Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Favorite Painter

In every art form, style is recognized over substance. I guess it’s easier to jump on board when something is recognizable. Obviously there are as many different ways to experience art as there are people, but when art has the ring of truth, especially if it can reach a level of meaning that can’t be easily expressed, you have my attention. There’s nothing in the world as exciting to me as sharing an inner or even hidden truth.

An example is Endre Nemes painting Legend of a Mother. When I first saw it I thought, “that’s it,” “that’s all the pain, happiness and nostalgia I feel for my mother.” It almost brought me to tears.

In some ways it reminded me of a little drawing my friend Tony Patti used to work on. It was a little disjointed cowboy figure with an outsized misshapen sheriff’s badge. He called it the Multidiagonal Mighty. He did everything he could to lose his practiced drawing ability. He was after the honesty of a kid that couldn’t draw and man he got close. I think I still have a copy somewhere.

When I was a teenager I fell in love with Dali, Dada, and a lot of the Surrealists. That led me through a history of mostly western art.

I was fascinated with cave paintings that were thousands of years old, especially if they involved hallucinogenic drugs. These were happening all over the world at the same time.

An interest in Maxwell Parish led to the Renaissance and Northern Renaissance which led to Mannerism and Baroque art. I loved the Realists for their sympathetic look at human suffering. Especially Courbet, Millet and Van Gogh’s early Potato Eater works when he was still pursuing religion. Van Gogh always interested me because he made it from pre to post Impressionism while somehow skipping Impressionism altogether.

When photography made painting portraits unnecessary, art branched into several interesting tangents. Artists wanted to express their thoughts and convey their impressions about their subject matter.

Eventually, even the subject was given up on. The surface of the canvas became the subject for the Abstract Impressionists and Abstract Expressionists. Why did these guys all beat their women? David Smith’s and Jackson Pollack’s stuff even looks violent doesn’t it?

I loved it that Mondrian threw away representation but couldn’t give up composition and there have been so many new ideas since then.

We seem to live in an age when it’s taken for granted that it’s all been done. We find Ready-mades, use Collage, Photoshop, and sampled bits of music. Technique might be suffering but the depth of our thinking seems to be expanding.

Recently, my friend Sharon turned me onto the graffiti artist Banksy. If you don’t know who he is, Google him.

At the height of my passion for art I found a book filled with prints by Remedios Varo on a coffee table at my friend Sue Leonard’s house. I was totally bowled over. I must have been twenty years old and had never seen anything like it. She was a Mexican painter who had been born in Spain. Most of my favorite painters are Spanish. To this day, she's my fave.

It seems like Sue always took care of me. Her parents picked up the book in Mexico. She made them pick up a copy for me when they went back. They were impressed with my passion so much they also brought back a book of the art of Leonora Carrington to turn me on to. Carrington was one of their favorite painters. It was fantastic.

I’ve never been a great fan of superstition with one great exception, art. Superstitions seem to be symptoms of our subconscious. There are secret and wonderful things lurking in there.

Legend of a Mother by Endre Nemes-Composition 10 by Mondrian-Armonia by Remedios Varo-Anthony by Leonora Carrington-Banksy

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dear Mom

A couple of weeks ago, Valerie and I went camping. With our typical luck, it was the first cold weekend of the season. Fortunately we were able to scavenge wood and our fire kept us perfectly comfortable.

As we sat with our feet in the fire gazing up into the infinite starry night I could feel the crap in my life start to fade. It’s no wonder my blood pressure is a bit high.

It occurred to me that I haven’t been able to have a conversation with my mother without scolding her. We’ve come to a point in our lives where I’ve taken on a kind of angry parent role with her.

She leads a very sedentary life and it scares me. She’s already lost half a foot to diabetes.

Several years ago my girl friend Joanie and I got a phone call around four o’clock in the morning. Her sister Patti found their mother Maggie dead in her apartment. It was the same apartment complex my mother lives in now.

The Udell men have always been stoic. When I was 6, as I was about to go to bed I tried to kiss my dad goodnight. He told me I was getting older and from now on we’d be shaking hands. My mom was furious when she found out. I’d be kissing my father goodnight again but it was never the same.

I’m not sure I’ve ever told my mother I loved her. It’s always been understood.

Even with my own kids it didn’t come naturally at first. Luckily my kids have always been emotional extroverts. Saying “I love you” is a natural part of our conversations.

My girlfriend Valerie is openly affectionate. Occasionally she displays her affection in public and I get nervous. I’m working on it.

It occurs to me from time to time that I’d better tell my mother I love her before she’s gone. She really has been there for me through the years.

When the rest of the world was going through a cultural revolution and expanding their consciousness in the 60s, she threw herself totally into being a single mom with 2 kids. I remember feeling an incredible sense of guilt that she never really got to be young during all that.

When I drove a cab for Checker I would sometimes go for weeks without getting paid. I destroyed one of my mom’s credit cards keeping gas in my cab. When the company finally went under she let me move back in for a few months until I got my life back together.

I bought a couple of rental properties when I was in my 20s. She put up her life savings and I still haven’t paid her back.

She always watched my kids. My ex was always a little angry with her folks because they weren’t as available.

Recently my ex’s boyfriend moved in with her. He’s allergic to cats so my kids’ pets had to go in spite of the fact that they’d had them for 11 or 12 years. I couldn’t take them because Valerie has a 16 year old cat named Charlie that couldn’t adapt. The kids and I were beside ourselves.

My mother came through again. Even though she’s confined to a wheelchair in a two room apartment, she took the cats in. If anything happens to Charlie they’ll be coming back to me.

When my buddy Dominic and I were 15, most of the kids we knew were rebelling against their parents. Dominic told me he loved his mother. That had a big effect on me. Until then I never really thought about how much I loved mine, but I really have thought about it ever since.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Can Never Go Home

Last weekend Valerie, the kids and I took my mother on a nostalgia trip. We went to Giessow’s Cottage Farm. Giessow’s is a small village of cabins between Morse Mill and Ware Missouri. I spent a lot of my childhood there. So did my dad and his dad. Valerie and I went camping 2 weeks before and on our way home decided to look for the place. We started at Cedar Hill and drove to Morse Mill. I had gotten a little turned around thinking Morse Mill was Ware and we never did find it. I called my mom for help and we got into an argument about my memory. I said, “Okay, next week we’ll all go out there and find it!” She loved the idea.

In the 80s I took my girlfriend Joanie out there to find it. We did and it was as beautiful as I remembered. This time, just like then, we came to a small rock road with a bar across it. If we’d have blinked we would have missed it. Just like when I was with Joanie, my heart sank having gotten so close and just like then it had been left unlocked.

My son Dylan and I worked the bar open and I drove in. Memories began to flood my mind. The road was lined with a barbed wire fence. My mom said, “That ditch by the fence is where a momma pig was always feeding her babies.” I remembered it vividly.

The road wound up to the top of a hill and split off. The high road was called Tuxedo Junction because the rich folks lived up there. It’s where my Uncle, cousins and grandparents had cabins. I used to stay there with my grandmother. There was a huge deck that shot way out from the hill. The view of the Big River valley was spectacular.

We met a woman up there that told us we should find the current owner for information about changes the place had gone through.

There really weren’t many changes. The cabins were much smaller than I remembered. That was a little unnerving.

We drove down to my old cabin. Man, it was tiny! The screened windows that ran most of the way around had been replaced by solid walls. “Old number 19,” my mom said.

My dog Sinbad used to sit staring at a tree in the front yard. He sat frozen, waiting patiently for a lizard to scurry down. The tree looked exactly the same.

A giant metal barrel we burned our trash in was still on the side of the cabin. There was a path that led down to an outhouse and all was the same. The cabins still don’t have water.

From our cabin you could see a building across a field we called the Fun House. There were dances there in the summer. Some nights we’d take blankets out to the field and lie watching the northern lights.

Across the rock road from the Fun House is an artesian well where the residents still get their water. Behind that is the home where the original owners, the Giessows lived. Behind that is a cable car that runs down the hill into the river valley where we swam. It looked the same too.

We found the new owner at the little general store by the well. His name is Ken. He said he’d been out there for 60 years. I told him several generations of my family used to stay there and my name was Dave Udell. He said he remembered Jerry Udell. I told him Jerry was my dad and Valerie said, “Everyone remembers your dad.”

Ken told us no one ever went down to the river anymore since they put a pool in. I told him I would much rather swim in the river. He told me our old dock was still down there.

I asked him if anyone went to Sunset rock to watch the sunset. He said it had been so long that the path to it was overgrown. We drove up the road to the top of the hill and walked through he weeds to the rock. The view was still incredible.

When I was a kid we shared the cabin with two other families. We were always there together. I really never did understand where the grown ups found places to sleep. My brother and I slept in the only real room in the cabin and that was heated by a pot bellied stove. Rent was $150.00 a year and we all split it.

On our way out I asked Ken what the rent was now. He said a couple of thousand a year. I asked if there were any cabins available. He said there were about 15 families on a waiting list but he took my name and said he’d call if anything opened up.

I’m not really sure if I could go back.

If you follow the shape of the roof you can tell the cabin I’m in front of with Chloe and Dylan is the same one I grew up at in the pic with Sinbad. Sinbad at his tree. Me at Sunset Rock. My dad, grandpa, uncles and Aunt Gladys at their cabin. The last pic is me on the old Morse Mill bridge. It was obscured by overgrowth. There was a pavilion next to it in the old days where kids used to dance. My dad told me about a kid that dove into the river from it when he was a kid and hit a boat. He died instantly. While I was there I met a woman who hadn’t been there in 30 years. She said when she was a kid her brother climbed to the top of the bridge, dove off and hit the bottom of the river. He’s been quadriplegic ever since.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Beatles are 70

As a young man, I went through a J. D. Salinger period. I'd read every published piece he’d written. It wasn’t hard because there were only 5 or 6 books. Recently, I turned my son on to Teddy – the last story in Nine Stories.

As usual, my son made me see things in the story that never occurred to me. He said he thought Teddy was autistic. Wow! When I was his age we weren’t that aware of autism. If you know the story, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

The Glass family really struck me. Franny and Zooey was my favorite. I’ve always loved good dialogue and that’s what the entire book is. It reminded me very much of Jean Cocteau’s Les Infants Terribles. When I was young, I was enthralled with anything young and intelligent.

The only book Salinger wrote that I didn’t really enjoy was Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, was coming of age and confused about which direction his life should take. I didn’t like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce for the same reason.

I just couldn’t relate. Ever since I was 5 or 6, I knew exactly where my life was going. I was going to be a Beatle.

Like a lot of white kids my age, they were as far as it was possible to go. I’ve made several references to them already in previous posts.

It started with the day I was listening to my favorite song, Stormy Weather by Lena Horne, on KXOK. It was followed by The Beatles version of Twist and Shout. I found religion!

The acquisition of every new Beatle record was like a holiday in our house. My mother even let me miss school when the movie Hard Day’s Night came on TV one morning. She knew The Beatles were that important to me.

Like a million other kids I strapped on my mother’s acoustic guitar and watched my shadow against the wall as I played the records end to end.

When the White Album came out, we didn’t have a record player, so my dad told us to bring it to his apartment. I played it over and over until I had completely memorized it.

My kids and I were visiting my mom recently and, for some reason, we went through my old school report cards. Dylan was amazed at how bad my grades were. Recently, he almost got a C and it was a family crisis. He pulled it up to a B but that’s even bad for him.

My only goal was to get a D and pass. My 8th grade teacher left a remark that I’d do well if I would only show up for class. That was about the time John Lennon’s Imagine came out and I played hooky every day to listen to it.

I guess I still have the bug. I’ve been accused by friends of playing hooky from life because my pursuit of music has always been more important to me than getting a real job.

December 8, 1980, my band was deep in the woods of Southern Illinois recording our first album when we started getting calls from around the country. I’m not sure how anyone got the number. I remember a call being for me and I was annoyed at the interruption. I don’t remember actually hearing a voice, but I stopped everything, walked out the studio door to my car, and turned on the radio. Every station was playing Lennon’s music so I knew it was true.

Mark David Chapman got twenty years to life for the murder of John Lennon. He’s been denied parole 6 times. Each of his applications has been opposed by Yoko.

Chapman left a copy of Catcher in the Rye in his hotel room. In it he wrote “This is my statement,” and signed it “Holden Caulfield”.

As everyone knows, today, John would have been 70. Recently, Ringo performed at his 70th birthday party. Someone walked onto the stage and put a Hofner bass on a guitar stand. Everyone knew Sir Paul was there, and Ringo seemed genuinely touched. Check it out on YouTube. Google did a great job with their logo as a tribute. I can’t help but think of The Beatles as family.

Check out this pre-America clip……

Photo by Astid Kirchherr

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Living on the Cusp

I was born at the end of the baby boom. I’ve always lived between cultural extremes. I’ve always considered all age groups my peers. I had issues with authority when I was young because I couldn’t quite give them the respect they felt they deserved.

On the other hand, now older people seem quite happy to have a close relationship with someone younger. I guess by a certain age you’re just old and it doesn’t matter by what degree.

I am on the cusp between Capricorn and Aquarius. That was cool when I was younger because it was the Age of Aquarius. I am technically Capricorn. My birthday is January 18. Now, of course, that’s all silly.

When Punk Rock hit St. Louis in the 70s it only irritated my older friends. It was the next Disco; a cultural phenomenon that would eventually die.

I loved it. It was a revolution to me. KSHE ruled the airwaves with Journey, Rush, Styx and Foreigner. This bloated corporate machine had to be brought down.

Youngsters were just as closed minded. Even saying the word art was pretentious and there were great new art bands coming out; Elvis, The Talking Heads, Devo, The Dead Kennedys and The Pretenders just to name a few.

A couple of years ago when I turned 50 my son asked, “How does it feel to be halfway through your life?” What an optimist.

Valerie and I went to a reception for our friend Jon Cournoyer last night. He had several well crafted pieces in a collection he called Not Coming Home. Every work was heavy on nostalgia.

It occurred to me that all my older artist friends are spending a lot of energy looking back. I think people tend to focus on the larger part of their lives. Younger people have more time in front of them. They tend to experiment more. They’re inventing themselves. We older farts are looking back trying to figure out if it meant anything. Some of us find meaning and some of us sink into despair.

My friend Wren was there. He thought about it and realized his band Liquid Gold was playing old country music that was all about nostalgia.

When I said we tend to look toward the larger part of our lives Valerie asked, “What about us in the middle?” Good point.

I’ve had the luxury and luck never to be stuck in any particular time, life style, or mind set.

I think my art is looking both ways at the moment. This could be the most productive time in my life. I’d better get off my ass!

This was the piece Jon used to promote his show.