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Category Archives: Ideas & Inspiration

Hold Your Ground: Fugitive Artists in a Gentrifying Cincinnati

As interest in urban living continues to take hold in Cincinnati and those once-neglected pockets of the city attract the gaze of developers, the future of unique do-it-yourself places has become uncertain.

Brighton, photo by Nick Swartsell

I thought a lot about this article, Disappearing DIY.  

For the last fifteen years I have subsisted on meager album sales, singing at weddings, freelance web-design, painting commissions, and anything I could get my hands on that would prevent me from working a desk job or retail.  But unlike many members of the “creative class”, DIY was never the end game for me.  Doing It Yourself was always a means to ensure that at some point in the future I would be able to Do It Myself but with Support From Others.  Let’s call it DIY-SFO (incidentally also a flight from Diyarbakır, Turkey to San Fransisco, USA).

Somehow this has essentially worked out twice for me: first a major label recording contract, then a job offer as an art professor.  Being in the right place at the right time has had a lot to do with this–I was helped by getting involved with a growing energetic community of creators in Cincinnati, Ohio.  We created opportunities for each other.

But I also acknowledge that these goals are in some ways counter to the DIY spirit in Cincinnati.  The CityBeat article mentions the well known long running DIY gallery Semantics, which recently closed its doors after more than 200 exhibitions “without selling a single piece of art or charging admission.”  This of course is a point of pride for a defiantly noncommercial space–idealistic DIY Cincinnatians had carved out spaces that were seemingly not beholden to the forces of capital.  But for DIY to work people have to stay.  And for artists to stay, there needs to be some sense of stability and support.  As a mid-sized rust belt city, Cincinnati, has few serious contemporary art collectors.  Consequently, other than the few existing commercial art galleries, the art scene is so underground, conceptual and so awesomely weird it has been described as fugitive.  Unlike cities like New York and Los Angeles, where artists enjoy constant exposure to big name artists and galleries, artists in Cincinnati (and musicians) distill the influence of these places virtually and indirectly while drawing from locale lore, often supported by many surrounding major arts institutions and non-profits to create works and events that are wholly unique.

Unfortunately, these DIY spaces are disappearing.  This is my first-hand account of the rapid transition of Over-the-Rhine, followed by some ways I believe contemporary artists can maintain a presence in Cincinnati.

Installation view of exhibition curated by myself and Kate Tepe at the recently closed Harvest Gallery in Over-the-Rhine. Jacket by Samantha Dorgan.

Installation view of exhibition curated by myself and Kate Tepe at the recently closed Harvest Gallery in Over-the-Rhine. Jacket by Samantha Dorgan.



Across the street was a crack house.  My car was consistently broken into and she was purse-punched in the face by a sidewalk stranger.  About ten years ago my sister and I convinced each other to move out of the suburbs and into an illegal warehouse in the heart of Over the Rhine, the notoriously dangerous (more so at the time) predominantly black (more so at the time) ghetto of Cincinnati.  My momentarily-popular alternative rock band was floundering and I was looking for ways to redefine myself as an up-and-coming visual artist.  I re-enrolled in college to study painting, grew a beard that made me look like both Charles Manson and Jim Henson, and moved to the cavernous, partially abandoned former brewery adjacent to the post-apocalyptic landscape of Tinderbox, an underground event and party space.  In 2007 most of the stories coming out of Over-the-Rhine were of neglected buildings (tinderboxes) catching fire and shootings–by both gangs and police.

Still, I came to enjoy certain aspects of punk rock ghetto bohemia and the second floor of the warehouse felt like an impenetrable fortress, far from the banality of suburbia.  One of my favorite summer pastimes became sitting on the roof watching white men in nice cars stop nearby to purchase drugs and prostitutes.  Where were they from?  Did their families know?  At school and at holiday dinners I had stories of my perpetually stoned warehouse mates, ariel acrobats practicing in the common areas and occasional inspector raids that would force us to scramble and hide our mattresses in what looked like a contemporary art installation about sleep and sex.

Screenshot 2015-12-18 16.30.39

with Michael Hirst. Former artist studio in a recently purchased building.

While I didn’t immediately connect with any social group, these adventures were credentialing among the anarchists and craftspeople in the neighborhood: I was a real artist, living in poverty but focused on my craft, while peers spent their evenings working at pizza shops and department stores.  Like a lot of artists at that time, I had moved to Over-the-Rhine in large part because it was cheap.

Today, the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine is barely recognizable.  On the weekends hoards of middle class khakis come buying hand crafted beard conditioner (now even accountants could be mistaken for Jim Henson or Charles Manson) or shirts emblazoned with the letters OTR or Cincinnati.

A couple summers ago I was sitting with a friend outside a new restaurant on what is one of the most economically diverse blocks in the country.  We watched four kids remove a box of discarded donuts from a trash can and begin hurling them at white people in white clothes on the other side of the street.  That moment revealed a perfect distillation of the problems that will continue to face gentrifying neighborhoods; the donuts were artisanal (and thus overpriced), wastefully discarded, and the kids were clearly within and without the neo-Portlandia that grew up tentacles around them almost overnight, and by the next day had transmorphed into a kraken of tour groups and restaurants serving faux mexican and faux pan asian foods.  In short, Over-the-Rhine has been gentrified and I was left asking if I was a witness or a participant.

CityBeat's cover story on disappearing DIY spaces.

CityBeat’s cover story on disappearing DIY spaces.

This story is not unusual.  The beginning of Over-the-Rhine’s transformation was fueled not by city-sponsored condo development projects but by idealistic artists and residents moving the needle, before the bigger conversations about race, the ethics of displacement.  Public art works and street events were happening, stores were opening and closing but then opening again.  Community organizers were organizing and rallying and running DIY galleries showing works made of cheese or about cheese or were simply consuming cheese at openings and everything was wonderfully weird.  The mayor would even stop by my regular Tuesday gig at a bar on main street and i felt for the first time like I was a part of a creative community and by extension part of the entire city of Cincinnati.

In a personal move that paralleled the small community uptick in opportunities for creative people, my sister and I moved from the warehouse (motivated in no small part by an upstairs suicide, the arrest of our landlord and police intervention in enforcing the housing code) and into a “real” apartment closer to downtown.  I didn’t leave my heart in Over-the-Rhine, but I had a great time leaving a mark: after a four year stint that included two years in graduate school, a year running a gallery and a semi-secret art collaborative, being involved with a not secret experimental curatorial collaborative, creating several murals, a few months ago I finally moved out and away to the state of Washington.  The rent for my last apartment immediately increased several hundred dollars.

Just a few weeks before we moved, my partner and I were attempting to take a walk but were unsettled by the crowds.  It’s hard to know how to feel about it all.  I know that economic growth is good for the city at large, but that the good is not distributed evenly.  I also know that the neighborhood had changed to the extent that the reasons that drew artists there in the first place–cheap rent, grit, diversity, the possibility of weirdness, and (believe it or not) quiet–were gone.  Large areas of Over the Rhine have “turned the corner” (to use the white colloquialism) from black community and bohemian artist hide out to a kind of small-batch hand-crafted weekend tourist Disneyland.

* * *

What happens next?  There is no rallying cry to Keep Cincinnati Weird.  Cincinnati has slogans Ohio Against the World (which was co-opted by sports enthusiasts) and OTR (which, according to some is basically a gentrified version of Over-the-Rhine that neglects the moniker’s significance).  While Ohio Against the World once stood for DIY and OTR was once a hipster insignia, for better or for worse both are now for everyone.

Can we identify ways that progressive contemporary artists can participate in the new urban economy/community without selling their souls?  In the absence of collectors and a gallery system that could commodify works, are there ways more artists could be more supported in their individual pursuits? 

opening of Amiable Strangers at Boom Gallery

opening of Amiable Strangers at Boom Gallery, with Jenny Ustick‘s drawings


Instead of waiting for Cincinnatians to become interested in exhibition openings, one way artists are bringing contemporary art to the masses i is through pop-up exhibitions and events in non-conventional spaces supported by local businesses and non-profits.  Curatorial collective Near*By (of which I am a member) has a mission to “bring art to pluralistic audiences”.  In November of 2014 we staged a pop-up exhibition of light based art at new craft brewery Rhinegeist that drew hundreds of people–artists and beer drinkers and artist beer drinkers.  The success of the event was due to word of mouth buzz about Near*By at a time when Rhinegeist’s visibility in the neighborhood was peaking.  Beer drinkers wanted to get a look at the inside of the historic former Christian Moerlein bottling plant.  What better time to do it than during a light-art show?

Photo-Nov-20-8-36-59-PMGroups like Pop-Up Cincy have garnered ongoing support to do non-commercial contemporary art events and happenings in store-fronts, streets etc.  Pop-Up Cincy (spearheaded by related group Modern Makers) is always looking for artists to show in the Clifton area.  As far as I know there is no group like this in Over-the-Rhine.

Artworks Cincinnati, while best known for representational rainbow colored murals featuring portraits of diverse people created by diverse groups of apprentices, also accepts proposals for more progressive kinds of projects including temporary installations and performances.

21C is an amazing model of ways businesses can leverage contemporary art to thrive.  Granted, it was founded by millionaire art collectors from Lousiville, but this model could work on any level.  Pizza Shop with contemporary art gallery?  I could see it.

Like Williamsburg in brooklyn and other gentrifying neighborhoods I guess it’s inevitable that artists will be forced to find other places to gather.  However, a dispersed network could be a good thing–there’s much more to Cincinnati than the city center.  I had some success running Boom Gallery with friends in Norwood, where there is still some inexpensive space to be utilized and close proximity to Xavier University.

I Work Hard For My Money November 28th, 2015 - January 3rd, 2016 at Wave Pool Gallery

By Lauren DiCioccio
I Work Hard For My Money – on view November 28th, 2015 – January 3rd, 2016 at Wave Pool Gallery

Husband and wife team Geoffrey and Calcagno Cullen (or Skip and Cal) recently opened Wave Pool gallery in Camp Washington and it is thriving, bringing in contemporary artists from all over through a residency program, and hosting community events as well as compelling exhibitions.  Unlike many previous galleries in Cincinnati, in a show of commitment the Wave Pool owners bought the building, an amazing old firehouse.  The current exhibition, up through January 3rd, is in fact about the “association between art and capital”.  Work on right by artist Lauren DiCioccio.

Ultimately, Cincinnati artists will need to continue self-organizing to help each other out.  In order for self-organization to result in maintaining the presence of contemporary artists, artists could also be more proactive about turning young professionals into supporters and collectors.  I would love to see something like the Chicago Artist Coalition happen in Cincinnati.  Their mission is to “build a sustainable marketplace for entrepreneurial artists and creatives.” One way they do so is through a collectors circle program, that builds interest in artists through studio visits etc.

This is something of a sign off.  With it I must acknowledge some hypocrisy–I am now about as far away from Cincinnati as possible while remaining in the lower forty eight.  I must also acknowledge that to the most radical DIY Cincinnati scenesters this pragmatism may seem like compromise.  Indeed, without balancing the needs of artists with the demands of a rapidly growing inner city, artist communities will be rolled over and discarded across America.

I look forward to coming back to participate in exhibitions as Cincinnati artists continue to fight for the visibility of contemporary arts  Godspeed artists.  May your pigs fly with authenticity, whatever that means.

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Putting Art in STEM – The New York Times

Makes sense to me!


A creative approach to developing as an engineer: learning to problem-solve like an artist.

Source: Putting Art in STEM – The New York Times

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The Forgotten History of Montgomery Jones

My great grandfather Montgomery Jones and his brother Joe came to Wyoming from somewhere but I never knew exactly where.  I know they wanted to “become cowboys” and I knew that’s exactly what they did: my grandmother loved to tell the stories of my Monte riding horses with Buffalo Bill, wrangling and taking care of business with other homesteaders in Cody, Wyoming while Bill Cody was out doing shows.  Eastern U.S. born and immigrants had come from all over to unlikely places like Wyoming and Idaho for gold or for promise of a better life for their families.  But the details of Monte’s early (pre-Wyoming) life were not so interesting to me.  Until now.

Photo Aug 04, 7 29 12 PM

My great grandfather, future cowboy Monte Jones, squeezed into the middle.

A week ago during the long road trip from Cincinnati, Ohio to my new home here in Moscow, Idaho, my wife Mei and I stopped at my Aunt’s house in Cody, Wyoming.  As usual, we got out the old cowboy family photos.  There were the old true sepia favorites: My mom and sisters in oversized hats, indians and cowboys with names like Shootin Billy and Davey the Kid playing poker at the Cody Stampede, etc.  As we turned the pages and my aunt recounted the histories, I noticed one family photo I had never investigated closely, featuring Monte as a kid squeezed awkwardly into the middle.  Then Mei spotted it–a photographer’s stamp in the bottom right corner reading: MOSCOW, IDAHO.

I had never even heard of Moscow Idaho (until I got a job in the nearby town of Pullman, WA) let alone visited or lived here.  But of all the places in the country to randomly end up, I am here now in the very same place that my great great grandfather chose when he decided to leave Virginia to find some freshly acquired U.S. government land for his family.

With a little help from the University of Idaho (now within walking distance from me) I learned that, ERICHSON AND HANSON, the photo studio stamped in the bottom left, was comprised of two prolific and skilled photographers Henry Erichson from Germany and John A. Hanson from Denmark.  As well as studio work, the photographers compiled the (now partially reconstructed) photographic history of the U.S. war with the Nez Perce Indians.  Since Erichson and Hanson’s partnership was so brief (University of Idaho Library Nez Perces Indian War Series ’77 (1891) . April 2001), I can practically confirm the date of the family photo as 1892: the same year The University of Idaho opened its doors and the year my current employer, Washington State University was founded.  It’s likely that the Danish photographer Hanson took the picture of my great grandfather and great great grandfather with family in Grangeville, ID, while Hanson was still in partnership with Erichson who remained here in Moscow, ID.

Well, okay, so that old photo was probably not taken here in Moscow but in Grangeville, ID, on the other side of the Nez Perce reservation.  My Aunt says that yes, Monte and Joe had lived in Grangeville for a while before they ran off to “become cowboys”.  That’s always where my mom started the stories.  Well, now it starts right here in Idaho.  Or is this where it ends?

Today, I am going to Grangeville, ID to find the ghost of my great, great grandfather Jones.

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Washington State University

I am pleased to have accepted a position at Washington State University in Pullman, WA as Assistant Professor of Painting/Intermedia!  I will run the painting program, teach and advise undergraduate and graduate students, conduct a program of peer-reviewed scholarship (mostly in the form of participating in national and international art exhibition) etc.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 4.06.41 PM

Pullman, WA

While I worked hard to make this happen, I was only able to do so because of a supportive art community in Cincinnati, OH that includes artists, curators, galleristseducators, institutions, universitiesnon-profits, etc.  Over the last couple decades, Cincinnati has been a forum for all my creative activity from music to art to everything in between.  I have essentially enjoyed two careers in the arts (as a musician and artist) in a relatively short span; I honestly believe that in no other city would this have be possible.  I have been a beneficiary of cheap rent and the creative efforts of so many people, especially in and around OTR, my home for the last seven years or so.  I am among the fortunate who have survived and benefited from an urban renaissance, having watched this neighborhood grow and transform along with the city.  So it is going to be tough leaving, of course, but the time is right.  Cincinnati has such an amazing art community, but this position in Washington will provide some “me time” to focus on my studio practice, and some structure and incentive to do so (the tenure process).

I have heard tenure-track positions described as “winning the lottery” or “catching a unicorn”, so it is difficult to understate my excitement.  The position and the university are a perfect fit for me.  The job title of Painting/Intermedia describes my art practice–an intermedia approach that ties together my varied interests in photo, internet art, installation etc. (interests I developed in graduate school at DAAP, the University of Cincinnati) while remaining focused on painting (my undergraduate BFA emphasis at Northern Kentucky University) as a way of seeing.

As a bonus, the northwestern United States is among the only area of the country I have not explored.  While Washington State as a brand has taken on a hip reputation because of Seattle and Portland, to be clear Pullman WA is not on the West coast exactly–it’s located in a rural college town near the border of Idaho.  Idaho coast.  However, WSU is a top research university with about 20,000 students in a unique region called the Palouse, within a half-day’s driving distance to forests, mountains, plains, and deserts.  So there will be opportunities at the university for professional collaborations, and in a setting of big skies and surreal wheat grass dune hills carved by ancient glaciers.

I have always been drawn to unusual places and am looking forward to making the most of a new environment.  It seems fitting to do so with my biggest supporter, harshest and most helpful critic, life-adventure partner Mei; this move will truly signify the start of a new life together.  Mei is going to teach foundations at WSU so for the first time we will be colleagues.

Looking forward to making new art and design, new friends, doing some intense camping and exploring the west!  Please keep in touch.

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An article I helped to write appears on pages 24-39 of FutureForward: Foundational Ideas, Curriculum and Continuous Improvement, volume 4, number 1: march.  In the article, colleagues discuss ways of engendering the “Three R’s” (Risk, Rigor and Research) in the foundations classroom.  The article came out of a summer 2014 ThinkTank in Bozeman, Montana presented by Integrative Teaching International.

Artists work in ways that are not dissimilar from the ways that scientists work; artists ideate, follow lines of inquiry, conduct research, take risk and pursue every step of the creative process with rigor that parallels processes of other disciplines

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List of Museums and Galleries in Cincinnati

Boom Gallery

Boom Gallery – Installation View featuring Christy Wittmer, Loraine Wible, Curtis Goldstein and Corrina Meheil.

I made this for students and thought I would share.  Please feel free to contact me if you want a gallery added.
This is by no means comprehensive; the Cincinnati region contains many excellent museums, galleries and arts centers. Most of these locations are open Monday through Friday 9-5, unless otherwise noted–and for frequent openings and events. Make sure you plan ahead to see if the gallery is open (sometimes galleries close when they are installing new shows). Included below are the three major art museums in Cincinnati: The Cincinnati Art Museum, the Taft Museum, and the Contemporary Arts Center, as well as many galleries and other arts-related establishments.  Here are my favorites organized by neighborhood:



Contemporary Arts Center – On sixth and Walnut.  Unlike the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center or CAC does not maintain a permanent collection. Instead, the center stages ongoing temporary exhibitions of regional and internationally recognized contemporary artists. Through their curatorial practices and the artists they showcase, the CAC continually pushes the boundaries of contemporary art. The CAC is free Monday evenings. At other times it is $6.  Check website for upcoming performances and exhibitions.  
21C – Museum Hotel –  Free, open to public 24 hours a day.  World-class collection of contemporary art in a clean contemporary space.  Taxidermy, unconventional materials, permanent collection and special exhibitions, as well as local artists works in vitrines on floors for hotel guests.
Taft Museum of Art 
– an intimate location–a historic mansion downtown–with a collection that rivals any other museum of its size in quality. In the Taft Museum’s permanent collection are artists such as John Singer Sargeant, Duveneck, Turner, Rembrandt, to name just a few. Museum hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Free on-site parking is available.Free on Sundays. – 
Weston Art Gallery – Excellent, progressive exhibitions featuring contemporary artists.  One of the largest and nicest galleries in town, ajoined to the Arnoff Center for Performing Arts


Covington Arts Center, Pike St. Covington –  – local and regional artists
Carnegie Visual and Performing Art Center 


During Final Fridays (the last Friday evening of every month) from 6-10, OTR turns into an art-walk.  Many local businesses participate and showcase art.  Additionally, these galleries have hours and openings at other times: 

Lily’s 1305 Gallery – Main St. Cincinnati, solo and two-person shows, contemporary, local and regional artists.  A Final Friday staple.
Art Academy of Cincinnati – Jackson St., exhibitions often during final fridays and at other times featuring student work as well as internationally known artists and illustrators.
Carl Solway Gallery  works by major, established international contemporary artists.
Semantics Gallery – Contemporary, provocative, underground, local. –
Harvest Gallery – Neighborhood gallery showcasing mostly Cincinnati artists
Many other OTR businesses participate in Final Friday.  Here is a list:

Niehoff Urban Studio - Magenta - Installation View

Niehoff Urban Studio – Magenta – Installation View


Clifton Cultural Arts Center – Excellent community arts center with wide range of programming including occasional partnerships with UC DAAP Students and faculty:
DAAP Galleries – Several galleries run by the college of Design, Architecture Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati.  The two most popular are colloquially known as the Reed and Meyers galleries.  These spaces often showcase internationally recognized artists alongside student-work and local and regional artists.
Niehoff Urban Studio – University of Cincinnati urban planning space that often stages art exhibitions 


Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center – has quickly established itself as an international force in painting and drawing.  showcasing works with impeccable craftsmanship and contemporary concept –
Phyllis Weston – Famous promotor and patron of the arts in Cincinnati, contemporary works, mostly painting – 2005 1/2 Madison Rd.
Malton Gallery –  Commercial gallery, contemporary but accessible, sometimes decorative works.
Miller Gallery – Commercial gallery, contemporary but accessible, sometimes decorative works.
Greenwich House Gallery – Traditional sculpture and painting –
PAC Gallery 


Cincinnati Art Museum – Eden Park – atop beautiful Eden park is one of the oldest museums in the country and has a fine permanent collection of art throughout the ages. They have a good collection of modernist works and decent contemporary collection as well, although this floor is often closed. They do also stage traveling exhibitions of works by well known modern masters. Although the museum charges an admission for parking the museum itself is free. You may park at the bottom of the hill in the park and walk the short distance up to the museum. 
Kennedy Heights Art Center – Kennedy Heights. Nice arts center in a large converted house, featuring frequent exhibitions of well-known mostly regional artists. 
BOOM Gallery – Norwood.  1940 Dana Ave. Underground and experimental contemporary art.  Open during openings and by appointment – 
Nearby – Various locations.  An untethered curatorial collective staging ephemeral and interdisciplinary exhibitions and performance works around town. –

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Tom Wesselmann and I


Breakfast Table (inspired by Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60), 12″ x 16″, Oil on Canvas

Photo by Artworks Cincinnati.  Tom Wesselmann Still Life No. 60 Downtown Cincinnati Mural.  8th and Main

Photo by Artworks Cincinnati. Tom Wesselmann Still Life No. 60 Downtown Cincinnati Mural. 8th and Main

Over the summer I lived with Tom Wesselmann.  More accurately, I lived with the work and specter of the late Cincinnati pop-art icon Tom Wesselmann, through the execution of several projects including an enormous outdoor mural downtown with teaching artists and teen-apprentices.  It was easy to develop a personal connection with the late Cincinnati master, who shares my love of objects, painting, women, and was even an accomplished songwriter as well (a song of his appears in the soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain. movie only not the CD).

I also met his wife Claire, who was lovely. And during the mural project Wesselmann’s one-time studio assistant in New York, Kevin T. Kelly (who is also a well-known pop artist) was gracious enough to spend a little time with me and the apprentices.

Tonight, we were finally able to dedicate the mural, a project of non-profit Artworks, to the city of Cincinnati.  The mural was created in preparation for the Wesselmann retrospective at the Cincinnati Art Museum, which opens this weekend.  In addition to the dedication, as a way to have a more personal creative dialogue with Wesselmann’s body of work, Meredith Adamisin from Artworks and myself staged an tribute art exhibition, Wesselworks, that opened wednesday at Align Furniture Store across the street from the mural on Main.  The exhibition features works by apprentice artists, teaching staff who worked on the mural, as well as my piece seen here, Breakfast Table.

Finally, I will be involved in two events at the Cincinnati Art Museum in the next few months:  On November 15th I will lead a program for kids–Art in the Making: Pop Painting–at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  On January 18th I will lead another program called Creative Encounters, for adults of all ages which is also one-part workshop one-part museum tour.  So, it is safe to say that I have developed something of a relationship with Wesselmann.

Still Life #60, 1973

Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60

The source image for the mural, Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60 came into my life precisely as I had begun a new series of photographic still life’s and was considering the vast array of possible meanings that relationships between objects in a picture plane can create.  I had also just serendipitously begun arranging items in stage-like compositions as well.  So it was with great pleasure that I took on the mural project, created a painting in response, and continue to be engaged with Wesselmann’s work.

Options - 8.5" x 14" - Archival Digital Print

Options – 8.5″ x 14″ – Archival Digital Print

Although my recent photographs are borderline, my tribute painting is decidedly not pop-art.  But Wesselmann and I have some similar formal interests including clarity of line and form, a love of high contrast and bold color on muted fields, etc.

For this tribute painting, I essentially took Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60 and flipped it on its head.  Instead of larger-than-life I worked small.  Instead of flat I worked with naturalistic angles and lighting.  I did, however, retain Wesselmann’s selection of objects, or at least five of six of the objects: the nail polish, sunglasses, lipstick, matchbook, and ring.  But instead of the necklace beads I have included grapes.  This is partly an inside joke–in the early summer I mistakenly identified the beads as grapes and presented the work to apprentices artists that way–but partly a reference to the Dutch Golden Age breakfast table paintings I have been looking at lately as well.  My painting also references another American master from yet another generation, painter of beautiful trompe l’oeil still life’s William Harnett.  These are my three muses lately.  I have some other paintings in my studio that are more “for me” and feature the kinds of weird objects that have been appearing in my photos lately.  But this one’s for Tom Wesselmann.  May your match continue to smolder!

Nov. 15, 1-3 p.m.:Cincinnati Art Museum – Art in the Making: Pop Painting, for kids ages 6-12 and a parent. Reservations required. $10 per pair members, $20 nonmembers ($3/$6 for each additional person).

Jan. 18, 1 p.m.:Cincinnati Art Museum – Creative Encounters visits the Great American Nudes series, then creates figure drawing inspired by the exhibition. Reservations required. $10. $5 members and college students.

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Tom Wesselmann Artworks Mural Dedication

A great team!

A great team of apprentices!

This is what we did over the summer.  The mural is on six story wall at 8th and Main Street in Cincinnati, OH, a reproduction of Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #60.  Wednesday, we finally dedicate the beast to the City of Cincinnati!

The mural is a summer project of Artworks, a Cincinnati non-profit that “empowers and inspires the creative community to transform our everyday environments through employment, apprenticeships, education, community partnerships, and civic engagement”. I was the project manager for this mural, one mural in an annual series of Cincinnati Masters.  I worked alongside Cincinnati-based artists and teaching assistants Nicole Trimble and Joshua Mindlin, and ten area teen apprentices.

The image we painted is a reproduction of a grouping of six canvases, a sculptural painting which will be featured prominently in the retrospective of Wesselmann’s work opening at the Cincinnati Art Museum in the fall.  In addition to the mural, we created our own works which respond to and pay homage to Wesselmann’s art.  These works will be shown tonight at a companion event, Wessel Works, at Align Furniture just across the street from the site of the new mural.

An honest day's work

An honest day’s work

The mural is on the wall of Sophia’s Deli at 8th and Main St., in the middle of downtown, Cincinnati.  The dedication will be at 4pm:

Cincinnati Master Tom Wesselmann Mural – Still Life No. 60
Dedication and Party Wednesday October 29 4pm
Sophia’s Deli
811 Main St,
Cincinnati, OH 45202

The art exhibition Wessel Works, featuring responses and tributes to the work of Wesselmann by myself, Nicole and Josh and the apprentices will be up for the next couple weeks, beginning at 5pm tomorrow at:

Wessel Works Art Exhibition Wednesday October 29 5pm
Algin Retro Furniture
800 Main St,
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

I am so proud of the team I worked with and so pleased to have again been selected to work with Artworks on a large scale public art project working with youth apprentices.  Especially grateful for the support from Arnold’s restaurant, Sophia’s Deli, Kort Peter’s and everyone else who donated money, food, space and emotional support and encouragement to make this happen.

Stop by and see our mural.  And our art!

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Invisible Instruments: From Paintbrushes to Pixels

I once imagined the push and pull between the natural and the mechanistic as a desperate struggle: spiritual individuals vs. industrial machines.  Is now much easier to see this relationship as symbiotic.  Walter Benjamin’s hugely influential work The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction describes what happens when artworks are reproduced mechanically.  But in a digital age–when production may or may not mean object-making–the lines between production, editing, reproduction, and consumption are blurred, resulting in tectonic shifts in seeing, making and learning.

It can be easy to forget that the humble pencil and the acoustic guitar are forms of technology.  Before graphite there was metalpoint; before the guitar…lutes?  Unlike designers who wear their Adobe technologies on their sleeves, for visual artists, tracing, working from a photograph (as opposed to working from life), painting by numbers, digital reproductions like giclee prints, and many other forms of image-making are seen as inauthentic. The corollary for musicians is computers-aided editing software and the excessive use of plug-in’s like auto-tune.  When is the use of technology cheating?  And what is the difference between a tool and a crutch?

Avid M-Box with Pro-Tools software

Avid M-Box with Pro-Tools software

At nineteen I remember listening to an early version of a song I had written, after the track had been recorded and heavily edited by an established record producer using an early version of Pro-Tools recording software.  My drummer and good friend Sam said, “We sound like machines!”  And the band did, suddenly, sound like robots.  The players we were listening to were us, but at the same time not us–we had never performed the song with such a high level of precision (coming of age in the heyday of grunge rock).  However, after hearing the song several times in its new brutally mechanistic incarnation, we began to internalize the more precise rhythms.  The next performances would grow tighter and tighter until we achieved a nearly machine-like proficiency.  We became more machine-like, after a machine showed us the way.  (For a related discussion of musicians and digital editing check out RadioLab short:

Just as recording artists create and modify arrangements and performances “in the box” (on a computer), visual artists now make use of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other digital image manipulation software to generate imagery to then paint or draw from, print, 3D print, etc.  And just as musicians have learned from computers, artists too now borrow from the aesthetics of computer-generated imagery without ever touching a computer.


Rembrandt van_Rijn – Self-Portrait (1659). Rembrandt was enamored with paint in the way some contemporary artists are enamored with pixels.

Consider Rembrandt’s self-portraits.  As a virtuosic painter, Rembrandt often hid or completely eliminated the marks of his paint brush in his early years.  Later, he began to experiment with embracing brushstrokes, leaving evidence of the tool as if to say, “this is a painting.  Look what I have done with paint!  Boo-ya!”.  As contemporary artists, we too must grapple with the decision to disguise or parade our tools, from photoshop to paintbrushes.

Usually, computer-artist exchanges happen covertly; the resulting charcoal portraits, landscape paintings, and indie-folk albums read as organic and naturalistic regardless of any digital interventions along the way.  But for some artists, digital-machine-partnerships are more evident.  And occasionally, the tool becomes an integral part of the product, as the paintbrush did with Rembrandt’s paintings.

Below is a small sampling of visual artists using digital tools more opaquely to inform or create art.  Can you think of others?  Can you think of recording artists who leave evidence of their digital tools?

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FINE, THANK YOU Bread Letters Recipe

Letters F I N out of bread

From The Big Dinner: Autumn Equinox with nourish cincinnati September 23 at 6:00pm Niehoff Urban Studio

Simple Bread Recipe

in large mixing bowl
– 2 tablespoons brown sugar
– 2 teaspoons kosher salt
– 1.5 cups water

– 1 package active dry yeast on top

wait 5 mins

– 1 cup regular flour
– 2.5 cups bread flour

mix 5 mins
knead 5 mins
wait 30 mins

cut yeast into pieces and pull into strings
organize into shapes of the letters: “FINE, THANK YOU”
dip the letters in a beaten egg

bake at 410 degrees F for 15 minutes or so
brush on olive oil
broil for 5 minutes

in a crowded place with hungry people, arrange bread letters near sticky rice in the shapes of the letters “HI HOW ARE YOU?”
wait two hours

This was a collaborative work with Jiemei Lin, for The Big Dinner: Autumn Equinox with Nourish Cincinnati on September 23 at 6:00pm Niehoff Urban Studio, Cincinnati, OH, a Modern Makers event.