The Addendum

Tuck Under

Shoulders, over which a snippet of conversation drifts. The edge of things; a horizon at morning, a whispered word that hovers, poignant with unintended meaning. A sky of woolen blanket, a sleepy nudge and the sun sneaks through between it and the valley floor, warm like fingertips.


Tuck Under (Peach and Indigo). Watercolor and gouache on paper, 7 x 10 inches, 2016.

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Sample, Los Angeles and Chicago

Why do I keep these things?

I find them in pockets sometimes, or in the back of a desk drawer. Or on a dresser top, buried under books and papers.

Sometimes they are receipts—do I keep them because I fantasize about being the kind of person who tracks his expenses diligently and accurately? Sometimes they are business cards—in fact I have an almost obsessive-compulsive business card collecting habit, but that is a story for another time. But there are less obvious things, too. Old movie ticket stubs. Promotional postcards that came in the mail. Fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies.

Last but not least are ticket stubs: flights to Chicago or Vancouver, B.C., trains to Portland or Seattle, busses to the Oregon coast. They finished their useful lives long ago, and now they sit in dark places in boxes and books and furniture, where I cannot bear to toss them away. Why? Surely you must do this, too.

This week, I found a set of Virgin America stubs, from a round trip to Chicago, lurking in an old metal cashbox which also holds random household tools. At the back of drawer full of staplers and old pens and random office supplies I came across the stubs from another Virgin America round trip, this time to Los Angeles.

I could toss them I suppose. Or I could entomb them back into a drawer, to be found one day when I move again, so that I can later puzzle over which trip they were from and why I had kept them, testaments to fallible human memory. Would I recall the ways that I felt about each trip? The specific moments, the ways that I hoped to distill places that were new to me (Los Angeles) or familiar and loved (Chicago)? A trip to the hardware store found a new use for them, and after about an hour of careful tearing and packing, the stubs have a new home.


Sample, Los Angeles and Chicago. Paper in glass bottle, 2016.

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79 Miles Per Hour

Train travel is a paradox. It takes great hunks of time, especially here in the West where the distances between things are measured in hours and days, not minutes. It cuts me off from the everyday world of phone calls, emails, the Internet. It is a rhythm and flow. I find myself lingering by the window, transfixed by the expanses. Sure, the train travels at “speed” as often as the railroad allows it—seventy-nine miles-per-hour, nothing to write home about, but not a crawl either. Distant things maintain sharpness and rigidity, while the details of the nearby become a blur. Driving I am usually too alert to notice that blur, but on the train, it washes over me.

Yet the train is not a solitary form of travel. I tend to bristle if I get seated with someone who wants to talk too much, but I always enjoy the morning breakfast. Since I don’t sleep well in a coach seat, I tend to get up as soon as the dining car opens—typically 6:00 a.m. Get up, walk back through the gently rocking cars. Around the feet of sleeping passengers sprawled sideways across two seats. Past the old lady who cannot get a wink and is quietly reading. Past the children piled atop each other, huddled under a blanket. A series of doors open and close in 80-foot intervals, like the beginning of Get Smart!, and then its the diner. As is always the case on Amtrak, seating is communal, and I typically get seated with a couple—usually sleeping car passengers who are taking advantage of their complimentary meal—and another single passenger like myself. The small talk is small, and pauses, sometimes awkward, are frequent, but there is a simple humanity to the silverware striking the plates, the sipping of coffee and orange juice and tea, the taste of the serviceable but unremarkable breakfast. Sure we mean little to nothing to each other, sitting across that table, but for the length of our joint journey, we are a community, and no matter how pro-forma the conversation, I take pleasure in it; its civility refreshes.

I don’t know how many times I have travelled between Oregon and California by train. I admit that I am too often in a hurry, I too often leap for the airline ticket and the promise of semi-instant arrival, and don’t ride Amtrak’s Coast Starlight as much as I used to. Still, it is how I arrived in the state, how I made the beginning of my odd pilgrimage to the University of California (with all of my irrational, sentimental reasons for doing so), and on that journey, I recall looking out to the west, where the Cascade Range was now backlit by the dying sunlight, out beyond the pinnacle of Mount Thielsen, while the present/foreground melted away at speed.


79 Miles Per Hour. Watercolor and ink on paper, 8.5 x 13.75 inches, 2016.

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Alcatraz Avenue


Alcatraz Avenue. Watercolor on paper, 9.5 x 18.0 inches, 2016.


Since beginning graduate school, my painting has suffered. I have had very little time for anything other than my studies, and (as is usually the case when I get busy) my painting projects languished. After my move to Oakland in August 2013, I have started only one painting, and even it remains largely unfinished. Yet the idea of painting my new home appeals to me greatly. Attempting to represent a place forces me to become intimate with it, forces me to think about it in ways less cerebral and more sensual. This painting is part of my attempt to recover that practice.

I often work late on campus. Most nights that I do so, I take the 51B bus down College Avenue, and then walk along Alcatraz Avenue to my apartment down at Telegraph. As anyone who has lived here long knows, much of Berkeley and parts of North Oakland get blanketed by fog after sundown. Sometimes it comes in as great swaths of moisture from the Golden Gate, an arm of marine air and clouds reaching in towards the campanile. Other times it seems to sprout from the ground. Often, on those nights I am late going home, it is the time that the fog appears, as it did in the most subtle of ways last week.

I’ve never painted fog before, so beyond the simple technical challenge, I wanted to experiment with a few other ideas. The most radical of these was to limit my palette to just one color—in this case Prussian Blue, one of my favorite hues. Second, I wanted to try and build up a sense of depth using a combination of multiple washes, and an impasto technique. Lastly, I wanted to be a bit less literal than I would normally be, reducing and simplifying the scene to capture more of its character and less of its minutiae. This is most visible in the repeating form of the streetlights in the dark, the perfect white of their new LED lamps (installed in early 2014), their light cones vertically exaggerated to better show rhythm.

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A split in the arts

The art world is…

split right down the middle. On the left side is an ascetic world of dour dioramas and evergreen minimalism. It lives in Kunsthalles and white cubes. It is protected from the vagaries of the marketplace by a swaddling blanket of bureaucratic concern and obscurantist prose. It’s a cold place, and it makes demands. Spending too many hours in this art world, submitting oneself to its varieties of deprivation, can make you yearn for the warming embrace of the surrounding culture, guzzling corn syrup and wallowing in amateur porn.

The right side, by contrast, is all money and hype. It’s an adult playground, full of expensive toys, bright colors, and strong sensations. It’s gaudy, excessive, and honestly kind of fun. It lives in art fairs and blockbuster auctions, but also in massive installations, mostly in New York and LA. I’m sure you’ve crossed paths with this art world at some point — whether you were staring at an artificial sunset, caught beneath a giant puppy made out of flowers, kissing under fake rain, or in the audience at one of Marina Abramović’s rolling, hands-on, celebrity zoos. I bet you’ve been to the other one as well; if you haven’t, the moment you walk into an empty room with nothing in it but a broken mirror, a flickering light bulb, and a pillow woven with thread the exact color of the night sky over Berlin, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Jacob Mikanowski. “On Pirates and Farmers: Sunshine of Absolute Neglect.” LA Review of Books, May 29, 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015, from http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/sunshine-of-absolute-neglect/.

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Richard Misrach on the U.S.-Mexico Border

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All the photographs are about found objects — shotgun shells from a Border Patrol shooting range, a soccer ball, a boot, a Spanish translation of Doctor Zhivago — that are banal but laden with meaning. I’m always on the lookout for the anomalous…. It wasn’t until several months later… that I understood what I saw. Whenever I go to the desert, I discover things that are unusual. I may not know what they are, but I know a potent narrative will follow in the months or years ahead.

Richard Misrach. “Border Signs.” The California Sunday Magazine. https://stories.californiasunday.com/2014-11-02/richard-misrach-border-signs/

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Quotes: On Being “Off Modern”

Has Art itself become a mere outtake, a long footnote to the human history? In the United States it is technology, not culture, that is regarded to be a space for innovations. Art, it seems, has overstayed its welcome. But the amateur artists, immigrants from the disintegrated homeland, survive against all odds. Often they cross the border illegally and like the diasporic repo-men try to repossess what used to belong to them, re-conquer the space of art.

The amateur artists aspire neither for newness nor for a trendy belatedness. The prefixes “avant” and “post” appear equally outdated or irrelevant in the current media age. The same goes for the illusions of “trans.” But this doesn’t mean that one should try desperately to be in. There is another option; not to be out, but off. As in off-stage, off-key, off-beat and occasionally, off-color. One doesn’t have to be “absolutely modern,” as Rimbaud once dreamed, but off-modern. A lateral move of the knight in game of chess. A detour into some unexplored potentialities of the modern project.

Svetlana Boym. “Nostalgic Technology: Notes for an Off-modern Manifesto.” svetlanaboym.com, Retrieved May 6, 2015, from http://www.svetlanaboym.com/manifesto.htm

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Is this a New “City Beautiful?”

Alain de Botton believes that some cities are beautiful, and some are not, and that there are six ways to make the latter into the former:
Order and Variety
Visible Life
Compact[ness]
Orientation and Mystery
Scale
Local[ism]

Kristin Hohenadel. “Why Do We Love Paris but Hate Frankfurt? A Swiss Author’s Six Qualities of Beautiful Cities.” Slate, March 6, 2015.
http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/03/06/how_to_make_an_attractive_city_a_six_point_manifesto_from_alain_de_botton.html

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Quotes: Outsiders vs. Authenticity of Place

Can a place be potent enough that its character can survive the influx of newcomers? Craig Damrauer thinks so:

The question, then, is whether too many people will come down to New Orleans, like me, and settle here. Enough people that New Orleans ceases to be what it is. Or was. Enough people that the attractive things (again, good and bad) seem to fall away the way they tend to when loads of new people move into the neighborhood — with their own expectations, desires and comforts — and muscle whatever was there before aside. That, essentially, was what chased the store owner from Williamsburg.

My answer to that question is: I doubt it. I think the construction of the city, its address with the land and the environment shapes time. And that’s a potent, almost undetectable force. If you find, after two years here, that you simply cannot think and act the same way you did back in L.A. or Brooklyn or Washington D.C., because something fundamental inside your head has shifted, no amount of will can change that. You’ve been shaped, in other words. Your meter is now adjusted and the streetplan, the moisture, the plantlife, the randomness have made their case.

Craig Damrauer, “Time and the City: In New Orleans, hours bend with the topography.” Medium. https://medium.com/re-form/time-and-the-city-69baf3096c99

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Quotes: The Tweeness of Renaming Neighborhoods

Plenty of others could see the changes in our neighborhood. To some, these changes spelled opportunity. Actually, they spelled “NOBE.” In the fall of 2012, local real estate agents attempted to brand our area “North Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville.” One agent produced a video cataloguing the virtues of “NOBE,” interviewing beaming local residents, all relatively recent arrivals like us. It was as if the neighborhood had been a blank spot on the map prior to 2009 and had now been christened by its discoverers in the language of their aspirations.

I wasn’t the only one who found the tone (and tone-deafness) of the NOBE video off-putting. A contingent of local activists had been working to slow displacement and keep the neighborhood affordable and livable for the people who were already there, not just the café-and-cupcakes set that was growing with every “SOLD” sign. These activists saw the rapid increase in housing prices in the area not as opportunity but as oppression, a further kick to a population that was already down. The video was like cold water dropped onto their hot skillet.

Brock Winstead, “On Becoming a Historic Resident of Oakland,” Boom: A Journal of of California, Winter 2014, Vol 4, No 4. http://www.boomcalifornia.com/2015/01/becoming-historic-resident-oakland/

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