June 18, 2018

L.A. to Toronto Roadtrip Notes: Day 1, Vegas

The hardest part about a trip like this is getting out the door. Then it's fine.

The California interior along the 15 is bleak. Dry as a bone. Dust storms. Abandonment.

In degree, Vegas is worse than we expect. A sewer of advertising. A relentless dopamine rush. Labyrinths of slots and blackjack pits. People pay for this?

We cool off in the pool of our "resort hotel," Circus Circus, "because life is a circus - let's play!"

On the strip afterwards, a drunken reveler surrounded by Chippendales and more walkers than we've seen anywhere outside of New York in the U.S., shouts, "Get the damn kids away. No kids here."

We find two quarters. I spend mine on a slot and lose. My daughter gives hers to a homeless guy.

Onward ho today to Utah.

June 7, 2018

A Few of the Things it Chops

24" x 48", collage, spray, and acrylic on birch panel

School is ending and the household is busier. We're getting ready to set out on a 2,500 mile journey by car in a week and have only just, I hope, secured all the campsites and hotels. Oh, and we've just received news about our immigration status which amounts to a punch in the gut. But the painting, happily, keeps apace.

In a time of perpetual change and movement, the feeling of running harder and faster only to stay in the same place, it's been important for me to cling to stuff, like a primordial lifeform on a deep-sea vent. I'm reluctant to throw out old familiar clothing and whenever the flux thwarts routines and anchors, I frantically reassert them.

This piece is heavily collaged, meant to reflect, I think, the scattered sensations I've taken in and struggled to assemble into some sort of meaningful picture. It should be with me at TOAE in July. Just need to get my suction cups off of it.

June 1, 2018

Lo-Gas Eat

36" x 48", acrylic, oil, spray, and collage on birch panel
Collage is "an evolution beyond narrative," an "antigenre," claims David Shields in Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The "art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image was the most important innovation in the art of the twentieth century."

Shields goes on, "By incorporating materials that are inextricably linked to the realities of daily life, the collage artist establishes an immediate identification, both real and imagined, between the viewer and the work of art."

I've long been interested in collage, going back to middle school and hearing Grandmaster Flash for the first time, or reading T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" in a high school poetry anthology, or seeing Josep Renau's war posters in an exhibition during a long-ago trip to Spain.

Album cover, 1982
Renau, "El fascinante Rey del Petróleo," 1957
These days I'm getting interested in not just working collage into recognizable scenes but using it to construct new ideas, as a driver for the image-making itself.

The straightforward scene, depending on how it is cropped and presented, how it is stylized, can deceive, but taking ready-made chunks and synthesizing or making sense out of them feels honest, maybe the realer tool to tap into reality.

May 17, 2018

By Sweetness Alone

Sitting among the bluebells
in my sorrow, for lost time
and the never forgotten dead,
I saw a hummingbird stand
in air to drink from flowers.
It was a kiss he took and gave.
At his lightness and the ardor
of his throat, the song I live by
stirred my mind. I said:
"By sweetness alone it survives."

- Wendell Berry, "The Strait"

Mixed media on canvas, 60" x 45"

Who ain't a sucker for hummingbirds? Someone told me there were only a handful of varieties in all of California and much less than there used to be, but I've never seen more in any other place I've lived.

Not long ago an aloe plant I keep in a pot sent up a tall shoot with an alien-like flower and from our bedroom we could see the flower in the morning, a hummingbird often sucking away at it, helicoptering quietly in the air behind the pane. It was a double shot of pure magnificence.

And sometimes when I'm in the back tinkering, a little guy will come up from behind, beat it wings like a giant insect, and scare the bejeebers out of me. Once I could swear one was a drone.

It have no idea where in my noggin this highly improvised, highly collaged painting came from, but the thought of a bunch of hummingbirds jigging in a pattern in front of one of L.A.'s ubiquitous super freeway exchanges, all fluorescent and lit up, like blown bits of ads, kept me laughing for much of the time I worked on it.

I'll be showing the painting this weekend at the Beverly Hills Artshow and next weekend at the Redlands Festival of the Arts. For more info, check out my website.

Have a good one!

May 8, 2018

Hollywood Freeway

Mixed media on birch panel, 48" x 24"

"Hey, did you see this one?" a guy asked me at a fair recently, not knowing I was the artist, his face pretzelled like he'd passed through a fart. "It's a freeway. Why would anyone want that?"

I wanted to respond with something like, yeah, precisely, why would anyone want it? Better one more naked woman on canvas, porno but not really, because it's art. Or a safe bunch of flowers, all happy and lively because that's the mantra these days. Or a postcard that reflects, in  L.A. especially, the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Instead I said, "imagine," or something, because I have a brain that embodies the snail and a tongue that swells in such situations.

For fusspots like myself it isn't the hundred compliments that stick but the one criticism, and so I've been scratching my head, wondering how much of a point he had.

For me it is about beauty, albeit not the glassy, glossy kind. Someone said the gateway drug was not creating art but experiencing it, and yeah, I've had those experiences and want to recreate them. It's also, though, about honesty, realness, a lack of cynicism and BS, old-fashioned ideas in the art world for sure, but whatever.

Oddly, a collection of Wendell Berry's farmer poems has been helping.

- From "The Clearing":
Vision must have severity
at its edge:

against neglect,
bushes grown over the pastures,
vines riding down
the fences, the cistern broken;

against the false vision
of the farm dismembered,
sold in pieces on the condition
of the buyer's ignorance,
a disorderly town
of "houses in the country"
inhabited by strangers;

against indifference, the tracks
of the bulldozer running
to gullies...
- From "History"
Through my history's despite
and ruin, I have come
to its remainder, and here
have made the beginning
of a farm  to become
my art of being here.
I would like also "being here" to be my art.

April 23, 2018

Mini #84: Fork You

Oil on panel, 5" x 5", custom skid frame

I love L.A. tree. They never left the punk era. They grow out of concrete, are studded with nails and staples, and smell like cheap perfume. The bare trunks fork into branches which, looked the right way, flip you the bird. "Man, piss off, I'm growin' here. What are you doing?"

I'll have this mini painting, packaged in a bespoke, reclaimed wood frame at the Mission Federal Artwalk in San Diego this weekend, booth 866. Come around!

April 17, 2018

The Desert Within

Oil on panel, 48" x 36"
I was in the desert on some federally unrecognized indigenous group's land, with the suburbanites who've bought the story about dropping out, living minimally, and self-reliance.

I was trying to absorb the sacred essence. Remember Carlos Castaneda, the Teachings of Don Juan?

That week's movie was Zabriskie Point and I was dying to roll around naked. But it was torchy, everything sandpaper. The sun on the moon. And what the hell was that blob of black spikes anyway?

I sauntered round the back way to the perch and gazed down at the rock climbers with their ropes and puffing faces come up the hard way. One dude made it up and I offered my hand to help him over a final hump, but he refused, proud. Said something, none too pleased but still chummy about a "muscle-fuck" and a "beach bash," and I said, "yeah, man," in a commiserating way.

Then I got into the position of the vajrasana and took out the ayahuasca a hippie with an army bumper sticker gave me near the gas station.

And that was when the vision came: a budding cactus, southern cholla with an aspect of northern sumach. Dry-iced and shattered. Suspended in the air against an oozing sky and disjointed land.

Come on, come on, my kid wakes me. You're just joking.

April 12, 2018

Water Under the Bridge

Mixed media on birch panel, 40" x 12"
I've been reading Paul Beatty's The Sellout, a novel set in L.A. which tackles every hypocrisy and sacred cow of American life you care to think about, in ways that make you laugh and cringe and sometimes second-guess whether either response is appropriate, kind of like a Quentin Tarantino film. Not many novels in this day and age of smooth, frictionless aesthetics make you squirm as much.

At base, the book gets at a society that is, ultimately, empty or rotten or meaningless at its core, in the heart and mind. How else do you explain the politics, the crass compensatory consumption, the knee-jerk flag waving, largely passed over as normal despite how the media and its quest for sensations that sell makes it look otherwise, especially outside the U.S.

Joan Didion talked about how everyone who lives in L.A. has to come to terms with the meaningless of life there, even to embrace it, and I feel her.

I think I'm homesick, pining, letting my head play those games. They are games for as much as we would like to think differently, no grass is really greener, only different, but the emotions are real, like talking to a pet and believing it understand your human words.

This painting is the fruit, one particular version of home few would think you'd miss anyway. But I do.

April 11, 2018

In the Abstract (No. 11)

Mixed media on birch panel, 8" x 8"
I watched a good documentary the other day called Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry. I didn't know anything about Berry but the title intrigued me, and the fact that Berry is a farmer, writer, and activist from Kentucky, not a blend of identities you often hear.

At one point he gets talking about the economy. The "money economy" is not the only economy, he insists. "The world is in fact full of free things that are delightful. Flowers. The world is also full of people who would rather pay for something to kill the dandelions than to appreciate the dandelions. Well, I'm a dandelion man myself."

Yeah, yeah, I thought. And not just dandelions but puddles, snails, clouds, the sky, the moon. Pigeons, for sure.

All the things kids stop or slow you down to notice.

March 21, 2018

Together No. 15

Acrylic on birch panel, 36" x 48"

And a final piece before I head out to Arizona and the Tempe Festival of the Arts for the first time. Number 15 in my Together series, all about unselfing, grace, and sprezzatura. You can read more about the series at www.ivanostocco.com/together.php.

Mini #83: Hyperlinks Make Pathways Disappear

Oil on panel, 5" x 5"
Latest mini. Small but it had me thinking the hugest thoughts about our sense of time and space these days. Something to do with lingering over one and only one thing for a while, in relative silence, with little passing across my field of vision, dealing with an actual physical object, and then stepping out into the whipping, zipping world.

March 17, 2018

Beauty and the Beach

Oil on aluminum, 24" x 24"
Went to the beach and there were all these multicoloured palm trunks, big bad no-no's, decorated and cultural, like modern-day totem poles. Then there was the beach and the skin and mating rituals, monotone, simple, unsurprising, like a Republican's bookshelf. And so I stayed with the punk trunks.

Next weekend I'll have this and other new pieces at the Tempe Festival of the Arts, near Phoenix, Arizona. It'll be my fist time out there and my first time since October showing any of my work. Looking forward to a change of scenery and seeing whether I can still talk it up after hiding away in the studio for so long.

A great weekend to you!

March 14, 2018

Mini #82: Signal Study

"Signal Study," oil on panel, 5" x 5"

A study in the form of a mini, number 82 in the series. All of 'em are at www.ivanostocco.com/mitm.php.

Have a good one!

March 10, 2018

Highway to Heaven

"Highway to Heaven," 36" x 48", oil, acrylic, collage, stucco, and spray on birch panel

My latest. Kicked the crap out of me. At one point I put a large and prominent owl in it (for some reason) but I just couldn't get it to work.

The other half of the story was shutting up the usual existential doubts about being an artist, the panic, mood swings, you know.

It helped that I discovered a new writer, and a new book: Byung-Chul Han, Saving Beauty.

Han starts from the premise that beauty is in a state of crisis. In the heavy for-whom-the-bell-tolls way only writing in German can achieve, he argues it ain't beauty so much we see but "smoothness," a piece of goop by Jeff Koons (world's richest living artist) or the aesthetic of the iPhone. Smooth art offers no resistance, no negativity, he says. It's slick and polished, like a mirror in which to see yourself. It looks sweet, like a candy, and makes you want to suck it. It reduces pain and projects a sense of wholesome gym health. And it's direct and obvious, totally transparent and unmysterious.

Meaningful art, on the other hand, disrupts your normal way of living.
  • It's got character and crank ("Character and consumption are opposites. The ideal consumer is a person without character. Lack of character enables indiscriminate consumption.")
  • It's uncomfortable and disruptive ("Without pain and injury, the same, the familiar, the habitual continue.")
  • It could even bite ("It is impossible to see differently without exposing oneself to injury. Seeing requires vulnerability. Otherwise the same keeps on repeating itself. Sensibility is vulnerability. One might also say that injury is the moment of truth in seeing.")
  • It's erotic, not pornographic ("Concealing, distracting, delaying are spatio-temporal strategies of beauty.")
  • It's even a force for the good ("The good is realized in the brilliance of the beautiful. The ideal politics is a politics of beauty...Justice is a beautiful state of being together.")
Then, I listened to a fantastic interview with Jerry Saltz (www.instagram.com/jerrysaltz), senior art critic of New York Magazine. He sounds big but he's one of the realest and uplifting art people I follow, and he has no formal education and clawed his way into art criticism after working as a long-haul truck driver, just as it should be.

For this and other works I hope aren't smooth, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

March 2, 2018


"Awash," mixed media on panel, 24" x 24"

Continuing my interest and absorption in Southern California car culture and the luridly noir quality of the sunless nocturne, here's "Awash," based on my favourite bro washup down the road.

It's actually raining today, so it fits the mood.

For this and other art, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

February 23, 2018


"Hardboiled," 24" x 24", mixed media on panel

You want it darker?

In my previous two homes where the winters are real as frostbite and when the clouds roll out they stay for days or even weeks, I couldn't get enough of painting sunny scenes with an almost Hitchcock-Almodóvar-Hopper sense of lighting. But here in the land of film and the set, where it's all flipped and the norm is sun, darkness has been seeping in. I didn't realize it until I sat back, looked at this hombre, and told it to climb up its thumb.

I wish I could explain better but I understand—I feel—finally the appeal of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder, and all the incredible noir in literature in film, before the fluff moved in.

For this punk and others, sees www.ivanostocco.com.

February 20, 2018

Mini #81: As the Case May Be

"As the Case May Be," 5" x 5", oil on panel

Back in September, I was in my hometown for some work and red tape and managed to hit up the tracks, river, and other choice post-industrial dishevelries.

I sat on the tracks, careful to look for wasps (learned that the hard way more times than I care to admit), and thought about the all the idle hours I spent as a kid tightrope walking the long metal lines, striding the ties up to three at a time, fooling with the big rusty nails and "S"s, feeling the smell of tar lighten my head, squashing pennies flat as communion wafers under the train wheels, slingshotting rocks (even frogs) from "forts" at passing trains, rehearsing ninja moves in case a stray dog came around (about once a week), plucking walking sticks and praying mantises out of bushes (do those even exist anymore?)... And I sketched this scene along an edge of the old Woods factory, currently metamorphosing into a condo, naturally.

Who knows whether metal boxes like these, with sagging wires coming in and out do anything anymore, but they make great canvasses. And something about them being accessible and exposed feels enchantingly perilous.

For more, check out www.ivanostocco.com.

February 13, 2018

Crackpots, jackpots, and flower pots

Namaste! Here's my latest picture fresh outta the studio. A bunch of collage and acrylic paint on birch panel, 36" x 48".


Oh, beautiful flowers! Bright, consummate flowers. Pleasures of the world and fairy delight. Poised betwixt earth and paradise. Waft me, oh flowers, to summers of old; I dote upon you.

The timid, bashful VIOLET. The PANSY in his purple dress. Immortal AMARANTH and kind, kind AMARYLLIS, wanton country maid. APPLE BLOSSOMS, a shower of pearl. And the hang-head BLUEBELL. CAMOMILE, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows. And hope's gentle gem, the FORGET-ME-NOT. The HYACINTH, whose sweet bells stooping bend with odours heavy, but JASMINE, among the flowers no perfume can compare. Oh MARIGOLD, whose courtier's face echoes the sun. And ORCHIDS with their coy and dainty faces.

But my favourite, fellow seekers, the DANDELION, the common flower that fringes the dusty road with harmless gold, which children pluck and uphold.

From the land of crackpots, jackpots, and flower pots, a very romantic Happy Valentine's Day!

For more love check out www.ivanostocco.com.

February 5, 2018

Life in the Fast Lane

"Life in the Fast Lane," oil on canvas mounted on panel, 30" x 30"

And meanwhile, behind Disneyland and the Disneyland-of-the-mind: great feats of brutalist engineering drenched in sun.

The other day I caught an interview on the radio with Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management. I thought I'd do my bit to listen to the other side, only it turned out I was in almost total agreement.

Interviewer: "You're trying to get people to look at things as they are, not as we wish they would be."
H.M.: "Yeah, I came out of the womb like that."
Interviewer: "I think you did, yeah. [Chuckle, chuckle]. But that's the point, to look at it coldly, to look at it for what it is."
H,M.: "Yeah, but I want to look at it warmly."

They were talking about healthcare, but in my dream scenario it'd hold for art as well.

Check out www.ivanostocco.com for more, wonderful people.

January 26, 2018

Together (No. 14)

"Together (No. 14)," acrylic on birch panel
My most recent "Together" piece, number 14 now.

It's all in the shadows.

John Locke in his 1689 Essay Concerning Human Understanding: "The picture of a shadow is a positive thing."

For more about the series, check out my effort to write words around it at http://www.ivanostocco.com/together.php.

Have a good one!

January 11, 2018

The Motorcade, Cyclist, and Finger

"Briskman," oil on aluminum, 24" x 24"

I don't know if you caught this little news piece a few weeks ago. Here it is in the NY Times.

Juli Briskman, 50, single mom of two, is on her bike when the post-literacy president's motorcade, leaving Trump National Golf Course, passes by. She does what any half-decent individual would do and flips the bird. "I just got angry...[He's] golfing again when there is so much going on right now."

A few days later, she's called into a meeting at her company, Akima, which contracts for the U.S. Department of Defense. She's told her conduct was "obscene" and broke company ethical standards. Her conduct?

They force her to resign.

I don't know, I don't generally like news in my art but this heroic David-and-Goliath gesture really called to me.

Afterwards, donations come pouring in, including a grand from Rosie O'Donnell. Briskman uses the dough to pay down some of the medical expenses of uncovered sick people. The stable genius, in the meantime, goes on watching gorillas fight and his reflection in the screen.

Another day in the imperium.

For more screeds, check out www.ivanostocco.com.