You are on page 1of 8

THE TORMENTS OF NON FOCUS [Triggered Memories]

(Comments on Janet Lippincott and Chuzo Tamotzu)


B
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 three-
part 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 Bradford Smith, the
designer in his studio

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 “The Red Cell”

James G. Davis “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.