Author Archives: Citizen X
Jerico Woggon thinks art should be like a good cocktail party: it should be fun, it should include your friends and it should be at least mildly intoxicating. It was more than that at the Regent Gallery recently when someone broke in after hours and consumed the rum, whiskey and vodka that were vital elements in a series of Cornell-like displays Jerico created out of glass-fronted fire extinguisher cases.Each one featured a racy novel with a lurid cover, a bottle of liquor and a pack of cigarettes set against an appropriate backdrop, inviting the viewer to a frolicsome read. The displays were trashed, but what bothered Jerico the most was that the vandals left the books behind. “They missed the whole point,” he complained.
Jerico works in a variety of media: paint, furniture design, fashion design (painted fabric), installation and event design. Like many LA artists whose work tends to ignore traditional boundaries, Jerico is just as comfortable painting a dress or a surfboard as he is a canvas. He also frequently explores black light in installations that almost always feature his trademark dots. “I really like dots,” he says. He is inspired by his grandfather, the cartoonist Bill Woggon, whose most enduring creation, Katy Keene, starred in a series of comic books in the ‘50s. They featured the interactive device of clothing designs suggested by readers. (Katy Keene is still a minor deity in graying corners of the gay community.) Another inspiration is his experience working on classic theme cars, such as the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. “Those guys were real artists,” Jerico says of the designers and engineers who created the Weinermobile. “They were my true art teachers.” We sat down with Jerico recently in an installation he put together for M.J. Higgins Gallery. In the Ratpack-inspired blacklit tableaux, mannequins pose in mid-gyration and cherries and olives glow in the background.
Citizen X: You are into a wide variety of media. How would you describe your work?
Jerrico: Most recently, I’m focusing on fine art, furniture, a bit of fashion design with my paintings on dresses, men’s ties, suits and dress shirts. Pretty much anything that’ll accept paint—I’ll paint on it.
Citizen X: This is sort of like creating whole environments.
Jerrico: Yeah. Basically, on the other end of the spectrum is my large-scale black-light art installation, like out at Coachella Music Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival and last summers’ LAartFest. That sort of grew out of necessity. My friends and I started a Halloween party in Santa Barbara, which I did for 13 years. I became the head guy when everyone else burned out. I took it on solo for seven years.
Citizen X: So this installation we’re sitting in now has, to some degree, a Halloween party in its heritage. We’re in a dark bar with classically posed mannequins and your trademark dot paintings on the walls, all in black light. What is going on here? Are you trying to project a sensibility? Is there some formal arrangement of objects and shapes and colors you are exploring?
Jerrico: Yeah, when I bring people to a party or an environment I create, it sets a tone. It makes them feel right away: “This is a place where I’m going to have fun.” That’s what I am all about—really—putting people in an environment [that] makes them happy. That’s my goal.
The black light paint just comes in the primary colors. Without the black light, it’s very bright, but with the black light, it just turns itself totally on. I worked my way through the basic shapes: I did a party with a flame theme back in 2000. Then I did a Thanksgiving Eve party where I did diamonds. Then I did a party that was themed the ‘70s versus the ‘80s, where I did all checkerboard. Then in 2001, I did a New Year’s party. “A Space Odyssey,” I called it, inspired by Stanley Kubrick and his film. I really studied that work and that time.
At that point I was 30 years old, so I felt compelled to create something with some real foundation. All those artists who came before me—those science fiction writers and poets and filmmakers had been envisioning this year for so long—here I was, a young artist put in that moment, to celebrate that moment, of 2001. So I created “The Year of The Snake,” which is a 138-foot-long black-light painting. It’s 12 canvases, each 9-by-12-feet. I was working with 25 volunteers helping me paint the dots. One of the volunteers was a young woman who was pregnant. We came up with the concept of leaving just one dot that was pure white. That was the egg and that was in the center of the piece, so in essence, it was like the creation, the beginning of life in this piece.
Citizen X: The snake is composed of your trademark dots…
Jerrico: Yeah, the dots represent a polka-dot universe. Within that universe, there are two snakes coming together, meeting at that egg in the center. At the very end, there are two snakes going away. So, it has some humor in it. There is a pink snake at one end and a green snake at the other. I like to have a bit of humor in my work. I pulled it off and we had a great New Year’s party celebrating the beginning of 2001. After painting a piece that’s 138 feet long, I was at a time in my life when I thought, “How am I going to top myself? Where do I go from here?” It really got me. So I took a time out. [I] went to Colorado in 2002 and restored a Victorian house with my father. I immersed myself in carpentry. That was a really good experience. I came back with an inspired gusto, with the sole intention of giving it [art] my all.
Citizen X: What was your next big project?
Jerrico: The Coachella Music Festival. They asked me, “What’s it gonna take for you to be here and do this festival, because we like what we’re seeing?” And at that point, I said, “I just need camping passes and event passes to do this festival.” So I did that and it was very well received. The following year, Coachella asked me to make a piece 400 feet long. I was like, “Four hundred feet long? What are you thinking? That’s crazy!” So what I did, I used black plastic mounted on a fence, wood dots that I had used in previous years and [I] painted more wood dots. So, I had maybe 300 dots on wood of various sizes. I went up with a crew of about 15 people to help put the dots up for the weekend and light them up with black lights. They created this really interesting meadow enclosure. So I pulled it off, on time, on budget, delivering the goods.
"It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars"
~ Garrison Keillor
Ted Meyer creates exuberant, colorful paintings of human figures in vaguely orgiastic groups – but it is his exploration of pain and its aftermath that may be his most intriguing work. A chance encounter with a woman in a wheelchair inspired him to explore body issues by making prints of scars caused by serious injury or illness and subsequent surgery. A youth spent in continuous, unrelieved pain also informs a body of work that is appealing both for its formal graphic qualities and the visceral reaction provoked by being confronted with evidence of a disturbing wound. He inks the scars and does direct transfer prints and displays them with a photo of the subject and a short text that describes the nature of the injury or operation that created the scar. As soon as he started showing this work he knew he had touched a nerve in our body-image conscious society because of the surprising number of people who approached him with their own scar stories.
When his prints were shown at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., a New York Times story on his work generated an outpouring of personal tales from wounded survivors of various trauma around the world, among them the victim of a machete attack in Somalia and a Californian who had been bitten by a shark while surfing in Australia. Most gratifying to Meyer, however, was the reaction of the veterans of the war in Iraq who were recuperating at Walter Reed and who thanked him for helping them to see their scars as something other than the stigma of combat.
Meyer lives in a spacious loft in the main building at The Brewery near downtown L.A. He shares the space with several cats, one of which, oddly yet appropriately, is a partial amputee. Most of his well-structured paintings have the color and exuberance of Matisse’s Dance. His early works, however, are quite different. They show monochromatic, almost skeletal figures that seem trapped in coffin-like enclosures that force them to bend and contort to fit in the narrow space. We asked Meyer to explain how and why his work had evolved and how he came to explore the nature of scars:
“I was born with Gaucher’s disease. It’s an enzyme deficiency that caused a lot of joint pain and bone deterioration. I spent a lot of time in the hospital when I was a child and I did a lot of my early art work there. As a result I think I’ve always been very comfortable doing work based on body form, especially imperfect body form and showing pain and struggle. So early on my paintings were very much focused on me, on my inner narrative and what was going on with me physically. I had severe bone pain and I felt very trapped by my situation, I was always in pain—so I depicted that."
“I studied graphics but I had never painted. Then one Christmas a girlfriend gave me a paint set and said, ‘you keep telling me you’re an artist, paint something.’ This was a little bit before my surgeries. I was 32. I had my joints replaced and around the same time they came up with a treatment that alleviated some of the side effects of the illness and almost immediately, because of the sudden lack of pain, the first paintings I did after the operation were full bodies with skin on them that showed social interaction. They no longer showed a sole person locked in a shape.
So I started on a series of these multiple figures and this has been an ongoing series since about 1992. They’re a lot more colorful, they’re healthy-looking, and they’re interacting with each other and the environment as opposed to just being an isolated figure. The healthier I got, the more colorful and happy the paintings became and I really wasn’t doing artwork about illness any more. Then I moved to New York from Los Angeles and I went to an art opening and I see this girl in a wheelchair roll into the gallery. I was immediately taken with her – not just because she was very pretty but her whole attitude of who-gives-a-shit-that-I’m-in-a-wheelchair and she’s an actress and she’s still dancing with a dance company even though she’s still in a wheelchair. Eventually we would have a lot of conversations about doing artwork. She kept saying ‘You still have to do artwork about illness and mobility issues.’"
“There was one night when we were sitting in her house and she pulled out a little bag of clips and these were the clips that had been in her back after her operation. She had had a rod put in after her back was broken and after a while they were uncomfortable so they took them out. So I’m holding these clips that had been inside her body for some time and we’re having this whole conversation and I’m thinking, ‘Well, I really have nothing left to say about my illness, maybe I should start doing work about other people’s illnesses.’ That’s how the whole scar thing started. I did a print of her back, showed it at the first art walk after I moved to the Brewery and people immediately started coming up to me and saying, ‘Here, let me show you MY scar and let me tell you my story.’ So by the second art walk I had about seven scars up and then the next one I had about fifteen and now I’m up to fifty or so."
“The project has developed more than just the visual aspect of it to sort of like this Studs Terkel documentary process. People kept asking for more and more about it. They wanted to know where on the body a particular scar was, so I added diagrams. They wanted to know how did the person get injured, so I went back and got everybody’s story. Then they wanted to see the people, so I started photographing the people with the ink on them. So now for each person I have a whole history. It‘s pretty amazing. The last time I showed them, which was down at the 18th Street Art Complex, there was a woman who came in with stage four brain cancer, took off her hat and pointed her head at me with this big scar and asked, ‘Can we do this now? I don’t know how much longer I have to live?’ So she showed up the next day and we printed her head."
“What’s interesting is, my paintings are pretty and people buy them for their house. But these are the ones (the scar prints) to which everyone relates. Sometimes they start crying because it’s the same scar of someone they knew who died. I try not to make them too literal. A long time ago I was working for an after-school program in San Diego and we hired this woman to come in and she did Japanese fish prints and I keep thinking of those prints because I didn’t want to just take photographs of scars. To a certain extent, I wanted to take the ‘ick’ factor out of it so that when you first look at them they are studies in color and line and then you might get in closer and discover, ‘oh, this is a tracheotomy’ or ‘this is a suicide attempt.’ So they start off having artistic, visual meaning and then once you get into them they have a whole different narrative.”
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Frenzied images? Tainted slogans? And biased information? It must be time for another election. As citizens of the world’s most media-driven country, we gobble up social humor and sacrificial sarcasm faster than a Beverly Hills Thanksgiving Turkey on an acorn binge. Rest assured this year there will be no shortage of serious ammunition for the political cartoonist.
Carrying on this tradition of candidate cuckolding are many of LA’s own artists, among them Steven Brooks. Originally a Boston native, Brooks utilizes his website, www.ColorInAble.com, to broadcast his own cultural commentary through the lives of several cartoon families he has created. The characters, mostly women, are representative of major slices of society and the stereotypical views these individual social groups project. Ranging from the Latina woman risen from the barrio, to the African American working woman, to the Asian punk rocker, these depictions lean toward supporting more liberal views of urban life while their antagonists more often than not take the form of the upper-middle class white housewife that would feel at home rubbing shoulders with the McCain-Palin cause.
Beginning in the early 90s, Steven’s characters first appeared in political comic strips found in the Boston-based quarterly publication, Don’t Shoot! Its Only Comics, and the biweekly press, Editorial Humor. Presented originally in traditional frame comic style, these personalities commented on the social discrepancies and major hullabaloo of the Boston area. Then, Brooks decided to bestow his characters with more portability and an expanded cultural critique to include issues of a more national concern. Cashing in on convenience and creativity, Steven began experimenting with a classic craft art that was more likely than not a favorite past time of our Founding Fathers daughters: the paper doll. Thus began the paper doll parade with Zaferne Taylor, the Homeland Security Commandant.
Zaferne first materialized as an easy-to-cut-out and very ‘color-in-able’ black and white stencil, wearing nothing but camou-chones, but coming well equipped to not only save her family but also the US with a year’s supply of plastic tarp, duct tape, and scissors, and sporting matching camouflage cargo pants and utility vest a la the era of 9-11 inspired terrorist scares. She was later followed by Nira the Empress, Zaferne’s alter-ego that draws on the powers of Bechtel, General Electric, and Siemens in her battle to enforce Homeland Security, Malice Ratrap who obnoxiously exercises her first amendment rights, and many more. Together through their abrasive humor these women work to save the world, question censorship, and stifle the existing political status quo.
If you added a cut out of Brooks himself in his paper doll line up, he would typically tower almost a foot above the others due not only to his supermodel slender frame and height but also the four-inch heels he would be sporting. Arriving to our interview in slacks, blazer, and pumps his critique stands true to his character. As boisterous and animated as his pretty paper ladies, the origin of their cause introduced himself and wasted no time in bringing his story to life. When asked to describe how a paper doll of himself might be dressed, he responded, “Probably a powerful Boston business woman in a blazer, blouse, and business skirt, but however my girlfriend, Suzie Moon, would be willing to dress me would be a go.” Learning the secrets of coordinating and fashion as a result of the hands-on experience gained in dressing his characters, Steven regularly sports a variety of different women’s clothing styles as a reflection of what he feels to be representative of his own true identity, recreating his look as fits the appropriate setting, one advantage that the societal double standard that affords more women an advantage than men.
When Brooks moved west from Boston, his characters traveled with him and became politically active in the city of Los Angeles. Currently, Steven’s cartoons carry out their daily affairs via the World Wide Web on the ColorInAble website where they still take the physical from of paper dolls. With a link to a printable PDF version, you too can printout your own Zaferne Taylor or Lorraine Claire Hernandez complete with appropriate clothing and accessories enabling you to color in their skin, hair, and clothing. With multiple copies to color in, it would be possible to change their outer appearance as often as Sarah Palin has changed her stance on the issues and her shoes this election season.
Although Brooks’ paper dolls may appear to be seemingly simple, the symbolic incorporation of the paper doll actually carries metaphoric significance for many members of the greater population. Brooks points out that as we change costumes or dress to prepare for the multitude of roles that most of us carry out in our daily lives – especially women, who change roles form mother, to business woman, to hockey mom, to trophy wife, and back to mom again at the end of the day – we too are very much like the paper doll that is constantly changing outer appearance to please our public while attempting to maintain our inner personal convictions. From a more critical perspective, the very fleeting temporal quality of the flimsy physical dimension of paper dolls also remind us that we, as a political audience and voters, are disposable; when we lose interest, the candidates simply dismiss our opinions and move on to the next interested party.
A bit more trashy, and a lot more sassy are Brooks’ McDespair and President-In-Waiting mug shots of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Produced in a style that directly references the Soviet-inspired roots of Shepard Fairey’s pro-Obama poster, and focusing conceptually on the same rationale that Andy Warhol leaned on when he painted the portrait of democratic candidate, Richard Nixon, in 1972, these posters carry on a thick tradition of aesthetic political discourse. Like Warhol, rather than portray the party he was partial to, Steven Brooks chose to present an image of the opposing party’s candidate under the assumption that when confronted with the shallow face value of the image, the American public would realize the obvious facts associated with that choice and automatically make the intended alternative decision.
The ultimate influences of the McCain-McDespair and Palin-President-In-Waiting posters turned postcards produced by Brooks are still yet to be seen, but in the meantime the images have resulted in quite a few turned heads, capturing the attention of Obama campaign supporters. And, while some of Brooks’ more liberal cartoons may be under the impression that Senator Obama would only be in favor of the affirmative work of Fairey, believing Obama has run a clean campaign, according to CNN.com Obama would more than likely be thrilled to add Brook’s McCain-Palin mugs shots to his artillery of antagonistic slogans that account for 77% of his campaign ads which is quite steep when compared to “McDespair’s” mere 56%.
Currently Steven is living and working in Los Angeles. When he is not managing the multiple personalities of the ColorInAble website he specializes in three-dimensional computer animation for major feature films. As an active member of the community Steven shows regularly in the traveling Cannibal Flower Gallery exhibitions that frequent the Downtown Art Scene. His gallery work also utilizes the social critique platform but incorporates his skills in three-dimensional computer animation.
Steven Brook’s characters will carry on in black and white as we approach this election year’s historical crossroads where we, the American public, will choose not only between Democrat and Republican, but also between black and white for the first time in this young nation’s history. This decision may seem as simple for some as choosing between the black and white of this paper, but artists and media alike have shown us through their complex caricatures and critiques that this election year will go down in history books as one of the most colorful thus far. Thanks to the work of Steven Brooks, Shepard Fairey, and the many others out there that are using their art to campaign for the cause, the greater public will be enlightened to the issues at hand and better equipped to make the decision that will change this country’s future forever.
Upon entering a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I encountered a pleasant sense of peace accentuated by the overwhelming visual, aural and olfactory stimuli: the pungent incense wafting through the open doors; the low, echoing timber of the gong and temple bell; the priceless gold statuettes, ancient relics and other revered ornaments; and the stunning giant gold Buddha that sat gracefully center stage.
Here, in Northern Thailand, the temple or ‘Wat’ is the center of village life serving as a school, theatre, meeting hall, playground, outdoor market and political centre. It embodies all aspects of life and spirit, perpetuates a long legacy of local community artistry and celebrates Thai culture as a whole.
After quickly surveying the small carpeted area in front of the giant Buddha, I quietly sat near one of the columns and remained there trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. I made it a point to take only a few photos, then stopped and observed, trying not to be perceived as the ugly American.
Within moments a young Thai girl and her family walked into the temple. She immediately sat down casually yet respectfully at the foot of the statue. Being raised Catholic (not by choice, mind you) this type of comfort in a “place of worship” was unfamiliar; she sat as one would do on one’s carpet at home.
After a few moments she gracefully turned, looked at me and smiled. Without a word she told me it was ok. That I was welcomed in her country and that it was ok to be whoever or whatever I was.
It took me by surprise and I didn’t immediately respond with a counter-smile. This was a moment of clarity.
As I looked around the room, the unusual artistry of the temple became more recognizable; the local people became familiar and Thailand became more meaningful. The weight of trying to fit in was lifted, and I realized this was my place too. This belonged to all of us.
This wasn’t my first visit to Thailand or to a Buddhist temple, nor was I driven by the typical tourist anxiety that results in a sightseeing frenzy. This time I was greeted by business owner, hotel workers, restaurant servers, and artisans who call this land home. Curious looks were followed by broad smiles and open arms as we were reacquainted. Furthermore, I repeatedly ran into travelers who have also made this an annual trip.
Days later I was in Patong Beach, Phuket, a beautiful playground for the world’s salacious and adventurous. There I was for another anti-Xmas and New Year’s celebration; an exercise in living in the moment.
On the beach, beautiful floating luminarias gracefully lifting in to the air as dangerous mortars were launched into the midnight sky by untrained intoxicated thrill seekers. On the streets, the local girls were falling in love with their temporary boyfriends as traveling families were pushing their baby strollers through exploding boxes of fireworks and thousands of cans of silly string.
It was utter mayhem; a chaotic moment where there is no-where to run. So I plopped down on the sand and I took another hard look my surroundings. Again the same conclusion: acceptance.
Fast-forward two weeks to the rat race, to my beloved Los Angeles. Back to one of the most amazing places on the planet. Being born and raised here. I understand it. Cruel and giving, it is graced with amazing scenery, nightlife, talent, and potential… but we have much to learn about acceptance.
So let’s start by embracing all our guests, especially those who may feel a bit out of place, for it is they who will be propagating our message and returning not only as patrons but as friends.
Taz is the nom de arte of the artist formerly known as Wayne Niemand, an accidental Angeleno from South Africa whose paintings echo his fascination with the symbols and iconography of native cultures of Africa, the Americas and Australia and reflect the influences of Miro and Motherwell.
He never intended to make the U.S. his home but when he was on his way to Canada from South Africa in the early 90s a confrontation with a surly Canadian customs agent soured him on the Great White North. Fortunately, his travel agent in Johannesburg had over-equipped him with a five-year, multiple-entry visa for the United States, just so he could fly into JFK and catch a connecting flight to Canada from LaGuardia. Feeling not inclined to challenge Canada’s frosty welcome, he invoked his U.S. visa privileges and retreated to Baltimore.
He also experimented with New York and Chicago but the weather was alarming. He headed west and found himself in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one autumn day: “I drank in the hotel bar until I was wasted. Woke up the following morning, guys were banging on my door, ‘Taz, get up, get up!’ I thought, what the fuck? I looked out the fucking window and there was fucking snow. Now, I had never been in snow my whole fucking life. I go out there. I don’t know about dressing in layers. I mean, I come from South Africa! Layers to me is a T-shirt under a cotton shirt. After twenty minutes in the snow I’m back inside in the jacuzzi. It’s like ten in the morning. A waiter walks by and I’m like, ‘hey, a tub of brandy!’ You can keep fucking snow, mate.”
Taz eventually landed in L.A. after a brief sojourn in San Francisco. “That city smells like mothballs to me.” He came to Los Angeles because his passport was stolen and he needed to report it to the South African consulate. He met his future ex-wife here and he found the climate relatively inoffensive. In the decade and a half since he has steadily built an impressive body of work, mostly paintings, in his Arts District studio.
He thinks of himself as primarily a sculptor and his paintings reveal an interest in mass and form. Many could be studies for works in three dimensions. He is primarily self-taught. He walked out of the only university art class he ever signed up for. “I walked into a lecture, the professor walked in and said ‘Realism is everything and abstraction is nothing.’ I sat and pondered about this for a while and then I stood up and grabbed my bag. The guy says, ‘Young man, where do you think you’re going?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m outta here, mate.”
Later, he studied for a year under a traditional native woodcarver in Swaziland, an experience that ended up being as much about character as art. “If I had to choose one thing I learned in that year it would be patience. I learned how to be patient. Instead of forcing something to come to me, let it be and if it takes two years or it takes three years, finally we’ll see what it is.”
Taz says he thinks his vocation as an artist was inevitable, given the nature of his interests and his sensibility as a child, although he was unaware of it at the time. “The weird thing is, I’m so visual, I don’t remember phone numbers by the numbers but in the shape I dial them. I never got to identify with the so-called art world because I grew up in South Africa in the 60s. My stepfather is a total South African macho, you know, like ‘cowboys don’t cry.’ I kind of feel it was difficult for him as well when I was a kid because I was always asking these questions of a kind my age shouldn’t be asking. I had nobody in my family who would actually pat me on the back and say, ‘Kudos to you, Taz.’ It was always, ‘Your son is weird, Marina,’ ‘Dick, that’s a strange kid you have.’
“So as a kid, growing up in South Africa, we went all over on vacations. I had a great kid life. I got to see all kinds of shit—different cultures. There are something like 37 different tribal groups in South Africa alone and I got to see all of them and the visual impact on me was just unbelievable. The reason why I got into this work, it started off with the reading I was doing as a child about different cultures. Native American, South American, Australian aboriginal cultures. I saw these recurring images, you know, the coiled snake, for example, and it means the same thing in different cultures. And I wanted to know why. ‘Why, why, why?’ I drove my parents nuts with the word ‘why.’ I’m still pondering these things.
“When I first started I basically used the symbols I saw. Gradually I grew beyond that and now I develop these images and shapes in my head. I connect them with other images and I come home and I draw it and I go, ‘okay, how did I get that? You just keep challenging yourself as an artist. Somebody said, ‘If you stop growing as an artist, you die.’
“I guess my influences are Miro and Motherwell. Miro’s work is very playful and his use of color is amazing. But I think there is an underlying thing to Miro that I really like. Although the work is joyful and playful there is a serious side to Miro which goes much deeper. Motherwell, too. I love Motherwell’s work. When people say of something of mine, ‘Oh, it looks like Motherwell,’ I say, ‘Thank you!’
“Now I have this dilemma about taking the next step in my paintings. I don’t know if they’re going to become much, thicker, stronger, more like in-your-face or more delicate lines and little more Miro-influenced. I’ve done a couple pieces along those lines and I’ve been getting a really great reaction.”
Mirror Master attacked by wolves, dead at 79.
Myron Mirakovsky, known as the ‘master of mirrors’ for the thousands of works he created using reflective surfaces, died December 1st in Brooklyn, New York, from injuries sustained in a wolf attack in Central Park.
Born in Odessa Russia, Mirakovsky emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in the 1950’s. In New York, he worked with his father, a glazier, and attended the Pratt Institute. In the early 60’s he burst into the New York art scene with his installation at Andy Warhol’s Factory, ‘Shiny Dogs,’ which consisted of twenty German Shepherds wrapped in highly reflective Mylar.
In his next show, at the Leo Castelli Gallery, hundreds of cunningly placed mirrors created the sensation of vast crowds stretching to infinity. The six-week exhibition was cancelled after the second week when several members of a visiting group of patients from the Brooklyn Psychiatric Institute ran amok in the gallery, injuring two patrons and smashing a dozen mirrors.
Mirakovsky shied away from large installation following the Castelli Gallery debacle and focused instead on constructing mirror effects that disrupted the viewer’s sense of scale. Using refracting surfaces, he created reflected illusions in which insects (an ant colony, in his most famous work) appeared to be the same size as humans. The effect was disturbing.
For several decades the artist labored in obscurity until a book about him by art historian Eva Hassan (Reflections on Reflections) prompted renewed interest in his mirror works. At a recent retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the aging artist apparently became disoriented during the installation of one of his mirrored chambers and suffered a fall, cracking his hip. Forced to walk with a cane, New York police surmise Mirakovsky was unable to escape when the wolves attacked.
He is survived by two daughters, Myra and Sylvia.
Pioneered Cyberspace Environments as Art, dead at 78.
Willy Sparks Reno, known in the secretive cyber arts community as “Sparky 1,” was declared dead on October 1st by a California Court. He disappeared seven years ago from his studio in Redwood City.
Reno’s virtual worlds were experienced by only a handful of associates and art critics, all of whom reported they were astounded by the power of his artificial environments to induce a false sense of reality. Reno used full-body that employed the same remote sensing technologies adopted by military medical researchers in their designs for remote-controlled combat diagnostics centers and emergency operating rooms.
Reno earned a Ph.D. in cybernetics from MIT in the seventies, but chose to pursue a career as an artist, building robotic mobile sculptures that seemed more interesting to critics for the technological innovations they employed than for any aesthetic sensibility. Frustrated by the lack of public interest and near impoverished, he returned to the tech sector where he quickly gained recognition as an innovative problem-solver whose patents for remote sensing technologies made him a wealthy man.
In the mid-nineties, Reno retired and devoted himself to the creation of virtual environments as total-immersion artworks. His most well known work, “Sunflower Fields” immersed the experience in the midst of a vast field of Van Gogh-inspired sunflowers. He constantly struggled to find ways to achieve more powerful, dynamic effects and to create environments in which touch, smell and sound were integrated. The technology he developed for this work was licensed by defense contractors and cyber pornographers, earning him a second fortune.
To Reno’s enduring frustration, the bulky full-body suits required to experience his virtual environments were available only in the lab and he never realized his dream of making his work available to a wider public.
He is survived by a daughter, Persephone.
Squirrel-Powered Mobile Sculpture designer, dead at 81.
Hamish Gripplethorpe, the English sculptor who delighted countless children (if not art critics) with his complex contraptions driven by squirrels, died in London on July 28th after collapsing in Hyde Park where he had been jogging around the reflecting pond.
As an 18-year old pilot in World War II, Gripplethorpe trained with his American counterparts, among them the sculptor Richard Serra, who became a lifelong friend. Serra wrote an introduction to an exhibition catalogue featuring Gripplethorpe’s sculptures, noting the artist’s squirrel-driven works “explored the relationship between steel and muscle in the post-industrial world.”
Gripplethorpe studied art in Italy in the 30’s and returned to Bologna in the postwar years where he developed his metalworking techniques. For almost a decade Gripplethorpe focused on fantastical sculptures inspired by suits of armor. Some elements in these early pieces suggested the armor was designed for strangely deformed humans or perhaps another species altogether. The work failed to inspire critics and was largely ignored by the art world.
The artist returned to London in the mid-50s where an encounter in his backyard inspired his first squirrel-driven piece, It’s a Nutty World, which consisted of a series of interlocking wheels, the largest of which was more than ten feet in diameter, all made of ultra-light material. In the center, in the smallest wheel of all, a squirrel in its treadmill wheel drove the movement of the entire device. Critics likened the piece to a medieval model of the cosmos. In 1957 a show of 47 Gripplethorpe squirrel works at a London gallery was such a success that it was extended for nearly two years, the longest gallery run for a single artist in London history.
Critics, however, were not amused after a disastrous opening in Bruges, Belgium, at which animal rights activists set 40 of Gripplethorpe’s squirrels free among the crowd at the reception, the artist retired from the public scene. Although he continued to create small-scale squirrel-driven devices for a few private collectors, Gripplethorpe largely dedicated the last decades of his life to his hobby, taxidermy.
At a private memorial for friends and family, 80 squirrels were set free in the Scottish Highlands where the artist had traveled often in the past and where he trapped his “little art assistants,” as he called them. “Hamish will be sorely missed,” Serra told the crowd, “but probably not by squirrels.”