November 5, 2017

Tailor Shop - Sastrería

"Tailor Shop - Sastrería," 9" x 12", watercolour on Arches 140 lb. cotton paper

One of the best parts about living in Southern California is the bilingual culture, at least on the part of those who grew up speaking a language besides English (more on that in a sec).

Spanish is particularly alive and well and knowing even a bit of it can open doors to vistas that the culture of California on the surface tends to ignore.

One of my kids is in a pilot "dual immersion" Spanish-English program at school, thanks to Prop 58 which just overturned Prop 227, a mingy measure passed in 1998 that required Californian schools to teach "overwhelmingly" in the language of the Anglos, with little transitional instruction for recent arrivals.

The school doesn't rank high enough for the Tiger Parents but we love it, not just because we happen to know Spanish but because communicating in another tongue, as babyish and uneasy as it can make you feel at the start, really does shift how you see things. It radically de-centres, I would say, and can shake up and confuse, for a moment anyway, who's privileged and who isn't.

On the days I wait in line for the bell with my little one, the chattiest parents, the most assured and confident - in their places of work ignored, as a rule, behind leaf blowers and feather dusters - are the Hispanophones.

Over the years I've done a fair amount of translation work. I came across this passage recently in the preface to a bilingual volume of Italian Renaissance poetry (I know, the stuff I read!). It's specifically about translation but I think it applies more broadly.

British and American publishers have reaped the financial benefits of successfully imposing English-language cultural values on a vast foreign readership, while producing cultures in the United Kingdom and the United States that are aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to foreign literatures, accustomed to fluent translations that invisibly inscribe foreign texts with British and American values and provide readers with the narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in the cultural other.

These days there's lots in the news about regions with distinct languages and cultures wanting to detach and go it alone. I both understand and, I admit, dislike the whole business, especially because it can't seem to happen without a lot of Kool-Aid drinking, also called nationalism. But I can't help think that one day even such middle powers as Spain, Italy, Belgium, Morocco, Turkey, etc., challenged now by various sub-regions, will respond in this same way, only direct their dissatisfaction at the ultra-homogenizing English world.

November 1, 2017

CicLAvia on Broadway

"CicLAvia on Broadway," 30" x 24", acrylic, collage, spray, graphite, and oil on birch panel

Here's a whimsical piece I completed recently and showed last weekend at a fair in Beverly Hills.

It depicts the last CicLAvia held in L.A., that cut right through the downtown and brimmed with every stripe of folk, weirdo and normalite alike. I partook in it with my kiddos and spouse and we were almost giddy to be out in the open streets in the core of it all, no cars, no hyper-vigilance, laughing at the excuses some had for bikes and the hot-rodded custom jobs.

If you don't know CicLAvia, it comes out of Bogotá, Colombia, where despite the civil war people have taken to the streets in non-hydrocarbon forms of transport every week for some 40 years. In L.A. where the cars can seem to outnumber and swarm out the people, the quarterly CicLAvia has forced a re-guidance of local transportation policy and improved air quality by a fifth.

Paint-wise, I was after something representational but that dissolved at the edges into a dreamy state, something almost fauvist, Kandinsky before his Bauhaus period and the evaporation of living formsthe way I actually experienced the event, as normal and abnormal at once.

Kandinsky, "The Ludwigskirche in Munich," 1908

All this and still "Stocco," of course, which gets harder to escape all the time.

For this painting and others, check out, as always, fellow travelers,

October 17, 2017

Mini in the Mail #76: "Morning highway"

"Morning Highway," oil on panel, 5" x 5"

Growing up there wasn't much art at home, let alone original art. But my grandmother did have a large framed oil of a very empty country road surrounded by trees. A friend from her work life had created and given it to her, she said - that's all I ever knew about it. No one paid it much mind, myself included, as dominant as it was in her living room where we sat to watch TV, fight for control of the converter, and digest supper.

I used to stare at the painting and wonder, though, what techniques the artist used to create the sinewy trees and impasto road, and why just this road in the middle of nowhere, with nothing else to embellish it. I stared at the picture for years, not conscious about the questions I was asking or even that I was doing something more than resting my eyes somewhere, but allowing it to work on me and seep in, osmotically.

My grandmother is gone now and I regret not having been more perceptive about prodding her on the painting. Was it just decorative? What did it mean? How did it make her feel? Did it conjure other memories? Did it mark an occasion? Did she study and parse out evidence of the human hand as I did? Who was the artist? What were they up to now?

Now I think of Yeats, the poet: "The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."

For this and paintings like it, check out

October 11, 2017

Updated Conversation Piece

"Updated Conversation Piece," mixed media on birch panel, 36x48in.

Here's my latest work - acrylic, collage, spray, graphite, and oil on a hard wood surface.

I tried to be more free flowing and stream of consciousness with it, especially distorting the scene and making stuff up as I went along - a nice way to stay engaged and not preconceive the end.

The setting is Los Angeles, in particular the east end around Boyle Heights, but it's not a typical representation I hope, at least not so far as art goes.

The inspiration? A radio series I've been listening to on KCRW called There Goes the Neighborhood, all about gentrification in L.A. Also, another swimmingly seething Bukowski poem:

"Hello, How Are You?"

this fear of being what they are:

at least they are not out on the street, they
are careful to stay indoors, those
pasty mad who sit alone before their tv sets,
their lives full of canned, mutilated laughter.

their ideal neighborhood
of parked cars
of little green lawns
of little homes
the little doors that open and close
as their relatives visit
throughout the holidays
the doors closing
behind the dying who die so slowly
behind the dead who are still alive
in your quiet average neighborhood
of winding streets
of agony
of confusion
of horror
of fear
of ignorance.

a dog standing behind a fence.

a man silent at the window.

I always struggle with the titles of my work. I'm not one who can settle for "untitled," supposedly allowing the art to speak for itself, or for a descriptive title like "street corner" or "two people talking," which is obvious from the art and repetitive.

I was happy here to discover that "conversation piece" has an older root than a bizarre vase or haute couture hat that gets people talking. The term refers to a genre of painting that portrays people in genteel conversation, generally in utopian outdoor settings. Here's an example Wikipedia gives.

Arthur Devis, "Sir George and Lady Strickland in the Grounds of Boynton Hall," oil on canvas, 1751

My "updated" conversation piece conforms to the genre, only I've stripped out the gentility, brought verisimilitude to the environment, and used fantasy elements not to glamorize or sentimentalize but to reflect a certain precariousness and volatility in our world today.

For this painting and more of my artwork, check out

August 22, 2017

Farmacia de los Nieto

"Farmacia de los Nieto," 18" x 24", mixed media on panel

I'm back in California and working the red tape to ready for the school year (that has already started, fer cryin' out loud) and to restore the loss of my wallet to a pickpocket-scoundrel in Barcelona, but my head is still across the ocean.

This was one of the last pieces I painted while away and managed to bring back in a suitcase. It's a charming though derelict building I found on the main drag of a small town in Castilla-La Mancha, a sort Spanish rust belt, or, maybe more accurately, dust bowl.

For some reason the colours reminded me of a travelling carnival rather than the pharmacy that it was, though I suppose for some those could go together.

For this and other works like it, check out

August 10, 2017


"Quintet," 12x12in., oil on panel

Here's another square-foot piece I started a while ago and finished recently. It's a depiction of the hills at a very green moment near my home in Southern California. I love to hike and play the hilarious games "Watch out for the rattlesnake!" and "I think those coyotes are tracking us," but unfortunately I can't usually find anyone else to play with.

Just over a week left to go in the city of orxata and 10pm suppers. Think I'm preparing mentally for the return.

August 9, 2017

Muro toscano

"Muro toscano," 12x12in., oil on board

Something I started in Italy and finally got around to finishing up.

I used to love hanging around this spot overlooking Florence and watching people stretch and struggle to get a shot with the ugly wall out of the way. I was too lazy and just left her in.

For more warts and all, check out