April 27, 2017

The Coarse Sugar of Memory

"The Coarse Sugar of Memory," mixed media on panel, 24x24in.

A final piece for this weekend's San Diego Artwalk.

You can see I'm still milking my recent trip to New York.

Little Art Purist Monkey Me: Okay, but why? You don't live or have any connection to New York. You've only seen films, read books, and taken in the lore.

Be Kind To Yourself Me: I'm trying to squeeze more out of my experiences and go beyond merely consuming life.

LARM: Dude, maybe you're just making a pretty picture.

BKTYM: Not pretty, beautiful. Something that will hold the test of time and provoke some thinking.

LARM: Yeah, sure. We all know New York has cache and resonance and you know someone will be interested in the painting simply because it's New York. In other words, you're throwing the net wide and pandering to the market.

BKTYM: Well, I can't save the world with one painting, can I?

LARM: You can do your middle-class part, rather than capitulate.

BKTYM: Look, monkey, why don't you beat it.

LARM: Oh, that's convenient. Like the people shouting fake news, turn me off when the facts arrive.

BKTYM: More like turn you off when you impede the work at hand, as a much an instinctual process as a critical one.

For this painting and others, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

April 26, 2017

In the Abstract (No. 9)

"In the Abstract (No. 9)," 8x8in., mixed media on panel

There's a pool and hot tub in the complex of condos in which we live and being from the north and knowing what a winter is really like, we take full advantage of it.

It's shared among a couple hundred units and a duck and goose or two, depending on how the turf is currently divvied up out in the animal world. These days the alpha territory-holder is this guy. He doesn't like when we arrive because, despite the sign-posts he discharges all over the deck, he knows he's going to get chased out with a long pole used to fish debris out of the pool.

He quacks and quacks and then finally flies away. But the second we're back out the gate on our way home, he swoops back in and floats contentedly in his Club Med.

This weekend is the San Diego Artwalk, an icebreaker for me in the U.S. I'm madly scrambling to get ready, and a little nervous.

This painting and others I will be bringing to San Diego are available at www.ivanostocco.com.

April 22, 2017

My Reading List, No. 1: Open City

"Open City: My Reading List, No. 1," oil on birch panel, 24x24in.

One of the things I miss most about school is the chance to read and discuss readings with others, and not Oprah's latest pick but demanding texts, niche texts, texts that push buttons and provoke. At best these days, I'll discover that a friend has read the same book and exchange a thought or two about it. Of course I live with an official, living, breathing historian, so I do have that outlet, too.

My latest brainchild is yet another series of paintings, this based on the books I've been reading and thinking about. The idea is to do something more than merely consume the reading, but pick at it a bit more, linger, digest it, ruminate. I've always been appealed by the challenge that illustrators, much more than painters, take on: encapsulating ideas in visual form. It ain't easy—I've designed a few book and CD covers and they were tough. But satisfying. (BTW, I'd love to design more, if anyone out there has the hook-ups).

My first book, upon which I based this painting, is Open City by Teju Cole.


The narrator, Julius, is a med resident (psychiatry) who lives in New York City and spends his time, when he isn't working, wandering. When he is lonely, he walks. When he needs to think, he walks. When he is confused, he walks. Walking is therapy, but also the way to live in the city, in any city—at ground level, rubbing elbows, slowing it down, rolling with the mini-dramas that get thrown in the path.

Plot or suspense don't drive the novel, but rather it's Julius and the insights he gleans from close observation, and the ways he assimilates this sensitivity into a coherent worldview. I'm a huge admirer of this kind of story, the kind where nothing Blockbusterish happens but you eat up the character and want more all the same. You feel close to the author and think, gee, there are sane people out there after all, a thread easier to drop than hold on to these days.

By the way, this weekend is the L.A. Festival of Books. And that's where I'm heading right now.

April 20, 2017

In the Abstract (No. 8)

"In the Abstract (No. 8)," mixed media on panel, 8x8in.

The longer in a place, the more the surroundings sink in and the more you overlook and ignore. I once said in an interview that, as an artist, I try to see things with the eyes of a foreigner, because it's foreign eyes that pick up on details, subtleties, and quirks natives have forgotten to notice. But it takes work.

"If you're a good writer, these days, you pay attention to the way that people don't pay attention," says the writer Charles Baxter. I think the same applies for visual art.

I've been in California long enough that what looked like Mars when I first arrived has begun to feel normal. And so it took a trip to the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, where I encountered the artwork of Ramiro Gomez, to refocus my vision.

Gomez paints gardeners and maids into scenes that glamour magazines, ads, and artists like David Hockney make sure to exclude. Check out some of the work. The titles alone indicate the intelligence of the work.
My little leaf blower is modeled after one of the many that descend, once a week, on the grounds of the condo complex in which I live, roaring their infernal machines but not loud enough, largely, that anyone who hasn't done that work notices.

For this painting and others like it, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

April 18, 2017

In the Abstract (No. 7)

"In the Abstract (No. 7)," 8x8in., acrylic, oil, spray, enamel, and palm husk on birch panel

Hmm, I didn't feel so Luciferian when I painted it. A happy Tuesday to you, rogues and rapscallions!

More evil-doings, if you dare, can be found at www.ivanostocco.com.

April 15, 2017

A Freeway Runs through it

"A Freeway Runs through it," acrylic, spray, and collage on birch panel, 36x48in.

I'm looking forward to showing my work at the Mission Federal ArtWalk in San Diego, April 29-30. Track me down at Booth 926 on India St.

This here is a vista looking south from the Cabrillo Bridge, built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. I don't know as much as I'd like about San Diego, being from the opposite corner of the continent, but I've been skimming a history or two.

The exposition commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal, through which close to a million vessels pass each year and whose history in the California gold rush, in West Indian migration, and international trade is fascinating and revealing as a window into the power politics of the last century and a half.

In addition to the canal, the fair extolled everything Castilian and colonial (as opposed to Latin American, in the independent way we think of it now). The Alcántara Bridge in Toledo, Spain served as the model for the Cabrillo Bridge, and Cabrillo to be sure was the first European to explore the Pacific coast. Meanwhile, the exposition grounds—Balboa Park, after the Spanish explorer and conquistador, and the Prado Complex of art galleries and museums, presumably after the main national art museum in Madrid—must be one of the most unmistakable examples of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

In the canyon through which Route 163 ("one of America's most beautiful parkways") now cuts, cattle and horses used to graze. For centuries before that, if you can scratch down through the pomp as deeply, the Kumeyaay roamed, hunted, andfascinatinglystudied such astronomical objects as the "Spine of the Sky" (Milky Way) and the "Six Laughing Girls" (Pleiades).

For this painting and more wonderings like it, visit www.ivanostocco.com.

Have a great weekend!

April 12, 2017

In the Abstract (No. 6)

"In the Abstract (No. 6)," 8x8in., mixed media on panel

I've been in a springy mood. And I just finished 9.5 Theses on Art and Class by Ben Davis, a heady take on the contemporary art world and its debates, and so I needed something light and sunshiny to paint.

"In a university art department, I would rather as my colleague the artist who makes watercolours of sunsets, but stands up to the administration, to the colleague who makes radical political noises, but colludes in imposing educationally disastrous government policies on the department," Davis quotes the artist Victor Burgin in a passage. Davis adds, "Expanding beyond the university milieu, I think this is a fine way to frame the question of art and politics today."

For this small painting and others like it, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

Hope you catch your worm today.


April 10, 2017

Miniature in the Mail #64: "Standard Deviation"

"Standard Deviation," 5x5in., oil on masonite

A swerve that for some reason caught my attention walking the Manhattan Bridge in New York a few weeks ago. You don't expect to see a swerve on a bridge, especially one that's 1.3 miles long and carries seven lanes of traffic plus four rail lines.

The point about industrial production is that it homogenizes, not just consumer goods and large-scale architectural entities but how we organize our time, structure our education, get around, eat.  Advertising aims to convince us that our objects (or experiences) are original, that love poured into them, and that we're special for buying them, when the reality is everyone gets the same copy and no more care went into our thing than a table saw laments cutting a finger after a slip.

With computerization, the standardization penetrates deeper, for not only do manual labourers become machines but so do professionals.  Rather than teachers and their human foibles, it's MOOCs and educational software.  Rather than lawyers and doctors, it's soon to be expert systems and neural networks. I'm convinced that my kids, when they come of age, won't drive themselves (or sit in a bus or taxi with a driver), but will instead be guided by an autonomous vehicle. When I go to my bank, credit card provider, insurer, the airport, online, I'm aware that algorithms and other weapons of math destruction, not humans, call most of the shots.

I once took a course in blacksmithing and the instructor explained that the goal of blacksmiths used to be to produce smooth, flawless goods that looked as if machines had made them. Recently, though, he'd made a large chandelier he felt was his best work, only the client complained it was too perfect. Soulless.  So he took a hammer to it, dented and made it asymmetrical, and the client loved it.

In my own art, I'm holding out for a return to the fallible yet loving, irreplaceable evidence of the human hand. I guess, in this regard, you could call me romantic.

For this mini painting and others, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

April 6, 2017

On the Bowery

"On the Bowery," acrylic, spray, and collage on birch panel, 36x48in.

Years ago I visited a splinter of my family that migrated from northeastern Italy south to a small town in the eastern Sicilian hills called Vizzini. We were sitting around the kitchen table talking about, what else, pasta. Someone said that if they didn't eat at least one big pastasciutta a week they didn't feel well, and everyone nodded.

The problem with cliches is they stick, and the problem with stereotypes is they contain an ounce of truth.  And so I too can't go a week without a heaping plate of bucatini ("little holes"), farfalle ("butterflies"), or especially strozzapreti ("priest-stanglers").

And similarly, I can't seem to go too long either without painting a good ol' busy, crowd-pleasing cityscape.

This one comes out my recent trip to New York City. On our last day, we walked the Manhattan Bridge and, acting the New Yorker, I tried to be all hipster and unphased about the panorama view. Secretly inside, though, I tingled and amazed and I couldn't wait to get back to my studio to geek out.

The view is of the Bowery, where William S. Burroughs sampled the world's medicine, Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly squiggled and sploshed paint, Béla Bartók composed breezy scores, and Patti Smith and the Ramones hollered at places like CBGB.

Big league!

For this and other genre pieces, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

April 4, 2017

A first sculpture in cement and pique assiette


For months I've slogged away on this sculpture.  She's around five feet tall, weighs a tonne, and can go either indoors or outdoors, seated on the ground or sunken into it for greater stability.

It was the first time I'd worked in this way with cement and stucco, though the materials were familiar from my days as a plasterer, and right away the chapped hands brought me back.

It was also the first time I'd worked in pique assiette, shards of broken tiles and plates, which I somehow associate with "the people," perhaps because the technique is so central to the architecture of Gaudí, the Watts Towers, or the play structures of Niki de Saint Phalle.

Weirdly, the figure is that of a person rambling down a sidewalk on a sunny day, only rather than their body I used the shadow they cast as the basis for the form.

My grand design is to one day own an industrial space where I can paint, sculpt (especially in metal, like Albert Paley), produce beautiful functional objects (as did William Morris in the 19th century), train young apprentices, and offer classes.

Then I will be content.  And I will conquer the world.