Month: May 2018



Edward Hopper, 1927

This week’s arts and culture column begins like this:

Most of us Angelenos live inland.

We can forget that way down at its southernmost tip, our gloriously sprawling city meets the Pacific.

San Pedro’s Paseo del Mar borders that ocean. On it sits a throwback to another age: the Point Fermin Lighthouse Historic Site and Museum.

Built in 1874, the lighthouse has bragging rights to being the first navigational light to guide ships into San Pedro Bay. Architect Paul J. Pelz, a draftsman for the U.S. Lighthouse Board, designed the Stick Style Victorian building. With its gabled roof, gingerbread and balustrades, from the photos it looks now just about exactly the way it did then.

In those days, several points along the Southern California coast had lighthouses. They were staffed by federal employees called lighthouse keepers. Each point had its own “signature” — three short blasts of light; one long, two short.

Interestingly, the first two and the last two keepers of the lighthouse were women.

Sisters Mary and Ella Smith kept watch from 1874 to 1882. Captain George Shaw took over from 1882 until 1904, followed by Irby Holt Engels until 1916. The Austin family and their eight children came in 1917. When Will and Martha Austin died in 1925, their two daughters Thelma and Juanita stepped up and kept the lighthouse until 1927.

From 1927 until 1941, the lighthouse was maintained by the city of LA.

After Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, the coast went dark for fear of enemy attack. The Point Fermin lantern was never lit again.




12 X 9″

Yesterday I got to have a long phone chat with my friend Matthew Kirby, a painter from Brooklyn about whom I’ve written before. [Here’s one post and here’s another].

You can see more of his recent paintings HERE.

Or if you happen to live in NYC, you can stop by tomorrow, Saturday, May 26, from 2 to 4, for the closing reception of his recent show at Darling Coffee, 4961 Broadway, New York, NY 10034.

The series in question is called Stabilitas Loci.
Here’s a bit of his commentary on that title.

“Stabilitas Loci (Stability of place: a commitment to remaining in one location.)

“In a still life nothing acts, nothing gesticulates, nothing does anything else than to be.”

“Without this this deep-seated, quiet, and immobile energy […] nothing in the world would move, nothing would operate, nothing would exist.”

-Etienne Gilson, Painting and Reality

Despite the momentous upheavals of our time and the pervasive sense that the future will either be revolutionized by experts or detonated by madmen, our daily lives are full of moments of stillness, of objects that remain where we place them at night and are there in the morning when we awake. I created these paintings as a way to contemplate and share that stillness that is at the core of reality.”

The Dutch have their Old Masters. I think of Matthew as a New Master.

12 x 9″




This week’s arts and culture column begins like this:

I learned of British painter Stephen Taylor from a book by Alain de Botton titled “The Pleasures and the Sorrows of Work.”

Taylor, wrote de Botton, “has spent much of the last two years in a wheat field in East Anglia repeatedly painting the same oak tree under a range of different lights and weathers. He was out in two feet of snow last winter and this summer, at three in the morning, he lay on his back tracing the upper branches of the tree by the light of a solstice moon.”

“Oak: One Tree, Three Years, Fifty Paintings” (2012) is Taylor’s own book, his own words about his work.

Taylor, who was born in 1958, encountered the tree while grieving the deaths of both parents and a girlfriend, all within the same year.

At the Essex boarding school where he was employed as resident artist, he was drawn to stories of death and rebirth. He did some paintings of crucifixions. Gradually he realized something was missing, “a constant from my childhood life — the countryside.

“I certainly had a sense of place, and I had shared it with others. But I had not created a sense of how thousands of smaller worlds exist within a panorama — each with its own character.”

He had already painted and taught for many years. He had done Ph.D. research on the English landscape painter John Constable.

Out walking in the countryside one day, he was “overpowered by a feeling that something in this very ordinary tree was crying out to be set down to paint, and that if he could only do it justice, his life would in indistinct ways be redeemed, and its hardships sublimated.”





A couple of weeks ago I saw a documentary called Leaning Into the Wind about Andy Goldsworthy, “a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist producing site-specific sculpture and land art situated in natural and urban settings. He lives and works in Scotland.”

Andy does things like lie on the sidewalk when it rains so that, when he gets up, he leaves a body-shaped dry spot. Or covers his hands with painstakingly-applied bright red autumn leaves, then dips them in the river and lets the leaves wash away. Or sculpts a skinny meandering white line across a stone wall with wool from the sheep who graze the adjacent fields.

You may or may not respond to this. I kind of do. (Though I think I liked his last film, Rivers and Tides, even better). But however you feel about his art, you have to admit that this good man is alive and vital and questing, questing, questing.

Last night I watched another wondrous documentary, this one by PBS, called Between the Folds: The Art and Science of Origami. (Aside: Do you all know about Kanopy, free streaming you can get through many local libraries?)

The origami people as well are going beyond cranes and wee trolls and representational figures or all kinds and branching out into geometrical pleats and collapsible towers and free-form but based on extremely-complicated science/math, say, parabolas that invert upon themselves, sway, twirl and perhaps tell us something not only about the way nature works but (I added this last part myself) about how we, human beings, work.

One origami artist/scientist, who has won a MacArthur genius grant, for example, spoke of the “memory” of the paper. When you fold a piece of paper even once, it retains the memory of it and therefore doesn’t want to go back to its former mode of being. (Side note: I’m taking a pottery class and the instructor there mentioned that clay, too, has a “memory”! So if you break it or squoosh it or wound it (again, my word) in a certain way, even if you go back and supposedly fix it, the wound might appear after glazing in the finished piece).

That alone, that inanimate objects have memory, would make for a whole fascinating line of reflection and inquiry.

But what struck me this morning is that almost the second I awoke, I thought of Andy Goldsworthy, taking “environmental” art to a whole new level, and the origami obsessives, ditto.

And I thought: What if we could do that with love? What if all day long all we did hardly was reflect on ways that we could bring love into the world, show love, breathe love, be love?

And then took action!

What if our deepest creative medium, everyone’s,  was love?




“on the…um…plane!” To be continued…
a home-made video.

“Constructed environments are manifestations of the formidable sense of self evident in many outsider artists; they are expressions of a primal interaction between the individual and the natural world; and they reveal an individual’s relationship with the immediate social community. As such, they articulate the psychological, spiritual and communal or political dimensions of experience, expressed through the aesthetic.

The process begins as an existential statement. Constructing the environment is an act of primal meaning making. It is a self-enactment locating the artist within a chosen and self-defined portion of the physical world. In effect, the world as found is rejected as insufficient to the artist’s greatest needs, and the artist’s creation is an expression of his or her underlying belief in the possibility of affecting, if not determining, the terms of our existence. Roger Cardinal has noted the “distinctive density” or self-presence of outsider artists. Unfettered by or in implicit rebellion against social convention, the outsider transmits onto the personally constructed environment an “aura of intensity and urgency” through which “an acute discharge of psychic energy” finds physical form, testifying to both the artist’s self-assurance and his or her passionate struggle with intensely personal subjects.” Thus, while the environments are frequently beautiful, they may also inspire awe and mystery, for they clearly bear more than solely aesthetic significance.”
–Charles Russell, Groundwaters: A Century of Art by Self-Taught and Outsider Artists (Prestel Verlag, Munich-London-New York, 2011),   p 158



This week’s arts and culture piece begins like this:

The Mojave National Preserve boasts 1.6 million acres of desert scrub, mountains, mesas, canyons, abandoned homesteads and sand dunes.

You motor up the 15, jump off at Baker and, instead of heading west for Death Valley, turn east instead. It’s free — no permit required.

And you’re very much on your own. After leaving the freeway, I drove the whole 34 miles to the Kelso Depot without meeting a single other car. Somewhere along the way, my cell reception petered out.

And when I arrived, the Visitor Center was closed (it’s only open Thursdays through Mondays).

Luckily, I’d brought along my trusty California Thomas Guide. Plus a friendly couple who’d stopped to use the restroom reminded me that there are only five or six major paved roads through the park, so it’s pretty hard to get lost.

Right away, in the open space and silence, my senses were sharpened. I noted the filigree shadow cast by a verbena, the tracks of insects and lizards, the clouds, the light.

At the 45 square-mile Kelso Dunes, I ate lunch from my cooler and set out for a little stroll. If my quarter-mile slog through the sand was any indication, the three-mile round- trip trail to the top would take about 10 hours. Still, the views are apparently stupendous. (Bring plenty of water!)





This week’s arts and culture piece begins like this:

Charles F. Lummis (1859-1928) was a complicated figure.

Born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1884, Lummis made national headlines by walking 3,507 miles from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in order to take a job at the “LA Times.”

He broke his arm en route and set it himself — then completed the rest of what he called his “tramp.”

Upon his arrival, the fledgling newspaper offered him the new position of city editor. Over time, he became a lover of all things Californian. He served from 1905 to 1910 as city librarian, and founded LA’s Southwest Museum.

He helped save four California missions. He also championed indigenous cultures, living for a time among the pueblos in New Mexico, and traveling to Mexico, Bolivia and Peru.

He was charismatic, a self-taught polyglot, journalist, photographer and historian, a spinner of tales who gathered acolytes around him to execute his feverishly ceaseless orders, projects and plans. An obsessively hard worker, he claimed to get by on two or three hours of sleep per night.

He wore a suit of parrot-green corduroy, wound a length of Mexican-red cloth around his waist and completed the outfit with a soiled Stetson hat.




whoops! oh yes, let me thank my publisher, Elias Wondimu,
editor Theresia de Vroom, and photographer Madeline Wilson! 

Yesterday I visited Rancho Mirage‘s Sunnylands: the Gardens [pix to follow], Visitor Center and Estate of the late billionaire power philanthropist couple Walter and Leonore (Lee to her friends) Annenberg.

The Annenbergs were globally known super-hosts and I had many thoughts as we were led through the Hollywood Regency-decorated, golf-course surrounded, cotton-candy pink and mint green home.

One was that I wished I could have hosted the Annenbergs in my own back yard, which I like to think of as a cross between Pasadena carriage house and hillbilly trailer park, at the party I threw for my book Famished last week.

Actually the party was very much courtesy of Marymount Institute Press/Tsehai Publishers, who put out the book, paid for much of the food, and in my excitement I completely forgot to thank when I did my little reading.

But faux pax aside, I must say it was a bash to remember.

Not because of anything I did, but because of the  God-grandeur that permeated the light, the garden, and the luminous generosity of spirit of the guests. Who brought tablecloths, flowers, espresso chocolate chip and regular brownies arranged in checkerboard pattern, cheese, fried squash blossoms, shrimp, brioche bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Ice. Saran Wrap. Fruit salad, green salad. Polenta almond torte with raspberry sauce. Succulent cuttings, extra serving spoons and cut glass plates and coffee makers.

Who, though not everyone knew each other, graciously mingled, made each other comfortable, came early to help set up, and stayed late to help break down. Who by their very presence supported me and my work in a way so beautiful that all I could think was: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

When you came as a guest to Sunnylands, you’d get three laminated cards. One was a history of the place. One was a schedule (golf at 2, cocktails at 7:30 etc). And the third was a list of biographies of your fellow guests. His Royal Highness Lord Fauntleroy of Lichtenstein, heir to the fill-in-the-blank fortune. Duke blah blah blah, third in line to the throne of wherever. Dr. So-and-So of the UN Task Force on World Health, PhD Princeton, Rhodes Scholar. Like that.

You’d be hard put to find a set of more accomplished, in any meaningful sense of the word, people than my friends.

But I thought of how if I handed out a card like that at one of my parties it would read “Gary S.: Father committed suicide by hanging. Gary found him. He was 13. Has taught special ed for years. Suffers from depression. Wicked sense of humor.”

Or “Suzette P.: Was in a car in college, drunk, in which the driver, also drunk, killed a young mother in a head-on collision. Plays the cello. Is herself now the loving if harried mother of two young boys.”

Or Christina G: “Broke into her boyfriend’s home to steal pills while on a spree. Has since gotten clean and sober and made amends. Volunteers at an assisted living facility where she teaches dance to elders. She and her boyfriend will be married next spring.”

Important stuff, in other words. Interesting stuff. Bios that bring us to life and make us human and useful to the next suffering human being.

How do you get a much-coveted invitation to Sunnylands? it was asked on our tour. “Discover the cure for cancer,” was the reply.

You get invited to my place by having cancer.

But we would have gathered round and warmly welcomed the Annenbergs, too.

my beloved brother Roscoe,
who figured in the piece I read!
flowers courtesy of noted artist Anne-Elizabeth Sobieski

thank God SOMEONE is photogenic.
the one and only Margo Strauss




dir. Akira Kurosawa

I turn 66 in July–Social Security at last!

Having worked continuously since the age of 14, and paid more or less continuously into “the system,” I will receive 1300 and change per month. I know that’s pretty “entitled” of me, so thank you.

Anyway, I have to say I am really digging being an old person.

The other day, for example, after noon Mass, the priest announced that lunch and bingo for “seniors” would follow in the parish hall.

I was ready to dash off to the gym. But I was also hungry, so I thought What the heck, I’ll stick my head in. I expected maybe Spaghettios but no–damned if my beloved Church hadn’t actually laid out a pretty decent spread–fried chicken, a Caesar salad, rolls and butter, Trader Joe’s lemonade, sliced melon.

Sign me up! I thought, filled a plate, and insinuated myself into a table of other elders.

These consisted of one guy, a dapper fellow who maybe fixed watches, and three women, one of whom had set aside a walker, who regarded me warily. The centerpiece consisted of a huge pile of bingo cards and a slew of colored  plastic chips.

“Hey there!” I brayed, grabbing a drumstick with my fingers “So whadda they give you for prizes?”

Four sets of mortified eyes fastened upon me. Four faces averted.

“You know. Loot. What kind of stuff do ya get if you win?”

After a pained silence, I managed to worm out the single strangled phrase “Gift certificate.”

“Like to where? Anyplace decent? And for how much?”

They professed not to know–no-one at the table they said, had ever won. “Well doncha ask the people who do win?” I badgered, but to no avail.

Anyway, the food was good and after profusely thanking everyone in sight, I had a nice walk around the Cal Tech campus.

Another benefit of being ancient is movie discounts. At the Laemmle Playhouse 7 down the street from me, for example, a first-run matinee is six bucks for geezers. Then this week I discovered the Regency Academy which, you don’t even have to be old, is $2.50 all day!

In fact, the senior tie-in isn’t so much the reduced price as that, it’s true, at this point you are just a tiny tad tired sometimes! Settling into a comfy seat and watching a decent film in the middle of the day once every three or four months seems kind of attractive in a way it didn’t quite, hardly ever, a decade or so ago.

Yesterday, for example, I attended a 2:40 screening of Game Night. The film itself was a departure from my usual fare: documentaries about ballet, cults, and dysfunctional families; grim existential dramas from Japan: Drunken Angel, High and Low. I’m always half-afraid the Puritan work ethic police are going to rise up in the dark and arrest me for lolling about in the middle of the day. But they didn’t, and even though the movie was kind of violent, though in a “fun” way if that makes sense, I totally enjoyed it! I had no idea of course who the leads were and afterward looked them up. Oh that’s Jason Bateman!

From there, I did go to the gym and here’s another perk of “getting on”–lately it’s dawned upon me that I don’t so much mind working out: I mind changing.

I’m not even kidding, getting out and in and out and in to a pair of pants, and bending down for the shoes and so forth, is just painful! So I myself have recently just started doing my little routine in my street clothes. I mean who cares, except for Nike and Adidas who would have you believe no-one can do 20 minutes on the elliptical unless they’re in black stretch pants with a stripe up the side and a pair of 120-dollar sneakers. It’s not true, people!

Seriously, “the young folk,” if they notice us at all which I’m quite sure they don’t, are probably amazed people my age have the balls to go to the gym at all, never mind rate what we’re wearing.

Anyway, so while I was there I looked over and saw a gray-haired gent, a retired banker perhaps, who was doing a set of very leisurely leg extensions in a smart khaki windbreaker, dress shoes, and a nice blue pullover. I was at least in a tank, black jeans and sneakers, but this guy had taken things up a whole notch.  That’s my man! I thought. I almost went over, shook his hand, and said, “Hey dude, let’s just start showing up in our bathrobes!”

More fun ahead.