THE TORMENTS OF NON FOCUS [Triggered Memories] (Comments on Janet Lippincott and Chuzo Tamotzu) y Paul Henrickson, Ph.D.

© 2008


Having been attacked by a strong virus and left computerless for more than a week I resorted to a 500 year-old, or more, practice of writing things down by hand. If everything is organic, or something like that, as I have claimed then this present experience is not unlike that of some medieval warrior experiencing a setback or two, and I shall over come. In any event I came across some creative detritus of sorts and with them came a host of memories of past events. Successes and failures, and, as well, the tardy germination of dormant potential. Hind-site is sometimes a joy. photo by Herb lotz photo by David Stein Two photographs of Janet Lippincott. One by Herb Lotz and the other by David Stein. I have some of my own as well. In any event since it has now been more than thirty years since I have seen Janet and when I did see her she seemed resigned to leave this earth…reluctantly, but with fatigue and muted disappointment. . This petroglyph found near Estaca, north of Santa Fe in its rather cocky gesture reminds me of Janet I cannot be sure from where actually that disappointment may have come since the time I first heard of her through my high school art teacher James Foster Kenny, she had been respected for her work as an artist and, perhaps, by some, for the forthrightiousness of her life style. While Janet, rarely, if ever, gave any evidence of her thoughts on societal or political problems she certainly embraced wholeheartedly what, for her, were pleasant experiences . In my role as an observer of creative activity I can, without hesitation of any sort, state that Janet was, without doubt, along with Chuzo Tamotzu, one of Santa Fe’s more consistently evolving artists and one focused on what really counts in art, at least what seems to have counted among those whose interests lay with how a work of art is made, as opposed to for whom. I don’t believe she cared a hoot about how others might have felt about anything else. Her real world was what she could make happen on the paper. In connection with Chuso’s work my connection was somewhat more intimate since Louise, his wife, after he had died asked me to write a monograph about him. I accepted the offer and looked forward to it and the supper she had invited me to discuss the details. The supper, however, never materialized. She did serve two excellent gins and tonics and two of those were quite enough. Through both drinks she hemmed and hawed and never got to the point. Then she offered me a third drink and I refused, thanked her and left. After many years came the following letter. I realize that she had asked me to keep this matter between us, but, by now Louise would be over 100 years old, and I would suppose it would make only the difference in how she was viewed historically as a civil human being and how others, either through ignorance or malicious intent, can destroy the legitimate dreams and expectations of others. Chuzo Tamotzu

There are not many artists in Santa Fe as free of compulsion as Chuzo Tamotsu.

This is an expression identifying a delicate evaluation in the process of art criticism. There is COMPULSION in the process of creation. There is, also, and this is highly important, the element of autobiographical traces in any work , evidences of what personality assemblage did it. There is, additionally, a third aspect of creation that I think vital for a critic to try to uncover and that asks the question “what is it that the individual creator is trying to discover?” for it is “discovery” that distinguishes creative art from artistry. My personal evaluation is that the individual creator is searching for some unity of self. I realize that that statement is more than a little suggestive of metaphysical concerns and proceeding into that area leads us, for the most part, into highly esoteric language which, at this time, I wish to avoid. Besides, I sometimes lose myself in that jungle. Perhaps the best way of illustrating the concept is to choose comparisons, despite the claim that making comparisons is considered by some to be unseemly. The best choice, however, in the area of a conceptual foil is the California cum Santa Fe artist Paul Shapiro who claimed to me, one time, in the presence of Alene LlewAllen that he was going to be Santa Fe’s best known artist. I made no comment at the time as a result of a glance from Alene which I thought was telling me she hoped I wouldn’t. Had I done so it would have been something like “Paul, you miss the point and if you follow that track you may well become Santa Fe’s best known artist, but it won’t be for your artistic accomplishments.” From the works above I would judge that Shapiro is casting about outside of himself, hoping, perhaps, to find who he is within one of the several “styles” he thought might work for him. My view of this approach is that it is rather much like the attitude a lady has when entering a dress shop and using the dressing room to discover who it is she thinks she wants to look like. The work of art is much more complex than that and I doubt that one finds the answer outside of oneself. Paul, however, may lack the courage to look where he must. Another item was a letter from Daniel Meyer Selznick who, at that time, was president of the Louis B. Meyer Foundation, commenting on my efforts to create for Santa Fe. The Southwest’s “Festival City” a “Scandinavian Film Festival”. Regrettably, I learned several things about the effort which I did not find attractive. Perhaps the most surprising of these was that the Scandinavians have a name for one of their , apparently, more notable characteristics, that is in addition to being found rude by much of the rest of the world, and the phrase used to describe it is “Den kongliet svenska orvensyk” Translated it says “The Royal Swedish Envy”. I should have known from Kirkegaard and another Danish author that such human failings would cross borders very easily. I imagine the prairie wives of Valley City, North Dakota, spoiled me by their unselfish devotion to an idea as opposed to achieving self importance. I am referencing the Valley City Fine Arts festival which lasted, at least 25 years by their unselfish devotion to an idea. In this regard it is not at all difficult to notice that the motivations people have for involvement in cultural matters are varied and more often than not have little relationship to the needs of the art form. This attitude was well expressed by the character Anton Walbrook played in the film “The Red Shoes” when he rebuked the hostess of a party who wished to push her niece’s career as a dancer at the expense of the art form. Maurice Dixon “Curve in Camizozo” Peter Paul Rubens “Resurrection of Christ” Oil on Canvas 36’x35” at Munson Gallery Maurice Dixon Jr. has an MFA and is a tinsmith himself. A resident of Santa Fe, he has a long-time association with galleries representing the regional folk arts of New Mexico. I can only assume that these ”Maurice Dixons” are the same person, that is, that

the maker of the painting is also the maker of the tin mirror. I should also assume, apparently, that the Owings-Dewey Gallery associated with the mirror have reasons similar to those of Munson gallery directors for showing this work which from my point of view is either an elaborate spoof on the system which would be a product of the artist or a maliciously contrived apotheosis of the less than mundane utilitarian. In short, I can understand the presence of the mirror in a folk art environment. But I am entirely bewildered by the presence of the road signs in an art gallery. Granted there is some minor attempt to indicate the sun’s direction, but if this were an important issue with the painter we might have expected him to follow through with a similar analysis in the rest of the picture. He did not. Consequently these two angular lines which pass for cast shadows of sign posts stand isolated as an explanation for anything other than the will of the artist. If we always use what we assume to be, or can discover as, the will of the artist as a basis for assessment we may, then, have a reasonable base for aesthetic judgments. An explanation is required. One might excuse Owings-Dewey for their motivation in showing the mirror and agenting the book on New Mexico tin work, but it is measurably more difficult for me to excuse Munson gallery, which prides itself on being a very gold establishment from Massachusetts. On the positive side of this enigma is the opportunity for me to investigate the reasons why I think that art forms should be anything more than expressions of the everyday. It isn’t enough to say that art always has been more than everyday expressions….but, art has been always something that IS expressed everyday…we live by symbols and art is, basically, a symbol. Of what it may be a symbol we can decide later. Some of those symbols are simple, forthright, direct, others are very elaborate and become objects of adoration… holy objects. In the case of the Dixon painting it would appear that it has been raised to the level of a cult object for its presence is in a respected art gallery….a position some art works never achieve. I suppose it may be entirely possible for someone to seriously consider this work , “Curve in Camizozo”,on the same level as that of “The Resurrection of Christ” by Peter Paul Rubens which, even in such an exalted subject as the resurrection from the dead of a divine being the artist has the “mundane” humor of introducing, however, subliminally, the idea of a turgid penis, which, in turn, introduces the idea that such an event is, also, a divine event. Try as I might to discover some legitimate reason for such an elevation to sanctity of this Dixon work I have failed. My mind blocks at the effort despite my interest in trying to redefine nearly everything into a logical fit. It just happened that some material concerning Scandinavia was also in this collection of art notices and all it serves to prove, I suppose, is that basically, people are much the same no matter where in the world one goes. In this particular case, however the Swedish women in Santa Fe acted much like their counterparts, men or women, in Sweden and Denmark. In both instances it involved cultural development in Santa Fe. But, in Santa Fe, which is a long way off from Sweden and Denmark, where the two most notably ego-dominated personalities in the group ostensibly working for the development of a Scandinavian Film Festival in Santa Fe were Inger Boudouris whose husband was Greek and Elizabeth Alley whose husband was a lawyer and who, it seems, believed her when she told him she had been assaulted. Kostas Boudouris had been employed by Air France to decide what sort of paper napkin should be used at one of their functions. He proudly announced that it had taken a full two weeks to arrive at a decision as to what kind of paper napkin to use at a reception and on the basis of that he predicted that I would fail. Well, I failed, but not because of a paper napkin, but rather because of “Swedish envy” and unintelligent government bureaucrats such as Finn Aabye of Denmark and Aina Bellis of Sweden who had they had a functioning grey matter would have known that what I was trying

to do would have made both their careers. As it was it took a Norwegian film director to observe that what I was trying to do was something these film controllers should have been doing all along. There could have been an international scandal about the Danish Embassy most assuredly promising me the films I wanted and then, at Aabye’s urging, retracted their diplomatic promise. All of this silliness was over injured or threatened egos…even national pride had to give way to Finn AAbye. The State’s primary function is to justify itself. One of the more rewarding experiences was realizing fully the very distinguishing difference between government officials, forever a bad name in my book, and film directors. To a man, the film directors were responsive, honest in their appraisal and, in some cases naïve, as to the motives of government which are forever focused on population control. As if my own researches into the nature of the creative mind had not proven it to me this real-life example did so quite conclusively. Creative producers are basically honest. If, by chance, one comes across a personality who claims to be creative , but proves to be dishonest it is more likely that some misjudgment as to the person’s level of creativity has been made. These discoveries encouraged me to wonder, once again, why Ingmar Bergman found it impossible for himself to act creatively outside of Sweden. My conclusion as to that is related, perhaps, to his keen observations as to the hypocritical nature of much of Swedish social life which, somehow, may have spurred his developing visually graphic equivalents. I do not know the answer to it. To my knowledge the Scandinavian Film Institutes of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have still not taken steps to assure that more creative work will be done there. Nevertheless all my effort was not wasted as the award for the prize winning film. Since Sweden, Denmark and Finland had behaved so badly and only the Norwegian films by Mefistofilm, As. came through they won the prize…The Norwegian Film institute had taken no credible action and so other films from Norway did not arrive. Personally, I find little difference in meaning between the behavior of the Scandinavian Film Institutes and those of the Soviet union when they bulldozed an exhibition of unapproved art. The prize, however, designed by the then Santa Fe sculptor Bradford Smith was a very notable item indeed. It is a 16” tall cast iron and sterling silver threepart sculpture which when I first saw it and removed it from its box struck me as though I had just found something from Kaupang..the most notable Scandinavian deposit of Viking-age items. The drawing of the work is illustrated here. Ticket stub from the event showing the award designer in his studio Bradford Smith, the

Another bit of personal history which appeared was this aquatint I executed while at Radford College, now Radford University in Virginia. The College was headed by one ghastly personality by the name of Charles Knox Martin who maintained a citadel of defenses against concepts not his own mainly by threats of rejection, threats he carried out. “Rejection” of course meant losing one’s job, but in my case that was insufficient he also needed to create the impression that I was dishonest by using the College mailing services for private mail. I hadn’t. It is too bad I no longer have the franked mail I had sent to another colleague in a distant college that had already been franked when it was illegally opened. I suppose I had been asking for this sort of experience and should have known it was coming when Martin gave me the answer he did when I asked what the community’s reaction would be to my receiving guests and friends of color. “You won’t have any.” In the past forty years some situations may have changed, the college is now a

University, a Woman is President and a black man had been, until he was fired, also an administrator of sorts. I wonder what it takes for an institution to possess the name “university” and also be respectable. Maybe Dershowitz at Harvard is like a mascot of sorts. A photograph of Douglas Johnson on the advert card for his 1985 exhibition at the Elaine Horowitz Gallery in Santa Fe makes him look like a teen ager. Perhaps he was when the photo was taken, but there are others even more ambiguous. Douglas Johnson Douglas Johnson A photo of Douglas Johnson on the advert card for his 1985 exhibition at Elaine Horowitch Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico makes him look like a ‘teen ager. Perhaps he was when this photo was taken, but there are others of him where he is just as arrogant, charming and challenging. We met by chance once when we both happened to visit Oaxaca, which is one rather odd alternative to Santa Fe. In fact, it makes Santa Fe appear somewhat staid, middle class and unimaginative. It isn’t, I am quite sure, not the contemporary population which gives it that feeling, but rather the accumulation of historical human events, laid down, like archeological levels going deeply back into the past. He spoke openly to me about his life and, now, after nearly thirty years or more I think it will do no harm to relate what he told me. In the place where he lived, north of Santa Fe in an old Spanish community he had formed a relationship with a fellow who was still a teen ager who lived with him and took care of him. Contemporaries of this boy, his Hispanic peers, teased him and provoked an encounter in which the boy died. The family had chosen Douglas to be the chief mourner and had offered him the younger brother as a replacement. I wondered how this act might balance out in the scales of civilized behavior. Douglas Johnson

a work by Douglas Johnson James G. Davis James G. Davis “The Red Cell” “The Giant”

Iconographically, I find these works perplexing, in part because where Davis depicts the female figure he reveals a quite adequate understanding of the female anatomy and some experience in rendering it. In nearly all instances other than these his renderings of objects are reduced to quite nearly flat schemata and spatial relationships are so abbreviated as to be non-existent, and, at best, arbitrary. The primary response to these images suggests that what we have here is a gathering of graphic symbols each with its own traditional background, limited though it may be, each with its own symbolic syntax somewhat more collected in meaning than, for example, groupings of certain petroglyphs (see below) which happen to be together only by virtue of the availability of a good surface to work on. That may not be the case, however, as we may be unaware of any syntax. It is, of course, conceivable, knowing something of the way the human mind works that out of this collection of assembled items some meaning might, probably can, emerge. At the moment, however, it would seem that these pictured items and the way in which they are pictured are meaningful mainly to Davis. On this level, Davis’ work becomes a subject more appropriate to psychoanalysis than to art criticism although, at times, it may be difficult to distinguish between these efforts.

I feel fairly certain, however, in saying that the private meanings of marks made by John Marin, for example, or Paul Cezanne are not only meaningful to those artists but they are also meaningful to other artists because they form a mutually understandable vocabulary which the markings in the Davis paintings do not. The total meaning of “The Red Cell” may be the advent of hallucinogenic erotic mind images appearing to a subject in isolation which in the recounting of the experience may have anecdotal significance to the listener, but the non-objective markings of a Cezanne or Marin have been in terms of graphic structure of the work something like the ground plan of a house by Frank Lloyd Wright does not mean to most viewers that it is, in itself, an experience for the draughtsman, but signifies, in symbolic form a potential real-life structure. Marin Cezanne wright in all three cases the marks are not meant as acts toward a portrait of something, but as equations to a remote ideal.

I think it inescapable that the value in a work of art resides primarily in the degree of the artist’s perception, the awareness the artist has been able to incorporate into the total design of the product. As performers are acutely aware the excellence of an evening’s performance of ten depends upon how much “with it” the performer may be. This “being with it” is not all a matter of choice, but to some extent of “instinct”…an “instinct for completeness” which seems to go beyond a knowledge involving conscious decision making. Some aspects of “being with it” are a matter of control. Such control is also sometimes based on experience, technique, but also on the artist’s ability to being flexible in making immediate adjustments to a changing reality. Something similar is also true of the plastic arts. This means that the artist, while in the act of being a productive artist is attuned to all the facets involved in the production of the work. It is reasonable to expect that evidence of all this involvement and awareness should be detectable in the final product. This is where the function of the specialized art critic comes into play, to help the rest of us see things we hadn’t been sure we could see and to bring the entire aesthetic experience into some kind of gestalt focus and resolution. When an audience leaves the performance feeling emotionally drained this is probably what had happened. Now, the ability of an art form to effect such cathartic changes in an individual by means of the language of the art form itself, i.e. without oral or written language telling us how we should respond, it is then that the medium becomes the message. If all the above is true, then it would appear that the inherent value in a work of art is directly related to the degree to which the artist-producer and observer-communicant are on at least an harmonious if not the same, note. Art and social critics have often referred to something called “pop art”. This art form, in theory at least, purports, at its most guiltless level, to represent the interests of “the common man”…although, they most often do not use this term for fear of calling a spade a spade, it is what the index amounts to. It is the same mental awareness in the culture that has allowed the political leaders of a nation to murder its citizens as has made a fraud like Jeff Koons a millionaire and porn sites to offer images of a father buggering his son. The apotheosis of the less than mediocre has destroyed a once proud and respectable nation. As Brezniev once told Jaime Wyeth.”Do not underestimate the power of an image.” It is unreasonable to think it appropriate to FORCE people to listen to reason. Reason, it seems, comes with maturity and experience and the first is the result of the second. Therefore the catalyst for successful mental growth is a mentality capable of evaluative judgment. It is reasonable to expect that these human qualities vary from individual to individual and that the products they produce show evidence, in some fashion, of

the artist’s level of development. This is not quite the same thing as saying that one artist is better than another, but it does indicate that one may be more complexly developed than another and it is the job of the critic to point that out. Leo Steinberg did this very humorously with Paul Brach at one point. I would have been more direct than Steinberg. Perhaps Steinberg is more of a gentleman than I. In the same group of cultural flotsom I came across two items involving Seymour Tubis. One of these was the printed artist’s statement which said, it seemed to me, all the appropriate things one has grown accustomed to reading in such largely meaningless introductory statements….although, for sure, he touches upon some important questions. “Can I write a statement that will make it possible for anyone who is interested to understand why I do what I do, why I use the colors I use, why I leave out what I leave out, why I try for an essence rather than a totality and why, in fact, I feel it necessary, at times, to speak in several media and in several styles? Actually, Tubis has expressed himself in a moderately honest way. He touches the edges of honesty at any rate. Real honesty would probably offend the reader. He has touched upon the frustration that besets both the artist and the art critic. If both of those types are sincere in what they do they recognize that the kind of honesty involved in talking about art, its creation and its meaning is a painful experience. It would be something akin, I would suspect, to being flayed. At the time Tubis’ exhibition “Mediterranea” was being arranged at Discovery Gallery I was writing criticisms for The Santa Fe Reporter, and this is what I wrote: “Seymour Tubis’s “Mediterranea” at Discovery Gallery opened Sunday to a pleasant number of supporters surrounded by several canvasses bearing light and bright colors and generally carrying the Mediterranean sense of open space and physical closeness, all of it bathed in light. This, at least, appears to have been the intent. While every so often both the method of the application of the paint and the particular choice of colors in combination produced am exquisite shimmer just as often it seemed that Tubis’s application is awkward and short on expertness. This seems very clear when a watercolor was used as a basis as the basis for an enlarged oil of the same design. It does appear as though there were more action in concert (hand, eye, mind and pigment) with the smaller water color than with the very much larger oil. This suggests to me that the oil may have been executed more mechanically than the water color…divorced, so to speak, when there is a creative mastery over the creative moment.” Now, thirty years after the event I am reminded of an odd comment a musicologist by the name of Kennedy made to me in what seemed to be an “off the cuff” event to the effect that “artist’s don’t lie”. Until then I had never thought of the possible correlation of those two measures, being an artist and not lying. Later, while researching with the student body at The University of Northern Iowa” I decided to put the hypothesis to the test. What I discovered was that those who had been determined to be more creative than others were also distinguished by two very interesting factors, one, they consistently got one grade point lower (in both high school and university undergraduate years), as an average, than did their peers and that they were different from their peers in that they did not misrepresent in order to advance where doing so was significantly related to achievement with their peers…in short, they told more lies. a watercolor by Seymour Tubis a painting by Seymour Tubis Eugene Dobos: Flowering Branch A check of the internet offerings on Eugene Dobos did not offer much. There was

one , a kind of peasant genre piece which did reveal evidence that Dobos was, to some extent, an aware painter. Why this flowering branch was chosen for the announcement to illustrate his work I do not know, but the immediate response to it is rather negative and heavily flavored with the commonplaceness of its reference to sweet Japanese depictions of spring time gardens. ..and little old ladies smelling of lavender. There seems very little evidence of the artist being interested in dealing with substantial pictorial problems. Tony Magar “Spartan” There was much more information about Tony Magar on the internet, who then, twenty-eight years ago, was living in Taos and exhibiting in New York. Much of the informal repartee offered us was anecdotal and not very telling. Although I have not lived in New York City what I have experienced of it could not be described as a Paris-like camaraderie over a jug of wine. The appearance of Magar’s work, however, suggests that he has a lot of company with the likes of most of the abstract expressionists and, in that way, is certainly a part of a aspect of aesthetic awareness that allows us to speak of a style. From the exercise of stylistic concerns it is possible to emerge into a more personal statement, but most often the practitioner falls prey to practice. This is one reason why I would end as I began with the statement that among the many artists in Santa Fe Janet Lippincott and Chuzo Tamotzu consistently show evidence of dealing with aesthetic issues and as those issues are informed by their lives.