Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Artists, Eccentrics & Madmen

 "Bukowski is the laureate of the Los Angeles underground, an eccentric who sees the world with a clarity of vision possessed only by artists and madmen." - LA Times
While driving to yesterday afternoon's gig, I had the opportunity to catch a friend's radio program where, among other topics, the writer/poet/lowlife/eccentric Charles Bukowski was briefly discussed. Paul, the announcer, read the quote above. It got me thinking. 

I have never been comfortable with the label "artist" when attempting to describe what it is that I do. "Observer", "Voyeur", "Illustrator" or any number of other descriptives that attempt to convey the act of visual story-telling within a single image frame seems far closer to the meat. 

Then I go to the dictionary for the definition of the word Artist:
1  a) obsolete : one skilled or versed in learned arts
    b) archaic : Physician
    c) archaic : Artisan
2  a) one who professes and practices an imaginative art
    b) a person skilled in one of the fine arts
3 : a skilled performer; especially : Artiste
          4) : one who is adept at something

Definition 2a seems to fit, at least for the work of Bukowski, and perhaps to photographers like myself. "... Imaginative art..." hovers close to world where we, or at least where I, live. Engaging the imaginations of other who might view the work we produce. Attempting (often poorly in my case) to clarify complex ideas with a single photograph, never certain of how close or how far we get to the bone of the idea, never satisfied with our attempts to convey our thoughts in pictures. These are the motivations behind the actions of picture making and the frustrations that accompany the final viewing of the results afterwards. I often tell friends & colleagues that I really like my work for the first five minutes of viewing the final image... and then I hate it. I see the flaws, the shortcomings, the little details that I missed in the process of of the capture, the limits of my ability & skill...

And it is exactly these failings that drive me on... to always be try and do things better, to pay closer attention, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary in ways that the eventual viewer's imagination might be engaged in ways that might never happen were they to stumble across a particular scene themselves.

These are, perhaps, the occupations of artists and of lunatics, to see the world in ways that others miss or are somehow incapable of seeing. For me... and for most of the other artists and lunatics I know... this is not a choice or conscious decision. We are wired this way, whether the wiring comes at birth or is modified along the way. All that I know for sure is that I am most comfortable in the presence of the artists & madmen. We often speak a common language, share common perceptions of the world around us. In my earlier life, I worked intensely in the field of mental health and would often tell my clients that madness was not necessarily a handicap. It's what you did with that madness that made the difference between getting through each day or being always overwhelmed by it.

So, before waxing philosophically any further on the subject of art, artists and insanity, let us take a moment to praise the visions put to words & images by the artists, eccentrics and madmen like Bukowski, for it is they that peel back the skin of the onion for the rest of us to reveal the layers of good flesh and yes, sometimes even the rot within. 

And speaking of artists, the December issue of Modern Luxury Hawaii hits the stands today and contained within it's pages is a profile and photograph by yours truly of friend, contemporary artist and gallery operator Alejandro Goya, the man behind the Paia Contemporary Gallery.

About a month or so ago, I had the exquisite pleasure of spending some time with the artist in both his loft studio and within the minimal gallery space capturing images to illustrate his profile for this issue. Alejandro and his wife were both welcoming, cooperative, collaborative and a whole lot of fun. The resulting tear sheet is below: