September 18, 2018

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Mixed media on birch panel, 48" x 36"
Here's one I haven't posted yet but I managed to sell on the weekend at Kaaboo Del Mar.

The couple that bought it were into plants, growing and identifying them by their names, an increasingly rare skill I'd say as we become more physically detached from territory and our knowledge base flattens out. 

The painting is another one for my "Walls" series, where I look at the idea of the human-made and natural worlds colliding at hard lines and birthing new realities.

The highfalutin title is from Dante's first line of the Divine Comedy, completed in 1320: "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita" - "Midway through life's journey, I found myself in a dark forest, having lost the straightforward path" (my translation). If you know anything about the poem, the dark forest is the worst of all worlds (Hell) and the path from which Dante has deviated represents the old philosophical quest to live, in the midst of challenges, in the best possible way. It's a beautiful setup.

Anyway, I've been working on a novel about life in Florence at the end of the Renaissance and so all this old way of writing and thinking (actually, though, it's as fresh as anything we struggle with today, eerily so) has been swimming around in my head.

Now, where was that path?

September 9, 2018

The Ol' Razoo

Mixed media on canvas, 60" x 45"
Here's another largish one featuring hummingbirds in a state-of-the-art industrial setting.

I've been told that there are a lot less of the buzzing, shimmering streaks of colour than there used to be in Southern California, but I've never seen as many in my life, having grown up in cooler climes.

They show up everywhere a flower can grow: the mountain valley where the sun struggles to penetrate and green grows, coiffed suburban shrubs, and breaches in cement. If they were larger and shit as much, we'd equate them with pigeons.

You're not supposed to anthropomorphize wildlife but I can't help think every time I see a hummingbird (and it's always one, never the confederacy in my painting, silly me) it's mocking me, laughing inside, giving the razoo, as they said in the gilded era. "Oi, you dope down there, sweatin' on the hard concrete, shufflin' from machine to machine. So clunky in the way you move. Go on, get pissed! You think you can catch me?"

(Incidentally, I'm gearing up for Kaaboo Del Mar next week, pushing it in the sauna that is my studio, getting light headed.)

September 3, 2018

Mini #85: Rust Never Sleeps

5" x 5", oil on birch panel

This summer I drove 5,000 miles from L.A. to Toronto and back. One surprise was how radically the landscape changed over the Mississippi River. On the west side is, well, the West - light, package new, and dippity-do - while on the east side it's grime, history, and a bit of the fist.

This train sat idle somewhere on the border between Iowa and Illinois a ways from the soy fields and cows. It was a bit of a sad sight all blanketed in graffiti, snoozing. Trains once "opened up" the west, right behind guns and cowboys, and made Manifest Destiny and at least two superpower nations a reality.

Seems the latest-greatest comes along and we get all wild and modern, like teens hankering for a new pop hit. Then another technological miracle comes along and we move on, leaving the old to pollute the environment, community, home - or at least someone else's. Enough of that pollution and you create something like a junkyard dog that used to chase balls and fetch sticks, but not any longer.

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

August 22, 2018

Together (No. 17)

Acrylic on birch panel, 48" x 36"

Another one for the series, numero 17.

I've been dealing with some pretty extreme heat in my un-air-conditioned studio these days. Half of the drops on the painting are sweat.

The scene is Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, based on a doodle I did three years ago when we lived in Florence and happened to dug up recently in a sketchpad. If you don't know the station in all its modernist-rationalist-brutalist glory, it's where you're sure to find piles of people from every corner of the globe at all hours of the day.

Many Italians told me they disliked the station because shady things happened there and it was full of tourists, but they're whack.

I could never just pass through, even when I had a train to catch. I lingered in awe at the coordinated yet chaotic movement of human and machine, the polished marble floors, the metal lettering in uniquely Italian sans serif, and the gravely voice of the arrivals and departures announcer over the PA, a sure smoker. The place conjured in me the need to buy a newspaper, for some reason. Make sense of the day. Get an espresso. Fare la bella figura.

This and other "Together" paintings can be viewed at www.ivanostocco.com.

Keep on truckin'!

August 12, 2018

Alvarado

48" x 36", mixed media on birch panel

Here's a piece I finished a few months ago but forgot to post. It's a picture of 7th and Alvarado in L.A., in the Westlake area with Skid Row in the distance, reminding us how unromantic the city can be.

The street is narrower and the buildings and figures are sketchier, more gestural than they would be in reality, but more to my aesthetic liking and part, more importantly, of my grand scheme to persuade everyone that density can be good and the North American appetite for space and sprawl is really a form of misanthropy.

Incidentally, Alvarado St. is named after the 19th-century governor of California (when California was still Mexico), Juan Bautista Alvarado. Alvarado led a coup to take Monterey, which was then the capital of both Alta and Baja California, and for a time he declared California an independent country. But Mexico quickly took the territory back, and then of course the gringos took it from Mexico. The rest is history.

You can find this and other paintings like 'er on my website, www.ivanostocco.com.

¡Que tengas un buen día!

July 26, 2018

Together (No. 16)

Acrylic CMYK on birch panel, 30" x 40"
When I was a young punk and played hockey, the teammates who had the crappiest sticks and oldest skates but still performed at a high level seized my imagination more than those lucky enough to afford the latest, slickest gear. While the one group, it seemed to me, had found ways to work with and around limitations, the other had resorted to a cheap technological compensation.

In art, I sometimes regret how much effort is put into throwing off apparent confines and finding secretive edges up on the competition by using fancy materials or pricey shortcuts. Though it may seem antithetical, artistic freedom and the expansionary impulse aren't the same to me. Take poetry. For most of its history poetry was not about blasting open the form but confining the words to a set metre or rhyming pattern, while making the thoughts zing all the same. Or storytelling. The crucible of characters being shoved together and unable to escape one another is often what builds the tension and makes the story.

In painting, I've participated in dozens of plein air contests (the artistic equivalent to improv in music or comedy, when they're serious) and they've never been about unrestricted freedom. Instead, they're stressful, frustrating, and exhausting, but the time limits, minimal materials, and unideal conditions force you to reach down deeper and hit on ideas that don't come any other way.

These weeks I've been away from my familiar workspace, with the paints, tools, and machines in just the places I wish them to be. I've also, admittedly, had too much change in my environment, filling the headspace I need to work with smoke. Nonetheless, I did complete this one painting, a "Together," the most minimal type of painting I do. The series is all about boundaries and limits, down to the restricted CMYK palette and focus on pedestrianized space.

The finished piece feels, I don't know, symbolic, in more ways than one. In ways I hadn't intended.

July 1, 2018

L.A. to Toronto Roadtrip Notes: Day 11 and 12, Chicago

In penetrating the Windy City, we fight through an hour or so of traffic and arrive at our "urban holiday loft" in the trendy Bucktown neighbourhood.

We park, leave our big backpacks in our room, and head out on foot for 4-5 miles in the dusk.

Ah, right away, metal beams and rivets, bitten by winter, and rusting. Graffiti. Old water towers. Cobwebs of overhead wires. Socialist posters impolitely saying what Trump really is and not a few people who are unafraid to tell us on the street. This is all very un-Californian.



The next day we're up early and at it again, though now we buy day passes for the subway. Along the way we chat with four strangers, none of them patriots or uninteresting, because that's the beauty of public transit and why conservatives revile it, no?

We get off in "the loop," amidst the financial buildings, and our first sight is a Kandinsky mosaic that wraps around four giant walls, with an army of smokers smoking their breakfasts out front of it, not one vaping, either.

We visit the building of the old central library, the turn-of-the-century kind with handcrafted masonry, stained-glassed ceilings, and inscriptions throughout that pay homage to literature—the sort that will never be built again, since today's robber barons are mentally bankrupt, and illiterate.

We take in an entire room dedicated permanently to Keith Haring and his street art in Chicago, as well as a temporary exhibit by Alexis Rockman on the state of the Great Lakes.

"Cascade," oil and alkyd on panel, 72" x 144"
It's my first time seeing Rockman and my immediate thought is, yup, this is the correct way to do nature/Americana/Canadiana today.


From here we head to the mirror-blob sculpture, which doesn't do much for me but prompt me to take a selfie and think I'm wonderful. We then sit to watch the Chicago philharmonic rehearse outdoors in the concert hall built by that overrated starchitect, Frank Gehry.

Lunch in Chinatown, and more unplanned chitchat along the way and in the restaurant, with a young woman who has just moved to Chicago from Nashville, "where there are not so many Chinese but lots of cowboys."

For the rest of the day, we pilgrimage to the current central library, which is as spectacular as the old one, not Gehry, not cold and academic, at all.


We stare at the exposed overhead subway lines for at least an hour, plugging our ears each time a train passes.



Finally, we visit the site of the Haymarket riot, which led to the hanging of several socialists and anarchists because an unknown source detonated a bomb and killed seven policemen, back in 1886.


By the way, it's due to Haymarket and subsequent struggles connected to it that May Day exists (at least outside of North America) and for a while, more than today's privileged few anyhow, had an eight-hour workday.

I gotta say, I'm disgruntled to find simply a sculpture and tiny plaques from unions around the world affixed to it, and the supposed long-term plans for a "Labor Park" in evidence nowhere, but maybe not surprised. The location is banal and difficult to find, too.

Tomorrow, central Michigan for a last night of camping and then Ontario, land of confused voters who for some reason want more America.