Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Art and Hanging Out

I am in the midst of my annual MRU course catalog production madness ... this year we are implementing a new software called Author-it and that is challenging and exciting and daunting. Have been working a lot from home which is very efficient, but also has the curious effect of failing to shield me from the immediacy of my emotions. Today I had a little meltdown that would not have occurred if I had been at work. So I took an early lunch, watched an hour of 48 Hours and then returned to the fray refreshed if not actually happy. By the by, that 48 Hours featured the sad story of a 16-year-old who slaughtered two friends in a drug-induced haze with a shotgun. He got double life. Meanwhile, in Canada, the Globe and Mail reports that Canada released a 42-time hit man killer and child molester on compassionate parole because he is dying.

Saturday Night: Found myself at an art opening for a fascinating young gay and deaf painter by the name of Philip Chanin, a friend of mine. There's a strange YouTube experience here. I am a skeptical art opening ingenue ... by proclivity if not by reason of any depth in the art critical genre ... but Philip won me over in the course of three or four meanders through his work. He favors a certain amount of glitter in the combination of bright and glowering colors ... I think his greater success is when he uses it in moderation. Many of his paintings are large heads, frequently earless, that confront the viewer starkly and opaquely, notwithstanding the vivacity of the rendering. It was the eyes, I think, that drew me in ... staring and demanding, windows into meaning and moment, the emotion apparent but not decipherable. His faces are demanding, not inviting. My encounter with them required that I give in to them, and perhaps that is how they came to grow on me as I submitted to their silent imposition.

The best of the head paintings were in his bedroom, the private collection of his lover Bob Ostertag, a musician, composer, and performance artist of long acquaintance. I snuck a photo of one of them, but I am loathe to upload it here without permission.

But it was another painting that came to represent the evening for me ... I noticed it right away in the hall because it had a sticky beside it ..."SOLD". But that clue to its uniqueness did not cause me to stop and examine it. I am afraid that sometimes I am too beholden to unexamined prejudices in matters in which I am not expert ... o what a terrible confession, and one that exposes me as not as unique as I might prefer in my phantasmagorical and internal perorations ... and I just missed what had made this at-that-point anonymous buyer stop by that painting. Later he told me that his mother, who is by his description a successful buyer of unknown artists, advised that when he buys young artists, he should look for the pieces that are different from the others for they will be the ones sought after if the unlucky young artist becomes a lucky old artist.


I felt that taking a pic of the bought painting would be wrong and I did not do it. Later I wished that I had because it became such a moment.

My roommate RL brought his friend Daniel ... also a painter ... and it was he who turned out to be the buyer. I was as impressed by his thoughtfulness about art as I was by his evident bitterness. Take "impressed" to mean "made an impression upon me" rather than "favorably impressed." Notwithstanding the bitterness and my own tendency to scowl at bitterness, I liked Daniel, and made a point not to indulge myself in any fury if our discussion turned confrontational. A good plan, as it turned out.

RL, Daniel and I decided to leave after a couple of hours of the meander described above. Bob asked me to stay because a musician friend of his planned to perform, but hunger stemming from a delayed dinner drove me out. I am such an emotional sop ... I still feel bad that I left early. Oh well. The three of us wandered along Valencia looking for eateries that were open, not crowded, not loud, and not yuppie. Ended up at a sushi place on Church near Market.

It's been a while since that discussion, and I should have written the details down a little sooner. I wanted to cue Daniel into telling me why he paints, but we ended up talking about the state of the gay movement. I said above that Daniel was bitter, but I would prefer to say the more precise notion that he proffered a bitter stance. I should not really comment about whether or not he actually "is" bitter ... and I do mean that in the Clintonian sense of it depending upon what the meaning of "is" is. At one point he complained that he didn't like Gay Day because he doesn't see why people should have sex in public ... I told him I thought that was a profoundly conservative approach to looking at gay politics. He didn't like that, but we continued the discussion ... in fact he pressed to continue it up to the moment where we parted company with him at the foot of our hill to home. Then he told me that he appreciated our discussion because I had not caved to him as many evidently do.

I like the guy and I hope he becomes more a part of our circle. I describe the discussion briefly, and perhaps not as favorably to him as I should, because it got me to thinking about youth and age, in particular gay youth and gay age. I remember in my much more activist youth that I was very bugged by old guys who countered my steadfast and frequently un-nuanced political views ... more than bugged, it enraged me and I would get yell-y and obnoxious. I got the more enraged when they proffered a sage stance, as it were, treating me benignly. So I was playing a game on my old self and not being fair, I guess ... perhaps I should have argued more passionately.

But Daniel is a young gay man in an era when the movement is something that has been taken away from them, something alien to them, in the form of an establishment even if it does not have the power of an establishment. I think the gay rebels of this era mistake that establishment-like behavior as having actual social power over them, and they associate the only gay community that exists in a physical with that political establishment. So if the gay guys in the Castro are an aging bunch of householders, and the political movement is a bunch of Democrats slicing up a tiny pie, then gay life and gay community is illegitimate. In my, alas, angry way, I think that is a lot of what I was trying to say in the my piece on Gay Day. Young gay men live lives, increasingly, that have nothing to do with gay community ... they can easily come to straight friends as community, and see the Castro-gay-guy-Demo-establishment as alien, and by back formation fail to remember that the fight for gay liberation is still very young. So, as I noticed at Gay Day, the young gay guys who came tended to be coupled ... perhaps they see in the current movement the advantage of marriage rights. (And, as I noted, the young lesbians hung with themselves in more exuberant modern rendition of the separatism that has always haunted our movement.)

These are generalizations based on observation but not study. I want the Daniels of our world to be modern gay liberationists. Not my choice, and the forces at work on them seem to press in another direction.

So back to where we started in this post. There did not seem to be any ideological content in Philip's work, but there was a straining to see and to project. Notwithstanding the seeming horrors of distorted and wrenching figures, this work is not dark and it presents an optimism and vivacity and screaming for life. I'd like to see Daniel's work ... I rather suspect that it features a darkness, but one that might also be deconstructed into life and urging ... just a guess. He prefers large canvases, and the painting of Philip's that he bought was one of the most narrative of the works on display, so I suspect that they have a narrative quality. I am permanently fascinated by active minds ... and this evening of art and hanging out was a rather too rare excursus into two new fascinating minds in my life.

Top photo by Arod of Philip Chanin and one of his pieces. Middle photo from Philip's web site; click on the photo to go to a slide show of his work. This piece actually was written in several sittings, not a good idea for blogging. The pressure of this year's course catalog work is sitting heavy, and I go back to my labors soon after I hit "Publish Post".

2 comments:

philip chanin said...

http://web. mac. com/bob. ostertag

hi steven, could you post this? philipchanin.com is no more :)

philip chanin said...

actually could you post, http://filipchanin.googlepages.com/sf

thanks, steven :))