Nocturnal battle

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Upcoming week - Skype?

So tomorrow it's all coming down - found out they have to remove a ureter and a small piece of bladder as well as the kidney - two new gashes and a return date with Mr. Catheter. Three to ten days in the hospital which I know sounds like a hell of a spread and who knows on recovery although I am sure that the stairs in my home will be an absolute bitch for a while. Surgery should start about 1:30, don't know how long.

The wake was a resounding success, downed many bottles of wine - thanks to all the blog readers who showed - what a treat - you know who you are. And thanks to all the rest of you lushes as well. Just kidding.

I will probably start the 24 hour kidneycam on the second day. If you skype, I think it's Robert Sommers. Let's video conference - if I got an epidural I could be the first to do play by play on my own nephrectomy.

I am, on doctors recommendation, on a liquid diet, which not withstanding the booze is getting a little old. Boy a brownie sure would taste good in the hospital - hint, hint.

Don't know the hospital scene but promise no journal like last time - will probably play my old blues guitar if the bunkmate is cool with out of tune jewish blues. Best way to get in touch is through Leslie - you know how to get in touch with her. Thanks to all the well wishers - what a great community I live in and great bunch of friends I have. My neighbor took me jeeping off road to some really magic areas sunday - thanks, Brian!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mountains of the Moon

Faithful Friend

We lost our steadfast pal, Odin, today, three weeks to the day after his brother Max's passing. At the risk of undue anthropomorphizing, he couldn't get over Max. They were best friends for life. Odin was a Great Pyrenees/Retriever cross and going on 15. He got cancer of the lungs. Nonsmoker. Never chased cats, always a model citizen. You couldn't ask for more in a dog or friend. He was always there for us - protected the pad without being an asshole. Did bite a jogger on the ass once.

Leslie called me with the news after lunch and I came home and we buried him next to his brother. Near the giant oak that Tom Pecore and I planted as a sapling twenty years ago. Last week, Willy/Lilly, the gender conflicted black cat, walked off into the sunset for a final exit.

I have a fleeting thought as to the pharoah's death where they put all members of his household into the tomb with him for his journey on the ship of the night. Wife might want to stay on her toes.

I am almost navajo in my feelings toward dead things. I feel the chindi or ghost of the being and have a really hard time touching corpses. Could never go into medicine.

It's been a strange surreal week. Coupled with a nagging feeling that I am going to run out of money is a sudden huge spike in blood pressure. The urologist couldn't get a hold of the cardiologist and I had to put out fires all this morning. All has now stabilized and things appear to be moving along. On Doctors orders, all liquid diet until the surgery with a minor amount of cheating. Leslie will be the bad cop gatekeeper so please arrange all hospital visits with her.

We had a wonderful meeting with the R&L club in Rancho Santa Fe last night - a great moroccan meal, some good red wine and wonderful friends. I discovered the secret identity of my blog reader in St. Thomas.

I slept until nine this morning - unusual for me. Storing up energy for the day's events. Made it to the gym for a cursory workout. Someone threw white paint all over the window of my shop which I had to clean off, mostly.

Dogs and cats are such a value in today's world. Fresh water, a bowl of food and a pat on the head will give you exponential returns on your investment. But they can also break your heart.

La Nina Blanca

Mexico has embarked on a campaign to tear down shrines dedicated to some rather different personal saints, Santa Muerte, The Saint of Death and Malverde, the Patron Saint of the narcotrafficantes. Santos are very important in latin america, with a strong etymological link to afro-caribbean nations as well.

I read recently that Jesus is the fifth most prayed to figure in catholicism, a fact I find astounding. Here is a link to an excellent article in yesterday's San Diego Union Tribune by Sandra Dibble and another from the Washington Post.
Kind of interesting when a government takes on religious mythology. The upshot can't be good.

A link to a wikipedia entry on Jesus Malverde.

From Wiki:
Saint Death (also known as La Santísima Muerte (Holy Death), and Doña Sebastiana (Lady Sebastianne), is a religious figure who receives petitions for love, luck, and protection. Saint Death is often depicted as a female figure. In some Mexican traditions, most notably among the descendants of Austrian immigrants, Saint Death is believed to be the wife of Krampus. She is sometimes referred to as Virgin Mary's twisted sister.

Although the Catholic Church has attacked the worship of Saint Death as a pagan tradition contrary to the Christian belief of Christ defeating death, many people insist on praying to this figure for miracles. Saint Death is venerated by a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds. Often, those who pray to this figure are seeking the recovery of health, stolen items, or kidnapped family members.

A recently uncovered scroll states that all followers of La Niña Blanca or 'saint death' should lead a virtuous life. Those who disregard moral law and take advantage of their fellow humans will feel real pain in death. Their souls will languish in pain long after their deaths. The pain they inflicted in life will be magnified and their souls will be tortured for eternity in death.

"Destroying these chapels is not going to do anything to diminish crime... someone who's going to commit a crime could just as easily go to a Catholic church as a Santa Muerte shrine, or go nowhere at all.” Jose Arce

Vaya con Dios, Roberto!!!!

Roberto.... The best to you on your upcoming surgery!! I know that all of your friends and readers wish you the best. And, yes, you are going to be fine... in fact, better than ever!!

Be sure to take your lap top to the hospital and keep us all informed.

Your friend,  

Mike the Sano Guy!!!

Steve Earle

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wake Invite

Blog readers are invited to stop by the gallery monday evening, the 30th of March for a glass of wine. Kick off at 6, 6:30, short gathering. Most people have to die to visit their own wake, I thought I would be presumptuous and attend. Believe me, I have no intentions of checking out but one never knows when the errant F-18 will come hurtling through the skylight. Hope you can make it. I know it's crass and slightly maudlin but when has bad taste ever stopped me?

Saturday, March 28, 2009


dada vision

Robert's Art History 101 - Robert Henri and Walter Keane

In my opinion, Robert Henri was the most pathetically overhyped American artist and the Ash Can School only possibly matched by the Oakland Society of Six in it's members lack of artistic merit and their overblown popularity. In fact, the latter day artist that most favorably compares to Henri is Walter (Margaret) Keane. They both liked to paint syrupy portraits of children with big eyes, however Keane was never under the illusion that he was creating great art. Like Keane, Henri's subjects always had the same rosy cheeks and monotonous and unwavering emotional palette. He used thick impasto and big sloppy brushwork.

From Wikipedia:

In Philadelphia, Henri began to attract a group of followers who met in his studio to discuss art and culture, including several illustrators for the Philadelphia Press newspaper who would become known as the 'Philadelphia Four': William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John French Sloan. The gatherings became known as the "Charcoal Club", featuring life drawing and readings in the social philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Émile Zola, and Henry David Thoreau. By 1895, Henri had come to reconsider Impressionism, calling it a new academicism. In 1906, he was elected to the National Academy of Design, but when painters in his circle were rejected for the Academy's 1907 exhibition, he accused fellow jurors of bias and walked off the jury, resolving to organize a show of his own. He would later refer to the Academy as "a cemetery of art."

In February 1908, Henri organized a landmark show entitled "The Eight" (after the eight painters displaying their works) at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. Besides his own works and those produced by the "Philadelphia Four" (who had followed Henri to New York by this time), there were paintings by Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur B. Davies. These painters and this exhibition would become associated with the Ashcan School, although the content of the show was diverse and that term was not coined until 1934. In May 1908, he married 22-year old Irish-born Marjorie Organ.

In 1910, Henri organized the Exhibition of Independent Artists, a no-jury, no-prize show modeled after the Salon des Independants in France. Works were hung alphabetically to emphasize the egalitarian philosophy. Walt Kuhn, who took part in this show, would come to play a key role in the Armory Show, an exhibition mounted in 1913 that introduced many American viewers to avant-garde European art. Five of Henri's paintings were included in the Armory Show.

Now the salient question is how the American public, exposed and nurtured on the brilliance of Hassam, Eakins, Whistler and Sargent, could fall for these bogus antecedents of 50's clown genre painting. I think the answer is the New York centricism that both then and now pervades the art market. You could have a blind chihuaha tap dancing on a canvas with paint on its paws and someone in the five boroughs would proclaim it an artistic tour de force. And the American public would buy it. The rest of the eight, with the possible exception of Glackens, were similar one trick pony nogoodniks, whose exalted status has been fraudulently foisted on the American public. Sloan lacked rudimentary drawing skills, Prendergrast's work was thin and repetitive, Luks and Shinn were interesting artists in a regional sense, sort of second rate corollaries to the European Schiele and Klimt, but not deserving of the acclaim they ultimately achieved. These painters were awarded the sobriquet "Apostles of Ugliness" by the public, based on their gritty representation of life during the time. That verite is well and good if the image is at least rendered well or imaginatively. Bellows and Hopper are sometimes associated with the Ash Can school but their work stands head and shoulders above the original eight in it's brilliance.

From Wikipedia:
Walter Keane was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Walter Keane became a highly-popular post World War II figure painter of wide-eyed "lost" children, waif-like and sympathy provoking. These images were reproduced throughout the world with originals in many collections including the United Nations, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid, Spain, and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan. At the age of fifteen, he moved to Los Angeles to live with an uncle, and as a young adult, seemed headed towards a business career, following in the footsteps of his father. However, he began painting on his own, and in 1938, abandoned the business idea to attend college in Berkeley from where he graduated three years laterHe became so torn emotionally between the pressure of his father to be practical and go into business and his own inner drive to be an artist that he developed ulcers. But late in 1943, he made the final decision to become an artist and painted full time for a year in Berkeley and then enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris where he lived a raucous Bohemian-style life. In Paris, he painted street scenes and figures including nudes, and from 1946 to 1947, he went to Berlin where he began his signature theme of "Lost Children." These paintings were inspired by his shock at seeing the thousands of war-orphaned, poverty-stricken children. Wanting to capture the realism of these people, he abandoned the Abstract Expressionism he had flirted with and focused on a style that more closely resembled Realism with elements of Modernism. He stayed in Europe until 1949 and then returned to Berkeley where he worked from his Berlin drawings and did a lot of painting in Sausalito, living at North Beach. He married his wife, Margaret, also an artist, and they lived in Oakland, and became public personalities because his work was collected by so many movie stars. By 1956, he and Margaret opened a gallery at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu, and again his work got much attention. Shortly after, the couple returned to San Francisco where they had a gallery at 494 Broadway for two years and then opened a gallery in New York City. Again he had many collectors but also received criticism for being repetitious with every canvas having a "lost" child. In 1965, Walter and Margaret Keane divorced, and a judge ruled against him when he made claims that certain paintings of waif-like children signed Keane were by him. When the judge asked Margaret and Walter to each produce a painting in that style and subject matter, he declined and she readily performed. The conclusion, according to "Artnews" November, 2000 is that some of the paintings attributed to him are in fact by his former wife.

When I was taking art history in college, I dared to ask if these guys were in fact wearing clothes. Some of the abstractionists seemed to be lousy painters looking for an "easy" venue to hide their natural lack of talent. This would tend to enrage the professors, who said that of course they knew how to draw, but they had gone beyond the yeoman's craft of drawing and painting. The truth is that many never learned how to draw. Look at Selden Connor Gile and compare his draftsmanship to your average second grader and tell me honestly who has the superior skills? And you may want to find a couple of those neat Keane paintings. If Henri is such a big splash, they are bound to appreciate.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Dedicated follower of fashion

I have to admit I'm not much of a fashionista. My fashion sense has barely moved a twitch since the seventh grade. Although the Clark's have given way to New Balance sneakers.

I came of age listening to blue jean music, Dead, Band, Allman Brothers, and the look was decidedly more pirate than glam. My wife always wants me to buy goofy looking hip shoes but I admit I am pretty much a dork.

We went to the Nordstrom's Rack last month and I was looking with bewilderment at the plaid bermuda shorts, as in who would wear these unless they were gay and bingo, this gay guy walks up and buys a pair. There is definitely a sexual preference split when it comes to clothes.

Now it appears that there is a political and social chasm as well. Daniel Akst writes in this week's Wall Street Journal, "If there is a silver lining to a financial crisis that threatens to leave the entire country dressed only in a barrel, it is this: At least we won't be wearing denim."

He goes on - Never has a single fabric done so little for so many. Denim is hot, uncomfortable and uniquely unsuited to people who spend most of their waking hours punching keys instead of cows. It looks bad on almost everyone who isn't thin, yet has somehow made itself the unofficial uniform of the fattest people in the world.

It's time denim was called on the carpet, for its crimes are legion. Denim, for instance, is an essential co-conspirator in the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby no matter what the occasion. Despite its air of innocence, no fabric has ever been so insidiously effective at undermining national discipline.

Did Levi Strauss realize the havoc his creation would wreak on the modern world?
If hypocrisy had a flag, it would be cut from denim, for it is in denim that we invest our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings -- the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure, dragging down the global financial system with them. Denim is the SUV of fabrics, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a hulking Land Rover to the Whole Foods Market. Our fussily tailored blue jeans, prewashed and acid-treated to look not just old but even dirty, are really a sad disguise. They're like Mao jackets, an unusually dreary form of sartorial conformity by means of which we reassure one another of our purity and good intentions.

There was a time, of course, when not everyone wore denim. In the 1950s, Bing Crosby was even refused entry to a Los Angeles hotel because he was wearing the stuff. (Levi Strauss obligingly ran him up a custom denim tuxedo so he wouldn't have that problem again.) By then denim was a symbol of youthful defiance, embraced by Marlon Brando, James Dean and -- well, just about every self-respecting rebel without a cause. Even Elvis, who didn't often wear denim in public during the early part of his career (like many Southerners, he associated it with rural poverty), eventually succumbed. Now we're all rebels, even a billionaire CEO like Steve Jobs, who wears blue jeans and a black turtleneck whenever unveiling new Apple Computer products.

Although a powerful force for evil, denim has achieved a status that will come as no surprise to fashion historians. Like camouflage fabric, aviator sunglasses and work boots, blue jeans were probably destined for ubiquity thanks to an iron-clad rule of attire adoption. "The sort of garments that become fashionable most rapidly and most completely," Alison Lurie reminds us in "The Language of Clothes," "are those which were originally designed for warfare, dangerous work or strenuous sports."

I can only hope the Obama administration sees denim for what it is: a ghastly but potentially lucrative source of much-needed revenue. Let's waste no time in imposing a hefty sumptuary tax on the stuff. It's a great example of "soft paternalism" (especially if the pants are pre-washed). We can close the budget deficit at the same time we eradicate the fashion deficit. All we've got to do is impose a federal levy on Levi's.

Now if this isn't an opening salvo in the culture war I don't know what is, Mr. Daniel Akst, but you'll get my levis with my cold dead fingers clutched around them and it will take a hell of a fight. If you want to set the two hundred dollar a pair sequined stone wash jeans with the holes in them in your sights, have at them. But hands off my 501's.

Apparently, Mr. Akst's column has struck a corduroy with some - here is a letter from yesterday's WSJ:

It was good to read an article exposing denim for what it is. I would like to add a few bits of information regarding the product. I grew up in the 1930s and we wore denim "overall pants" strictly for playtime. These pants were like bib overalls, with the bib cut off. At one time I remember a fad when pants were stitched with a colored triangular patch at the outside bottom of each leg. The colors were bright reds, yellows, etc., and the leg bottoms were flared. These were called "whoopee pants." In the Navy during World War II, I was issued a pair of denim pants. They were for work or recreation only.

What's more offensive than denim are the athletic shoes that are in fashion. People even wear this stuff to church. I wouldn't cut my grass in that trash apparel.

Walter Graham - Omaha

Now Mr. Graham won't even cut the grass in his jeans and sneakers! Probably wears his cravat in the shower. Just another sign of imminent end times and the fact that the earth is populated by two distinct species. A pox on all you fuddyduddies.

Antony and the Johnsons

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bird flees the cage

Today I decided to go cruising for antiques. I am going to be a captive audience for a while starting next week and thought I would test my wings and get away. I rarely shop anymore and depend mostly on other dealers, customers, pickers and estate sale people to bring me things.

When I first started in the business about 16 years ago, I was a shopping fool, no antique shop, thrift store or possible turn was left unstoned. I cut my teeth on the back roads of America, from Maine to Florida and all parts in between.

Things changed in the late nineties. The advent of the internet drastically cut down on merchandise in the shops, both from spreading relevant information to the uninformed and the use of ebay. Things that we thought were once rare became decidedly less so when Aunt Martha in Dubuque found one in her dresser and put it on line. This also had the unfortunate consequence of both taking the antique dealer out of the equation since objects went straight to end users and taking some of the mystique out of the biz that caused values to escalate in the first place.

There was once a time when I would tell one and all that you could drop me in any city in America with antique malls and five hundred bucks and I would make ten times the money in a month. Now I'm not so sure.

I coined an axiom once I call Robert's law and it goes something like this - we reject the art of our parents and we embrace the art of our grandparents. When I was starting, the people that were, for want of a better word, expiring, collected in the twenties and thirties, a fertile time. Now the estates we see are from people who collected in the fifties and sixties, dreary decades where the majority of good art was very scarce and inaccessible - who can afford a DeKooning painting or a Nakashima butterflied conoid table?

Kids today are sort of an Ikea lot, soundly rejecting the warmth of Victorian, Mission, Spanish Revival, and pretty much everything else short of chrome and paper lamps. The 18th and 19th century have ben relegated to the ashbin of history. Regurgitations of the disgusting seventies have been appearing for a few years (anyone want a Jack Daniel's coke mirror?) but the last couple decades of the twentieth century haven't shown me a lot. Fads quickly come and go (Dunbar, Parzinger, Duquette, anyone?) largely defined by a select gay subculture of aesthetic popes.

So I went shopping today, thinking that I would hit some malls in Redlands, Riverside and San Bernardino. I checked out Escondido earlier this week. And found nothing. Anywhere. Today I sauntered through scary little towns like Colton and Loma Linda, Rialto, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Perris and Highland. Probably once very nice places but the bloom long since gone from the bud. The Inland Empire gone to seed. Billboards for lusty gentleman's clubs beckon. Pawn shops galore hawking for cheap gold. Rehab cases in their twenties and thirties on spider bikes, scavenging anything that might offer any value like untouchables in Mumbai. Malls closing down all over the place - shops largely undistinguishable from Goodwills, Snoopy bathmats and velvet paintings. Weeds growing up outside dank shops where the merchandise never changes from decade to decade.

I know that I am a snob and that there are things that I would have bought twenty years ago that I wouldn't go near now but it's really sick out there. Things don't have to be expensive but there should be some element of good taste involved. And it's not just my region - I think the story is repeated throughout the country.

We have lost whole banks of institutional knowledge in some fields, oriental pottery coming first to mind, but european porcelain, pewter, empire furniture, there are lots of experts expiring with all of their knowledge and no one to replace them. There is an appalling lack of scholarship. Some reputable dealers never crack a book. Much of our great silver has been melted down unconsciously and cavalierly with the latest price rise in the commodity.

I have tended to focus on paintings and prints the last six or seven years. It will be certainly interesting to see if the current dismal economy will continue to support my vocation. I know that my shop is a special place and I say that with all the humility I can muster. I wish that more people would appreciate the treasures of our past. But also understand that the first order of business right now is food and shelter. I started out on the pavement and guess that I can maybe return one day. But think I would blow my brains out first.

Some People Shots - click for zoom.

All photos © 2009 Robert Sommers