. But the best place to get the art is drirect from the artist.

Well, I do curse at the tourists though it’s more self-righteous, insulting cursing rather than “vicious.” Even though I know it violates Rule #3 under Ethical Conduct on The Noble Eightfold Path.

Would totally put a mummified cat in a piece…if I only had a mummified cat.

There are stories of him trashing art galleries and studios. Handcuffing a woman to his stove. Sticking a mummified cat in one of his works. Going on lithium and alcohol binges that left him a wreck. Cursing at tourists viciously. Sitting in streets with his muddy tennis shoes and rumpled clothing, looking like a bum. Drawing on napkins, grocery bags and just about anything else he liked. Sitting in bars, drinking and trying to get women to go to bed with him.

Noel Rockmore, ‘Picasso of New Orleans,’ revisited

Great AP article. In a related note, in the same position on Nola.com yesterday was a story about a Connecticut house fire.