As an artist I have a lot of freedom. I can do whatever I want. No one can tell me what to do. It's all up to me.
But sometimes I can't figure out what to do. I have to look outside for inspiration. In my photo work, there are my dogs. They give me ideas and lead me in many directions.
Painting to me is a different world. The weight of history is immense and can be an awful burden. I majored in painting in college. But by the time I got to grad school, a hard edge, minimal style as was dominant in the art magazines. I turned to installation, performance and ultimately video and photo.
But by the mid 80's, I missed painting and dreamt of returning to it. But I was lost. I found myself asking the question, "What is a suitable subject for painting?"
Books, picture books, encyclopedias…all have been helpful when I go shopping for subjects to paint. As child my favorite encyclopedia was the Book of Knowledge (circa 1950).
When I returned to painting I thought it would be smart strategy to skip everything I learned in art school which lead me out of painting and go back to my childhood sources for inspiration. In high school the artists who painted the "Breck Girl" were my idea of great.
I began to use the history of painting on itself. A work of mine that stands out for me in this regard is a painting of tents. Tents are made of canvas...paintings are made on canvas. Midway through I noticed the painting resembled Cezanne's paintings of mountains.
The path of Modernism was no longer straight and narrow, and this seemed like a fruitful and heady direction for me. All I ever needed was an excuse to paint. And now I had one.
In a few years I began to use postcards in this way more and more, First on paper, and later on wooden panels where they can be glued to the surface. Today they dominate my work and I have too many cards to stop.
Recently I have found inspiration in the work of other artists represented in postcards. One of the artists who I always turn to is Picasso.
But even more useful to me currently is Kandinsky. Kandinsky inspired a lot of cartoonists. When a cartoonist wants to lampoon modern art Kandinsky-like imagery is solicited. In my postcard paintings Kandinsky has been there for me repeatedly. They are easy to capture and extend. I can lose myself in Kandinsky and by so doing find myself.
William Wegman: Artists Including Me is on view now at the San Jose Museum of Art.
Topper hasn't swallowed any major items in his second year and we are very thankful, although they miss him at the Animal Medical Center. In his early life, he was devoted to eating nonfood, but now his tastes have matured some.
I had first photographed him as a young young puppy in June, 2012. He was sweet and very photogenic and best of all, Flo adored him.
Brian and Beth Meany, his breeders, said yes and a plan was set to pick him up at Bowdoin College, where my exhibition Hello Nature would be opening. On May 14, 2012, when he was 8 weeks old, we did.. I had lots of social hubbub, to deal with so Topper was passed around to gaggles of students and dog friendly visitors and assigned helpers. It was a great beginning for the Top…he loves students and people of all ages.
After the show, we brought him up to Rangeley.
Something we need to work on…dragging me down the sidewalk on our frequent walks.
Bobbin, son of Chip, grandson of Batty, great grandson of Fay, turns 14 today. Named Bobbin Ray for my heroes Bob and Ray (Bob n' Ray and for the fact that I had planned to give him to my sister Pam who liked to sew). One of only 3 in the litter, he started out living in Maine as Pam's dog, but following in Chundo's footsteps proved to be too daunting for him and for my sister.
And he really wanted to be with my dogs Candy and Chip. He would try to stow away in our car when we drove back to New York at the end of the summer. One year, to his delight, I took him back with me where he has been ever since.
Like all my weimaraners (except for the hyper athletic Candy) he has been an enthusiastic and steady performer in my videos and photos. During his early years he was overshadowed by the more endearing looking Chip who starred in about a dozen books for children and many videos for Sesame Street. It took me a while to truly appreciate Bobbin's overwhelming loyalty to me and to his steadiness on the set.
Now that he knows his home is with me, wherever I go, he enjoys Maine. He like to run, trot actually, very long distances on bike rides on the loving roads of Maine. We often go 10 or 15 miles. I assume he likes doing it because the choice to follow is his. Bobbin is very different in our upstate NY weekend home, where he can graze in the fields and follow his nose.
Recently he performed live in a Karole Armitage dance piece conceived for him. It was totally amazing and partly successful. I had to miss the last of three performance and he went a little nuts looking for me.
I plan on photographing him next week concentrating on his portrait. I'm thinking they may resemble the late portraits I took of Man Ray in the last months of his life.
In 1974 I was invited by WGBH Boston to experiment with video in their new television workshop. I made several works over the course of the year, but the most memorable was the piece involving Man Ray and another dog, a german shorthaired pointer named Hooka. Hooka belonged to another artist I worked with and she complimented my dog nicely.
In the piece we see the two dogs staring at the camera in a dark room. Their eyes are intently following something off camera. Sometimes their head movement is pull into the action as they crane to follow the whatever it is in various left right and up down directions. At one point the action seems to stop and the dogs begin to blink in syncopation. At this point Hooka settles down into a lying position but Man Ray remains riveted. Towards the end piece the dogs crane to look behind them and at one miraculous moment their motions counter each other. At the end we see the object of their attention…in my hand, a tennis ball.
Everyone alive in the 50's, especially in Massachusetts where I am from, knew of Bob and Ray and their hilarious deadpan routines from their radio program on WHDH. If you were a Red Sox fan, you would certainly know the Piel's Beer ads from game broadcasts.
Much of my video from the 70's is deeply indebted to them. A good example of their influence on me is the piece Name Board:
Later when I moved to New York I became an avid fan of Mary Backstage, Noble Wife from the CBS radio show, and of their appearances on Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and The Tonight Show.
As luck would have it I later met my heroes in person in the green rooms of SNL and Letterman. They were secure enough not to take offense to my unabashed plagiarizing. In 2006 I had a chance to walk through my retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art with Bob Elliott and as we progressed cascades of Bob and Ray resounded in my head.
Since as long as I can remember not a day goes by when, as Matt Neffer, I update Todd as to my current whereabouts.
Bob Elliot, of the comedy duo Bob and Ray, turned 90 years old today.