December 27, 2012 § Leave a Comment
For years I have been impressed by Ron Richardello’s “After Hours” album — which I picked up at the local Goodwill — and his visionary, exceptional accordion playing.
I knew little about Richardello until this summer, when his obituary appeared in the Transcript. Shortly after that, I got an email from Richardello’s son, Rick, in regard to a blog post I wrote about his father’s music.
Rick agreed to an interview about his dad, a good opportunity to find out more about Richardello’s work and introduce him to newer residents of the Northern Berkshires who had never heard of him.
Rick says that his dad started playing accordion when he was about seven, picked up from Richardello’s Uncle Alfred. He grew up in a volatile environment and found peace with his instrument.
“That was part of his reasoning for sticking with the instrument,” Rick said. “He could lock himself in his room and practice for eight hours.”
As Richardello continued, his parents sent him around for instruction. Once he would tap one teacher out of his expertise and knowledge, Richardello moved onto the next, and this required a lot of travel.
“He very obviously had a gift,” Rick told me. “He excelled at it. Almost prodigy type excel at it. Dad was doing classical pieces on the accordion. He didn’t have the have sheet music in front of him. He’d learn it and replay everything note for note, just from memory. He could visualize the music in his mind and that would translate to playing.”
Richardello began performing for audiences in his teens, in the late ‘50s. There was an appearance on Major Bowes Amateur Hour with an all-accordion band. He opened the Philharmonic Studio in 1958 and performed with the studio orchestras sometimes.
In an interview with the Transcript on March 29, 1962, Richardello told reporter Richard G. McGurk, “I want people to accept the accordion as a serious musical instrument, and take the music played upon it seriously.”
The early ‘60s saw him tour with Carmen Carrozza and his Accordion Symphony Orchestra, and study under Art Van Damme, but 1965 was the year that promised to change his life when actor/comedian George Jessel approached him to come on tour in Vietnam with the USO. Richardello taped an appearance on the brand new Dean Martin Show before leaving with Jessel.
During one flight in the tour, his jet was fired upon by the Viet Cong.
Richardello would go on nine trips to Vietnam with Jessel, a point of pride for Richardello that had a dark side.
In 1989, Richardello told Transcript reporter William Sweet, “I remember swimming with George, when a three- or four-year-old child came down with a grenade, the pin pulled out. Our security guard had to shoot him. I didn’t eat for three days.”
Richardello’s time with Jessel yielded lighter stories, too, with frequent appearances on The Tonight Show, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas, and parties with the Hollywood elite. He played Tahoe with Sammy Davis, Jr., and met General Douglas MacArthur.
“He told me a story of when he was 18 years old and traveling with Jessel,” Rick said. “He was at a party in Beverly Hills with Jessel and Ann-Margret hit on him. He told me how scared to death he was. Ann-Margret was probably one of the hottest redheads who ever lived, and he said all he could do was stand there with his mouth on the floor. He couldn’t say anything, he couldn’t do anything.”
Richardello began suffering more from chronic back pain, related to scoliosis that he had lived with, and which had been made worse by heavy accordions played with no accordion stand.
“The problems would cause numbness in his hands and extreme pain,” said Rick. “He went through chronic pain from then until the day he died. He refused drugs, any kind of pain meds, and he would play through the pain. He was never the type to rely on prescription medications for anything. In his later years, he had no choice, his problems got so bad.”
In 1967 he fell down a flight of stairs and cracked a disc in his back, which set off an endless series of surgeries over the next couple decades. This was also the year his first album, “After Hours,” was released. Richardello was backed up by a 27-member band, including members of the Tonight Show Orchestra.
His second and last album, “Brand New Bag,” came out in 1969, and featured a stellar jazz line-up: bass player Milt Hinton, trumpeter Ernie Royal, trumpeter Snooky Young and tenor saxophonist Seldon Powell.
The same year, Richardello married Susan Spada.
In the early ‘70s, there was a brief stint living and touring Canada, with his band of North Adams musicians, Poor Richard, which existed in different configurations over the next 15 years.
Rick was born in North Adams shortly after that. Richardello made his living partly with a shop called New Photo and Camera on Eagle Street, and partly by playing music locally.
“Back then, there were quite a few venues for local jazz bands,” Rick told me. “Dad was out playing every weekend and did the photo shop during the week.”
During that period, around 1978, Richardello also had a band called Ma’s Chops, played gigs at the British Maid in Williamstown, at least once with Milt Hinton.
He also did studio sessions in New York City, including some for George Benson and Wes Montgomery.
“Dad did some recording for James Brown at one point and they became really good friends,” Rick said. “I remember being five or six years old and going to one of James’ shows in Albany. We would go back to James’ trailer and him and dad would sit there and talk for a couple hours, and James is bouncing me on his knee.”
Rick also met stars like Natalie Cole, Rod Stewart and Sting thanks to his dad and his studio work with his accordion synthesizers, the Cordovox and the humongous, MIDI-capable Synkord.
“He could play horns, he could play regular keyboard sounds,” Rick said. “He didn’t have to use the bellows, he could leave it shut and use it as an electronic keyboard.”
In the late ‘80s, Richardello worked for General Electric in Pittsfield, but layoffs in 1987 sent him to Tennessee for work, during which time he did not perform. After a divorce in 1989, he was eager to play music again. In December, Richardello returned to North Adams to play at the Mohawk Theater for a high school music program benefit. It was the first time Rick played on stage with his father.
In 1992, Richardello was arrested for assault with intent to murder against his mother. Rick says that the whole thing was a misunderstanding between his father, grandmother and police, but it was the beginning of a spiral from which Richardello never recovered.
“During that time period, my dad went through a lot,” Rick told me, “and going through what he went through, he made a lot of bad decisions and hurt people.”
Richardello got three-years probation and returned to Tennessee, hoping to get back into music. He announced a Nashville recording project with Rick that was to include former Elvis and Ricky Nelson guitarist James Burton, as well as a documentary about his own life. Neither of those ever happened.
“Years upon years of abusing his body playing accordion and the surgeries, it finally took its toll, it finally finished him at being able to perform,” Rick said. “He took some stabs at producing, he took some stabs at playing a regular keyboard, which he was very good at, but it was never the same for him. As time progressed, he was getting more and more crippled.”
By 2000, things looked bad for Richardello. Personal and family tensions saw him cut himself off from loved ones. Money problems hounded him, resulting in the loss of his home and a move to public housing in 2007. And the physical pain got worse.
Richardello had a heart attack in May of 2012, then further problems with arthritis. He died in July.
During his father’s demise, Rick carried on the family tradition in his own way as a keyboard player, guitarist and singer. Starting in the late ‘90s, he performed and recorded in the Christian music industry. He currently heads up the rock band Plan of Action, after leaving Christian music in 2008.
“My faith has always been there,” he said. “It’s one of those things where the Christian music industry is run just like the secular music industry, there is no difference. As a matter of fact, it’s probably more cutthroat, and I got fed up with it.”
Upon his father’s death, a pile of memorabilia was found in the house, and Rick and his sister are currently sifting through it all — photos, clippings, sheet music, records, even the master tapes for Richardello’s two albums. His plan is to try and digitize all the paper media and photos, but hopes that someone out there might be interested in his father’s seminal recordings as he tried to change the world’s perception of accordion forever.
Perhaps some small label somewhere is interested in preserving the positive side of his father’s legacy for current and future audiences.
“I look at all that stuff and then I think about the life my dad led from 1987 forward, and I think to myself, what the hell happened?” Rick said. “Was the divorce from my mom just so traumatic for him that it did this to him? I don’t think so.”
“He did a lot in his lifetime and he was a typical musician. Dad was eccentric. My mom has a joke. ‘Your dad thought he was eccentric. I just thought he was weird.’”
December 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Local mini-comics publisher Oily Comics is making the kind of splash that’s unusual for makers of homemade books.
With titles like Melissa Mendes’ “Lou” and James Hindle’s “Close Your Eyes When You Let Go,” and even more experimental books, like Jessica Campbell’s “My Sincerest Apologies,” Oily has been grabbing plenty of attention.
Publisher Charles Forsman’s own book, “The End of the Fucking World,” made the MTV 2012 Top 10 list, and the entire line is popping up on best of lists everywhere.
It was on a cross-country journey in his early 20s that Forsman visited a comic book store in Los Angeles — his first in years — and had an unexpected epiphany about his path in life.
“That’s when I fell back in love with alternative comics,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I should get back into drawing and I should do this for real.’ It finally seemed clear to me that this was what I wanted.”
Forsman returned home to attend college, and then was accepted to the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. For his second-year project, he created two issues of the self-published comic, “Snake Oil,” complete with hand-made, silk-screened covers.
He won two Ignatz Awards for the effort, an unexpected prestige within the small press world. Forsman said that kept him going and energized and ready to pursue comics — and then he hit the real world.
“It was hard once I was out of the school to stay focused,” he said. “I’d say, probably, two years after graduation were the toughest creatively. I was very motivated, but I was frustrated and still figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do.”
Forsman attempted his first long-form graphic novel, but upon completing a first draft was disinterested in pursuing it further and opted to continue “Snake Oil” instead. At the same time, he and girlfriend Mendes were moving around, figuring out where they wanted to be, holding down day jobs.
“I kept doing ‘Snake Oil’ issues, to not the same acclaim that I had for the first two,” Forsman said. “One big lesson that I learned is that even when you’re slamming your head against the wall, it’s all worth it in the end. You’re going to learn something from everything.”
While living in Providence, R.I., Forsman began working on a graphic novel for acclaimed indie publisher Fantagraphics — “Celebrated Summer,” to be released fall of 2013.
He eventually moved to Hancock, Mendes’ home town, and that was where things really fell into place, ignited by a mini-comic sent to him by his friend — the first issue of Max de Radigues’ “Moose.”
“I had been of the mind that mini-comics should be these beautiful silk-screened objects, really labored over things,” said Forsman, “but there was something really powerful with this simple, eight pages, small black-and-white format. I thought, ‘Oh, man, I’m going to do this.’ “
That blossomed into “The End of the Fucking World,” which will eventually be collected for release from Fantagraphics, due out this spring. It is Forsman’s dysfunctional tale of a teen boy and girl in trouble, and for him, it was the antidote to his previous graphic novel work.
“When I started, I didn’t have a real plan for it,” Forsman said. “I just wanted it to be fun. After laboring over the other book, I wanted to have fun again, because when you’re working on something for awhile, you can get bogged down in the details. The pages I was doing for ‘Celebrated Summer,’ they’re big and very detailed, and I was spending days on one page.”
“Once I got rolling, by the third or fourth issue, I had it all planned out where I was going to go, but even then the nature of the project is that I still don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what keeps it interesting for me. I know what’s going to be in each issue, but things change and new things pop up.”
The experience of creating that book gave Forsman a creative jolt that was fueled by the spontaneity.
“It gave me a little more freedom,” he said. “I was a lot less worried about style or how it was going to look. I had this very simple way of drawing these characters in a limited page layout. I gave myself these parameters that were very simple. Every issue I would draw really fast. That’s another thing, it’s been easier to keep my interest in it. I do it once a month and I draw it really fast.”
It was after five successful issues of his own title that Forsman began to consider bringing others into the fold. He struck a deal with de Radigues to publish “Moose” in America, and then Mendes signed on with an autobiographical mini-comic about a childhood in the Berkshires.
“I got real excited about publishing other people,” said Forsman. “I had wanted to do it for awhile, but I was really scared of it taking over my life and I wouldn’t have time to work on my own stuff, but now that it’s become my job, it’s really great. It’s great because it’s something else to do besides worry about my comics. I don’t have any time to sit around and worry about my comics anymore. I have to print other people’s stuff.”
Forsman has branched out with more titles since, and begun to offer select downloadable digital editions for sale.
“I just thought that would be an interesting idea,” he said. “It’s an experiment to see if people would buy them. It’s not selling a ton, but I’ve sold some. I know there are people who have only read it that way. When tablets came out, like the iPad, and I started to read comics on it, it started to really make sense to me that this is one way that it could work. I’m really open to it and excited about it.”
The books are available in stores across the country, as well as through mail order online. Forsman’s and Mendes’ reputations as up-and-coming cartoonists to watch have certainly helped get them attention in the effort. Oily Comics also took a big leap forward in distribution when Forsman began to offer subscriptions for the entire line.
“The other idea behind Oily was that I started this thing that people were watching and I felt like it was a cool way to expose other people to artists that I knew about that maybe didn’t have much exposure,” Forsman said. “Also, I could get other artists bigger than me. Somehow, I managed to get people who are idols of mine to do books, like Sammy Harkham.”
The subscription deal helped Forsman organize and schedule better. It meant Oily had to produce five comics a month, which gave him a consistent workload and brought him to the point where the comics are paying for themselves and getting plenty of attention. Things are looking up and Forsman didn’t necessarily expect that outcome.
“When I started the subscriptions is when I really jumped into it,” he said. “I limited it to December 2012, the end of the year, and told myself that I’ll see if I want to keep doing this. I’ve resigned myself to doing it because it’s been pretty successful and I really enjoy doing it. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and besides, a lot of artists have started series, so now I have to print them all. So, who knows when it’s going to end. I feel like it’s taken a life of it’s own.”
His plan for Oily is to continue with five titles a month, while he explores options for bigger projects and collections. He’s added red to his printing options, so two-color comics are in the future.
“It’s really satisfying for the other artists I print. I tell them that 200 people are reading their books when they come out and some of them are like, wow, I never even printed that many mini comics before. Two hundred isn’t a lot, but in mini comics, it is. And there are more that are going to stores. There are people who are only reading them by going to their local comics shop, which is nutty to me.”
October 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I thought it was all part of the agreement that we leave Mitt Romney’s religion out of the election. Even Billy Graham had finally gotten on board with that. He purged all mentions of Mormonism as a cult on his website and had decided to pretend to like Mormons in order to kiss up to the future president. Nothing like a little power to ease you righteousness.
The Romneys, ever the one-sided elitists, decided that they can use their religion as a shield against the kind of scrutiny that a presidential candidate has to face.
First Ann went on television and, in defending Willard’s not serving his country during a time of war, actually equated a Mormon mission with service to your country and suggested it was a suitable trade off (bit.ly/PPgQ2t).
Plenty of maimed and psychologically devastated soldiers, as well as the families of those killed in action, might disagree with that.
It was followed by Willard’s explanation that the reason his tax returns are off-limits is because of the church’s rules against revealing tithing amounts (abcn.ws/WHk2iF).
So the Romneys claimed that their religion exempts them from the same scrutiny anybody else would have to endure.
Your religion is your private business and everyone is free to believe whatever they wish, but the moment belief is used in such a calculated way while seeking public office, all bets are off. It’s entirely fair to examine what other parts of Willard’s religious practice might affect performance as commander-in-chief.
I went through sacred Mormon texts and official church teaching manuals, all available online through the LDS church website, as well as Mormon-run and sanctioned research sites. I stayed away from anti-Mormon screed sites. I didn’t need those to notice some items of concern, anyhow.
Like the idea that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri (bit.ly/QEDZSd).
I know it’s not an important belief, but it still has me worried. Does that give undo influence in the Oval Office for the Show Me State? And if there is oil under the Garden of Eden, can we drill for it?
When Joseph Smith was first approached as a prophet, he was informed that he needed to make his own church because there was no true church in existence (bit.ly/RTNrjJ).
This must mean all the other Christian religions are false, which may be one of the things that pissed off Billy Graham originally. I don’t care if one kind of Christian likes another kind of Christian, but I do wonder if this means that all the false churches should lose their tax-free status, which should rightfully only belong to true churches.
It sounds fair to me. If God can control women’s health issues, he can control our tax codes.
And what about the space program? Mormons claim that Jesus created the earth and there were all these other planets, too (bit.ly/TxjxqU).
One of these celestial bodies is Kolob (bit.ly/Pp202N), though it’s sometimes confusing if Kolob’s a planet or a star. Just to clarify, it seems to be the closest star to the throne of God, not the planet God lives on, as some non-Mormons claim.
There’s even a hymn about it, but that doesn’t help much (bit.ly/XQZYbA).
“Kolob is the first creation, and is nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. It is the first in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time.” That’s the official word. My concern is that even if God doesn’t live there, it’s still pretty close to him.
How would Kolob affect space exploration funding? Would there be probes launched to look for Kolob? Or would telescopes be blocked from scanning the part of space where Kolob spins? If someone discovers Kolob, will that person be lauded or lose grant money?
How will Kolob figure into our science curriculums in school?
In history classes, will an education plan mandate standardized testing about the ancient people known as the Lamanites, Jaredites and Nephites? Will funding be poured into archaeological research that looks for evidence of them? A special exhibit at the Smithsonian, perhaps?
Sparkling intellectual and made-up history buff Glen Beck has already laid down an education plan for Mormon history. (bit.ly/UzqNST)
Also, Joseph Smith clearly stated that God used to be human — “God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens” (bit.ly/VBiqI2) — and the official church website adds, “Those who receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ will receive special blessings” and that “they will become gods.”(bit.ly/T9lXW4)
I worry that just as governor of Massachusetts was a calculated stepping stone to president, president might well be the same for godhood. The plus side is that, as with Massachusetts, he will probably only serve one term as president.
Thing is, I prefer to know if the guy we’re hiring is just going to take off soon for a better job, because we could hire Obama instead, if that’s the case.
Until there’s a very open dialogue about these issues and more — and I doubt there ever will be — we’ll have to settle for videos like this one (bit.ly/TRTs0d) that claim to be an insider’s view of Mormon services behind closed doors in Salt Lake City. The tone is very cheesy 1950s sci-fi, but at least this is one recent secret video that Mitt Romney isn’t actually in.
Lots of things breed suspicion, most notably difference and secrecy. You can’t control difference, but when you’re dealing with tax returns and temple ceremonies, you can control secrecy. If you’ve got nothing to hide, that is.
October 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
When Obama’s performance in the presidential debates is lackluster and embarrassing, the Democrats blame Obama. When Romney falls flat, Republicans blame the moderator. Well, I do think they’re right not to blame Romney. After all, Willard is just being Willard, and the man who talks out of both sides of his mouth has been in evidence all along. We in Massachusetts could easily tell the Republicans, “We told you so.”
While the “binders of women” meme makes its way across the Internet, it’s important to note that such a bizarre and stumbling turn of phrase is indicative of a bizarre and stumbling man who has behaved in bizarre and stumbling ways all along. Alongside his ranting and raving about the new boogeyman of China — perhaps we shall start referring to the country as the Yellow Peril — was his uncomfortable suggestion that children of illegal immigrants could find their way into our good graces through military service.
Well, there’s one solution to sacrificing our own in utterly useless wars, I guess. Rich white guys like Romney always seem to see the military as a reasonable choice for the disadvantaged, though I doubt coercion is the best way to build your armed forces. A volunteer army should be just that, not a desperate one.
That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg of Romney’s bizarre views — and I say melting because there is nothing solid in what the man asserts. His view of women’s rights is flex time for parenting, which not only ignores the wider issues, but also realigns family rights that should be open to a man, as well, as something it is not. It also, by placing the woman at the center of familial responsibility in his policy making, takes us back half a century — not to mention that he was asked about equal pay, not the opportunity to get out early to pick your kid up from daycare.
For gun control issues, Romney prescribed two parents per family directly after praising how many great single parents there are. “You’re wonderful people,” he seemed to be saying, “but not as wonderful as you could be with a spouse.” No one is denying that a stable home is helpful, but that doesn’t address the issue of what to do about access to guns. That’s a whole other conversation, and one that doesn’t even touch on the fact that while Romney stresses the need for two-parent homes, he opposes same sex two-parent homes. Those kids can just fend for themselves.
But then, the President had to keep reminding Romney of that same thing. I’ve never before seen a presidential debate where one of the candidates would backtrack several topics before and ignore the United States citizen he was supposed to be answering a question from, or whining quite so much about his perception of procedural rules. This was a perfect illustration of why Romney’s 47 percent comment is still important — you could watch him routinely dismiss regular citizens in favor of saving his own tail in the debate. Like his wretched 47 percent, these people were not as important as Willard’s ultimate goal of the White House. Like the privileged millionaire he is, Willard plainly illustrated that these people can be swept aside until he is ready to address them, his prerogative as per his station in life.
But that’s the sort of class disconnect that Romney has. When he tried to compare his invested millions to someone’s pension, Obama rightly brushed it off. That he would even have the gall to attempt something so crass goes right back to stories of his and Ann’s lean years living off their stock portfolio. Out of touch and vulgar, that’s our Willard.
By the time Willard was asked to please sit down, the writing seemed to be on the wall, but the Libya moment arrived eventually to drive it all into the ground. Willard chose to lie about that and then stammer when he was fact-checked in an exact repeat of the offensive politicking he did back on the day after the event. It underscored the truth that we all already know, though some of us don’t seem to care, that Romney will say anything, in any venue, with a straight face, in order to get elected.
I would have loved to have seen people tear in George W. about the failures that lead to 9-11 half as vigorously as they do Obama and the Libya attack. That’s not going to happen — even Obama won’t touch that, much to my disappointment. But he will touch W. in another way — by using him as a point of comparison to Romney, despite Romney’s struggling to distance himself from him, and by rating him as far more scary.
That may or may not be true — Bush was just a building block in a larger fortress, after all, and Romney’s role would be to add another fascist brick. Regardless of what you think of Obama’s policies, the number of times he correctly called Romney a liar during the debate speaks to Romney’s ease as an indecent opportunist. The fact that such a person has been given such a shot at power is no one’s fault but the Republican Party’s. Willard’s just being Willard. His bizarre behavior worked in board rooms, so why not in your personal lives, right?
August 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Painter Maggie Mailer pulls on her artistic heritage to expand her interest in narrative. Paint and text unite on the gallery walls to further her end of the world art epic.
Mailer’s new show, “COVET – The Starry Outpost” opens Saturday, August 4, at 6 p.m., at the Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St.
Previously, Mailer has created a body of work with a loose narrative regarding intense destruction — perhaps even the end of the world — and the reaction that gets from the people enduring it. In “The Volcano Sitters,” Mailer crafted her own response to the attack of 9/11 — which she viewed live from the Brooklyn home of her father, Norman Mailer — as a series of paintings pulling from classic landscape painting styles of the 18th Century and depicting scenes of catastrophe and the genteel society dealing with it.
Her follow-up, “The Balloonists,” took the narrative further. The upper crust had taken to hot air balloons, narrowly floating above the destruction, gadabouts on the cusp of potential extinction.
Now, Mailer has partially formalized the story, or at least offered that option to viewers. The paintings in COVET will be accompanied by snatches from an imaginary novel that will give some hard background to the images presented, a narrative that is available to anyone who wants to grab onto it.
“It’s not the only way to read the paintings,” Mailer said. “It’s one way into the paintings.
I hesitated to do this for several years because I never wanted to do something that set up a definite interpretation. But then I decided, why not do it and it can always be optional.”
The story follows the travels of an architect and his secret love. They are part of a crew of aristocratic end-time enthusiasts in the 18th Century who are waiting for deliverance to a distant star called “The Starry Outpost” and the race of Tantric Beings that live there.
The architect suffers from amnesia and builds a palace designed to hold any memories he retrieves. Meanwhile, the secret lover is a painter, recording the events unfolding at the end of the world as part of a field study.
“She develops this method of allowing the paintings to complete themselves by way of her magical brushstrokes,” said Mailer. “For me, the story relates back to painting, the painting process and the idea of finishing something, or even not being able to finish, and wanting it to continue forever.”
“I was alluding to these ideas before and thinking of the paintings back then as machines that generated their own momentum and continued to generate energy and continue to complete themselves after I stopped working on them, and that’s something that I continued in this storyline.”
Mailer says she has been thinking about these ideas for a long time, endings in context of painting, as she says, “the end of the brushstroke and what it means for the next brushstroke.” The narrative she created for this new series is as informed by her thoughts on the nature of time in the process of her artwork as it is by any historical research she did.
Mailer’s plan is to install each text chapter above and possibly below the paintings, in order to create a loop that will require viewers to walk from one end of the display to the other and then back again in order to read the writing. The paintings will not be placed together in a narrative order, but rather a thematic one, pulling on aesthetics and theme. It will be as if time registers differently in the visual aspect of the show than it does in the written, and the truth will be somewhere in between, or even in, both at the same time.
“If you decide to enter it via the narrative, then it takes a bit of work to figure out how everything is related,” Mailer said. “I like to make things as complicated as possible.”
By placing the narrative in a loop, Mailer creates a circular story that constantly hints at an ending without forcing one onto the viewer. An end might be viewed as something imposed on a story, and by reducing time to its purest form and removing sequence as a human understands it, Mailer can be seen as playing with temporal perception in a way that mirrors her own painterly practice.
“I’m talking about traveling through time, and the way that I paint relates to that,” she said, “because I’m always scratching back into previous layers and going under the surface, or sanding things down or going back to something I worked on three years ago. So because of that process and that attitude, the paintings and the narrative shift around.”
And despite the circular nature of the presentation, this all does point to a future for the work. Mailer’s plan is to relate whatever work comes out of her to this current body.
“I can structure the narrative so that it would form a framework for any future work that I do,” Mailer said. “I do have this habit of wanting to work on lots of genres, like landscape and portraiture and abstraction and diagrams, and they don’t always fit together in any obvious way, so the narrative is informed by structure for the paintings to relate to each other.”
The previous series of paintings were focused on things coming to an end, but Mailer believes her focus has changed into a more horizontal approach that allows her to flit between the moments she captures to build the narrative. Part of this was accomplished in the process of paintings first and writing second.
Mailer says that the writing was integral in that it helped her see things in the paintings that weren’t previously jumping out at her. It created a dialogue bet ween her and her own work and another dimension that began to exist somewhere between her visual and literary halves.
“I feel happiest because I’m able to explore and flesh out these two needs that I have, but it makes me a little uncomfortable,” she said. “I’ve been presenting paintings only and I haven’t presented writing in any serious way, so for now, it’s fun. But we’ll see. I might switch into writing.”
Mailer says books are at the center of her inspiration. Her current reading material, Sal mon “Satanic Verses,” has pro vid ed her with structural guidance she didn’t expect when she first picked it up, and her father’s legacy is also a part of that for her.
“He’s always there,” Mailer said. “He was probably one of the main inspirations for me to work every day. I think writing is in the blood. I think it’s something I’ve been trying to avoid for a long time, but it also feels a little bit like coming home. It’s kind of a relief.”
“I still find that when I’m stuck, I turn to books. I don’t go enter the fields and draw trees. If I lose interest in working, I’ll probably pick up a novel, and that’s what keeps me going. The writing is be coming more and more important. That’s where this is headed. I guess the idea of a book is my savior. It’s what I turn to when all else fails, so it make sense, the next destination.”
Though it would be an obvious move, Mailer doubts she will retroactively go back to the previous bodies and add text to them. There’s always the fu ture, though, and Mailer’s particular work method is one that leaves her with possibilities, and she’s surrounded by these as she goes through her daily creative process.
“I have 30 paintings going at any given time,” she said. “Some of them lie around for years in the studio and I wonder if they’ll ever have a life, and then when the time comes, I’ll pick one up and it does turn into a new painting. The layers of time and the layers of paint, and ideas and thinking and experience, that go into each canvas, it’s hard to replicate them. But there’s a lot of them lying around, so there’s a lot of material to work with.”
June 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
You may have noticed that this is an election year. If you haven’t, I’m here to inform you that incumbent president Barack Obama will be facing off against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The reason I’m letting you know about this is not to poke you into following any of the issues. I’m sure you’re as tired of that as I am. I just wanted you to know that the election is actually happening and you will be required in November to go down to a polling booth and cast your vote against the candidate of your choice.
As a child of the civic ‘70s, I was raised to believe that you vote for someone, not against them. As a middle-aged adult in the 21st century, I know that is just so much hogwash.
Having lived my adulthood through Clinton, Bush and Obama, I know that what we do in our country is vote against candidates and parties.
I’ve noticed that the Occupy movement has been targeting Obama appearances and going on overdrive, pointing out the man’s presidential deficiencies. Not from a crazy point of view, mind you — these are perfectly reasonable and intelligent criticisms against the man’s presidency. I agree with many of them. The problem is, a vote for Obama is a vote against Romney, and I very definitely intend to vote against Romney.
What about a third party? At this point, I would say that’s a vote for the third party, or against Obama. Hey, I voted for Nader in 2000 and still stand by it, even with the knowledge of what came down. I voted against Gore (and therefore, by proxy, Clinton) and Bush at the same time. But I feel that was a luxury for the year 2000, when it seemed unfathomable that Gore could lose to a semi-corrupt and incompetent conservative puppet anyhow.
Voting for a third party back then was to make a point. After Perot’s two runs and the attention he got, it seemed like third parties could, at the very least, seem like the Fox Network in its early days — small, of limited availability, but present and with a dynamic future. The year 2000 undid all that and here we are.
To those of you voting for your first time, I agree this reality sucks. You should be able to vote for somebody without doing damage. That’s not reality anymore, though. The rules of the game have changed under our noses, and those idealists among us shouldn’t act like Republicans and cling to the old ways just because they see them as fair and right.
You’re in a position where you’re not voting for someone who will usher in a new era of fairness and sustainability into the American landscape. You’re voting against a person who will gut so many things you hold as part of your basic rights in this country. You’re voting against future nominees to the Supreme Court who will certainly strip away your rights — especially if you are a woman, if you are gay or if you are desperate for health care.
You are voting to head off the path short-sighted, controlling villains who are far worse than anything Obama might or might not do.
Twelve years on, I view the presidential efforts of the Green Party and any others as a noble, but fruitless, sideshow. Keep pushing for state seats, keep pushing for mayor, city council. Keep pushing for congress. Challenge the president in other, more effective places.
The primary power of whoever does end up as president is to decide on and control the hydra that slithers through our political infrastructure via his appointments. It’s not an election to choose a leader, so much as an office manager who will restructure the business. I’ve ceased to be idealistic about that particular job, instead trying to just avert a worse-case scenario. And that’s what voting against is all about.
June 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Canadian painter Mario Doucette has been committing history to canvas, but in his investigation of the Acadian Expulsion, he’s part of a movement to reclaim the truth that has been systematically stolen in Acadian heritage.
Doucette’s work, which is on display at Mass MoCA as part of the “Oh, Canada” show, examines and critiques the expulsion, which began in 1755 and continued for nearly a decade. It involved the British government forcing citizens of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island to be relocated to, first, the colonies that would become the United States, and later to France. The move was in reaction to the Acadians’ refusal to pledge allegiance to England, and resulted in nearly 12,000 Acadians sent away and thousands dead.
A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1847 – “Evangeline,” one of his most famous works – cemented certain myths about the expulsion and has since come under fire for its notable historical inaccuracies. It’s come late in the game in Canada, however, where generations and generations of Canadian children, including those of French and Acadian descent, were taught the victor’s account of history.
Doucette’s paintings attempt to correct those problems by taking on the popular paintings of Sir Frank Dicksee and Benjamin West, whose visualizations of Longfellow’s poem took the white-washing to a higher level, depicting the Acadians as passive to the events.
“If you read history from the personal witnesses of those events, it was anything but calm and romantic,” Doucette said. “It was chaos. They would separate women and children, separate families, there was a lot of violence, a lot of chaos at those times.”
Doucette is also concerned with the reality that it was not just a moment in Canadian and British history, but American as well – some in the colonies took direct action against the Acadians, although the paintings tend to obscure that. Dicksee, in particular, had depicted many scenes from “Evangeline,” all of them divorced entirely from the Acadian point of view and pushing historical inaccuracies.
“Dicksee had painted mostly British uniforms, but in a lot of areas, it was mostly Massachusetts provincial troops, which had blue uniforms,” said Doucette.
“Provincial troops from Massachusetts and the governor from Massachusetts, they were the real instigators of deportation. I would take these paintings and say, ‘well, the Acadian perspective is absent from everything, from all these paintings’ perspectives.’ I would reinvent my own perspective on what would have happened if we base history on fact and not fiction.”
In Doucette’s view, the historical paintings have become pure propaganda, perpetuating the official government view of events and defining history to that benefit. This has unsettled French-Canadian identity in such a way that the pursuit for truth has become a much larger movement that functions as a mass awakening. “There’s also a question about identity,” Doucette said. “French Canada, east of Quebec, is mostly Acadian and it has gone through a lot, so people always question what is myth and what is fact. There’s always this question, it’s always this gray area. It’s also recently that some facts and truth that are coming out are being accepted. I think for me, it’s very interesting in that way I’m trying to figure out what is true, what is not.”
Doucette grew up in Moncton, in New Brunswick, where he was educated in a skewed history of his own people.
“It was like a formalized history for Acadians, where we were very docile like sheep and put on boats and that was it,” he said. “When I read the facts after I went to school, I was amazed that there was actually an army and there was huge guerilla warfare, and there were people who were heroes and all of that was forgotten, but it’s slowly coming back that people did stand up for survival and to defend their homes and their towns, and that was not talked about at all. What was taught in schools was mostly the religious aspect, Protestants and Catholics, and I guess that came from the old teaching of Acadian history, which was mostly taught by pastors.”
This wasn’t what he wanted the focus of his artwork to be, however – he thought the entire subject was far too depressing.
“I wanted to do something fairly modern, because you’re taught at school that you should be modern and have modern subjects and not take folk subjects like Acadian history into account,” said Doucette.
That changed when he was sent on a trip to France in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s discovery of Acadia, where he was asked to create artwork based on the event. He started researching Champlain more and, in turn, “I got interested into history and got entered in my own history,” he said, “which I thought I knew, but when I started reading about it, I didn’t know much at all. And it’s super interesting how propaganda was set forth at first to distort history.”
Doucette’s paintings did not take on a hyper-realism in uncovering real history – rather, he pursued the absurd and sometimes surreal as he not only presented history, but made commentary as well. His paintings might include the beasts from coats of arms, like lions and unicorns, as well as dragons, in an examination of how cultural myths enter into reality.
Some early work incorporated superheroes like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash into historical events. Doucette saw the Justice League of America as representative of American super power, even vigilantism, brought on by his own background as a huge comic book fan – he tried cartooning briefly, but did not pursue it, even though his painting style retains those qualities.
“It was so influential in what I do now. I do have a comic book aesthetic for sure. It’s like a blending of art history with comic books,” Doucette said.
“For that work, I was trying to figure out who was responsible. A lot of these areas, troops were mainly from the U.S., before the U.S. became the U.S., the colonies, and not the British, so you still had the sense of Americans becoming independent because they were making decisions not really asking permission from England but taking it upon themselves to invade another territory, which was the maritime provinces.” In his take on Benjamin West’s portrait of Robert Monckton, which hangs at Mass MoCA, Doucette examined what happens when a powerful figure asks to be represented as a de-facto superhero, and how history is manipulated because of that.
“Monckton, as a figure, is very controversial,” said Doucette. “The city of Moncton is named after him but he’s recognized as someone who participated in the genocide of Acadians and so this portrait by Benjamin West, he wanted his portrait done as a conqueror andWest did that in the original painting of him. You see him with his arm extended like the statue of Apollo, which is someone who is supposed to be noble and someone who had a huge victory.”
Doucette engages in his own distortion of reality as part of the collective known as Collectif Taupe, which instigates performance type interventions or pranks, such as making fake announcements about proposed land use.
“There was an issue here in Moncton about land developers taking over green spaces,” he said, “so we went to a residential area in Moncton, and they have a very old little park called Bromley Park – and we put up this huge sign that this park is going to be converted to a strip mall, and if anybody wanted to rent space to please inquire.
“We had a telephone number and we set up a fake development company. Within one day we had calls from lawyers and very angry people yelling at us and then yelling at the city. Those types of things. We make people angry, make people aware that it is a prank, but this stuff can happen and we’re happy that people reacted, because people just want to accept stuff like that easily, I guess, so it’s nice to know, even if they’re frustrated when we do stuff like that.”
Other times, their work is on a more subtle level “Sometimes we travel and we’ll got to WalMart of whatever town we’re in,” Doucette said. “In their art section, you can buy a Van Gogh for like $5 or a Monet, for 10 bucks. We’ll buy that and go back to our hotel and then put our own artwork in them and then we’ll go back toWalMart and return our paintings and get our five or 10 dollars back and put our artwork on their shelves and sell our artwork for five or 10 bucks. And hotels, too. We change artwork on the hotel walls. That’s very tricky, because a lot of these paintings are secured on the walls, but we found a way to do it anyway.”
Doucette thinks that the “Oh, Canada” show is an unique opportunity for the country south of the border to get a more distinct flavor of what the Canadian art world is like – and that information reveals something that might be very unexpected. Does the lack of national identity qualify as a national identity?
“Canada is a huge country and I think people might be surprised by how regional Canada can be, how the eastern part is so different from Quebec, which is so different from the western part. I think maybe people at Mass MoCA will figure out that Canada is not really, in the art world anyways, is not really a unified community of art, as people are from regions and many people comment on their regions and about French and English and native, it gets very complicated, but is somehow intact despite that.”
“The only time I think we’re really, really one people is in hockey. Nobody goes, ‘Boo, Canada!’ Everyone jumps on board.”
April 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Has there ever been a more inspirational American success story than Mitt Romney? He’s a true lesson in the art of not being very likable, nor desirable, even among those who technically agree with you, and still having the opportunity to run for the office of the presidency.
He’s an example of how you can pander and kiss people’s butts, and they will actually see through it — and it won’t damage your political career whatsoever.
He’s an example of everything that’s horrible and great about our political process, of how lineage and perseverance are everything, and ability is nothing.
He’s proof that you can actually insult your own past, as if that past self were an evil twin rather than you, yourself, and get away with it.
And to think he got his start here.
By here, I don’t mean merely Massachusetts, but North Adams. Not that Romney ever set foot in North Adams — I have no idea, and actually don’t really care if he did. But what did start in North Adams was the political trajectory of the person who was considered so much worse than Romney that he was able to buy influence within the Republican Party and seize his stepping stone to the presidency.
I’m not making any personal or specific political judgments on Jane Swift — that’s all so far in the past that in political terms, it seems like another century. Oh, wait, it was.
Anyhow, I can’t really remember what Swift actually did in her brief term as our appointed governor other than being passed over by her own party for the apparently more enticing Mitt Romney, and that’s a horrible thing to be remembered for — being considered by Republicans as worse than Mitt Romney.
Romney’s hubris, though, is coming back to bite him on the butt, and Jane Swift can breathe a sigh of relief, because while the rest of the country doesn’t know much about her, they know about Romney, and I don’t think they believe there is anything worse than him. Oh, sure, crazy people like Santorum and Gingrich and Paul are worse in that they are representative of the fringe and unelectable, and this makes them not really logical choices for candidacy. We’re talking American president, not small-time dictator. In that crowd, Romney is obviously the only logical choice, everyone can see that.
And everyone can pretty much see that they hate him for that.
This is why there has never been a more delicious election cycle for those of us who enjoy watching the slow death of the Republican Party. In 2012, it is finally a snake eating its own tail. Romney, the closest thing to the serpent in the Garden of Eden I’ve seen — except the Republican Party is less a garden and more a fracking site — and that’s the lesson they failed to learn. You can’t decimate your own landscape and expect to survive. And when you’re desperate, a huckster will come in as leader and out of desperation, you will be forced to follow because you have no other plan.
And so Romney’s ascendancy is the sort of public humiliation that’s been destined to happen following the over-heated entitlement of the Bush years. Romney was waiting, watching. It was lineage that dictated that John McCain run first — it’s the Bob Dole rule, old guys first — but in a slam dunk of being in the right place at the right time, Romney has been able to take advantage of the rise of the Sarah Palin mentality and, just like in Massachusetts, offer himself up as a more capable choice.
We here in Massachusetts could’ve told you he’d do that. I know we’re liberal heaven and all that, but we created Romney. He’s our monster. Looked at differently, maybe he’s our trap for Republicans, our ticking time bomb that is going to help that party implode once and for all. If the essence of politics is the right to take credit for happy accidents, then the state of Massachusetts reserves that right when Romney destroys his own party, and we’ll just smile and say, “Told you so.”
July 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A warning to New York — it was after we passed gay marriage here in Massachusetts that it all fell apart. Next thing we knew, floods swept the state and most of us only survived by fashioning arks to float around. The lucky ones were the ones who got washed away, though.
Now we live in a festering hell hole of chaos, with demons on horses hunting us all down amidst the earthquakes and the plagues, as well all just wait for that one final tremor that will plunge us en masse into the Atlantic Ocean and down to the realm of Satan for all eternity.
Actually, nothing even remotely Biblical has happened in Massachusetts — not that I can recall, anyhow. We have the usual array of disasters and tragedies, but nothing to indicate that God is particularly annoyed with us for allowing gay marriage in our state.
Perhaps God is just a little disoriented and he’s punishing everyone else for our sins — Massachusetts passed same-sex marriage rights on May 17, 2004, and more than 6 months later, the earthquake and tsunami hit in the Indian Ocean.
Coincidence? Some would think not, but that correlation only works if you think that God can’t actually pinpoint Massachusetts on a map. It’s certainly understandable, since it’s been a long time since he created the world and the continents have shifted. Also, I don’t think there are career development days for gods where they get up to speed with the latest god skills.
Judging from the Massachusetts experience, making gay marriage legal may be the one thing that strengthens your chances against retribution from God. In fact, you might find yourself starting to believe that God might support gay marriage and is actually rewarding us. You’d have to ask the other states if they’ve had the same experience. I haven’t heard about any spontaneous volcanic disasters or invasion of demons happening in Iowa — at least not yet.
As I’ve thought about it, I can’t really understand why an omnipotent being who knows everything, made everything and basically is everything would really care much about the sexual habits of what must amount to maggots by comparison to his own existence. But then, this is the god of the grudge — we’re still paying for an apple that some naked woman ate several thousand years ago with no sign of abating.
I thought it was all about forgiveness — at least it was for that long-haired fellow who wandered aimlessly around with 12 other men who routinely professed their love for him. What was his name again?
It’s time for some level of civil obedience. I know there are plenty of people out there who are straight but have no intention of every marrying. Perhaps they have a life partner of the opposite sex, perhaps not. I’d like to suggest that as supporters of same-sex marriage, you ought to find someone else in the same boat as you — someone of the same gender — and marry them.
It’s a great way for straight people to show solidarity to their gay brothers and sisters, and it might even be fun! You get all the perks of having a wedding with none of the seriousness.
It will also confuse the heck out of God and really call into question what is offensive here — the marriage of people of the same sex or the sexual activity between them. Is marriage between members of the same gender at least okay if they don’t have sex with each other?
As near as I can gather, God’s mind works so slowly, he’ll spend a millennia just pondering these questions. Until he learns how to read a map, it may be our best course of action.
July 26, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Mysterious art duo The Hatfields — Sadie and Ephraim — will soon unvei their installation “Not For Sale,” opening Thursday, July 29, as part of DownStreet Art at MCLA Gallery 51 Annex, 65 Main St.
The team prefers anonymity — that component is integral to the physical work, they say — but they also proclaim on their website, “If we wanted to live in obscurity, do you think we’d have a website?”
Their Unabomber-style approach to publicity often has them speaking through their gallerists at Greylock Arts in Adams, which sponsors this installation, but the Hatfields took the time for an e-mail interview in the hopes of stating their artistic intentions while still being able to move among the art world in secret.
The installation itself consists of absurd items made to spin through special codes sent via the viewers of the art over their own cell phones. In modern terms, this makes it interactive art.
The obvious question is: Why spinning?
“Spinning represents the mechanized world we live in,” Ephraim Hatfield wrote. “The Earth spins, but we can cope with that, because the pace is reasonable. Spinning is also fun.”
He points out that people spin a lot in amusement parks and that experience is created through electronics. That’s a very fast pace, he says, and it creates a discombobulating experience for the humans who partake of it.
“When we were kids, there was this toy called ‘Sit and Spin,’ ” Sadie wrote, explaining their interest. “You would sit on it and spin around in place. I don’t remember if it made us sick. Maybe it did, and we didn’t mind because it was worth the fun of it. Spinning is such a basic thing people love to do. Julie Andrews ran up the mountain and spun around singing about the hills being alive.”
Using technology to create action is at the center of what the Hatfields say they do in their work. If they have their way, wires won’t supplant paint but will inspire it to go even further.
“When photography was a relatively new invention, photographers felt like they had to prove that they were artists, too,” Ephraim wrote. “And painters were threatened by the things that photographers were doing. And because of this, painters began doing things with paint that hadn’t been done before. The dialogue between all these different ways of making art is what makes great art.”
“I really dislike hierarchical systems and we live in world full of them,” Sadie added. “It’s a changing time in terms of art, as well as music, publishing and more. The old systems are being rewritten, and I do think art with wires is part of that.”
With the circuit as their centerpiece working in conjunction with Sadie’s artwork, the Hatfields have been able to latch onto an artistic tool that hides in plain sight in everyday life. It’s a well-known partner in modernity, and yet a mystery to so many people. They build on that mystery, but they refuse to usher it into the world of commodity — and that means artistic liberty.
Ephraim points out that the most meaningful art he’s ever encountered is the art that has been given to him.
“When you’re not worried about your bottom line, you become free to do anything,” Ephraim wrote. “And when you value your work in terms of dollars, you are always undervaluing it. You also limit the audience that can access and appreciate it. When you give art away, you make the value meaningless, and everyone can just focus on enjoying it.”
The Hatfields aren’t a couple that stands still long. Even as they have premiered “Not For Sale,” they have also been working on a project studying the role of studio audiences in television productions. For this work, they have managed to infiltrate the audiences during tapings by not representing themselves as artists there to make a statement — they pass themselves off as ordinary people seeking an afternoon in air conditioning.
“So far, all we’ve learned is that we’re either too boring or too unattractive for television, because they keep seating us in the last row,” Sadie wrote. “Maybe the piece will be about that.”
Perhaps it’s the fact that they are not ready for prime time that makes them so shy of the limelight, but that’s not the point of their work. With their identities supplanted, the art lives its own life apart from the personalities of the creators. In that way, the Hatfields hearken back to the dawn of art. As they say in their press releases, “We created art.” Spiritually, this might well be correct.
“Nobody creates art in a vacuum, but artists strive to do something totally unique and original,” Ephraim wrote. “It seems especially prevalent in the area of electronic art, where everyone wants to be first to do this or that. Being first really doesn’t matter. Nobody remembers that first cave painter.”