Inspiration + Influence: Comedians

When kids are in school and Vesna is at her office, I have 6 hours of solitary time to work on art, write lesson plans and emails, do whatever it takes to get the art out in the universe, while trying to figure out how to earn money.  One of the things that keeps me sane and positive is comedy podcasts- Comedy Bang Bang, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, James Bonding, You Talkin’ U2 to Me, Superego, and others from the Earwolf and Nerdist podcast networks. Many of the same players crop up in each show- Paul F. Tompkins, Matt Gourley, Andy Daly, Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts, James Adomian, Lauren Lapkus.  There’s also the comedy of Andy Zaltzman and Jon Oliver on The Bugle Podcast, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross regularly hosts comedians like Amy Schumer and Hari Kondabolu (both on this week at the time of this writing).

Comedians are absolutely artists and their creative POVs provide the kind of clear insight to human behavior that help us understand ourselves better as humans, bring common ground between people, and speak truth to power.  I admire their use of words and sounds in the way one relates to song lyrics or a masterful art technique- Andy Daly, for example, creates ludicrous characters that he fully embodies to the point that most of his act is spontaneous but is funnier to me than any scripted TV he’s been part of.

Which isn’t to say scripted comedy is inferior, though it does lack that anarchic chaotic edge I love.  One of the most prescient observers of human behavior is Mike Judge, creator of Office Space, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, and Idiocracy.  His new show Silicon Valley (also featuring Andy Daly) has examples of Asperger’s-ish tech billionaires and “TED talk”-ish innovators who tag “curing AIDS” to the end of their speech on some new software patch.  Brilliant stuff.

Beyond the positive vibes that come from laughing, and beyond the admiration I have for comedy’s creativity, I’m really inspired by the pure drive to get out in public and build an audience.  They tour, do countless podcasts for no pay, create merch, organize variety shows, you name it, they’re constantly hustling.  Above all they help each other out so they all can succeed.  I would love to photograph comedians, but for now I’m content appreciating these artists from afar.





Sebastio Salgado: “Genesis”

from Sebastio Salgado’s recent book “Genesis”

It’s no secret that a Sebastio Salgado exhibition converted me to take photography seriously in my late teens.  In classrooms over the years I’ve heard his compassion labelled as phony, that his work is “too good” or has such mass appeal that it reduces the subject matter to trivia, and I think: you people are fucking idiots.  The world would be a much better place if there were more Salgados, or Bonos or Peter Gabriels, or Taryn Simon or W. Eugene Smith, or other artists of conscience.  Without artists of conscience you are left with only mundane navel gazers, or sarcastic punks, or commercial pop products.

A more recent controversy is the appearance of his latest images.  Salgado used to work with large format film cameras and, for the recent “Genesis” book, switched to a modified 1DS Mk 3 DSLR.  The new work has an HDR like feel, probably processed by Nik Software’s HDR Efx Pro and Silver EFX Pro.  Within the program there is a function called “Tone Mapping” which allows for a HDR-like effect on a single image, as opposed to multiple exposures smooshed into one; it also adds grain deliberately, to make the image “hang together” more.

On a recent podcast Brooks Jensen of Lenswork describes the grain as “sandpaper on his eyes” and presumes that the images are shot 35mm, because he can’t imagine why anyone would shoot a grainy landscape (he understands grain as part of the street photography aesthetic).  I love Brooks and consider him a wise grandfather of art photography, and can understand disliking a change in an artist’s style- Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit movies have been released in a fast frame rate version that no one liked, and in the “Desolation of Smaug” the adoption of “action cameras” in the river scene was an obvious flaw where I could see pixelly water very clearly.  Nothing like pixels in your fantasy film.  But we can’t expect artists to adhere to our set-in-stone ideas of aesthetics.  Salgado made grainy landscapes because he wanted to, and probably wanted to have his Genesis project have a similar look image-to-image, and not because he was following in the tradition of Ansel Adams.  I really don’t know, since I don’t have Salgado’s phone number, but I do recognize a particular style (tone mapping) and knowing that allows a more informed opinion than “I guess it’s 35mm, but why I don’t know, I just don’t like it.”

I think there is a psychology in image making that clean and pristine images look more altered, while adding retro components like analogue-looking filters, grain, or turning a digital image into a polaroid convince us that something is “more real.”

Inspiration + Influence: Mansun


It’s said the music you enjoyed in your late teens and early 20s is the music that resonates most in your life, partly because it’s “coming of age” music, but I also think it has to do with the way our ears physically work, how sensitive those late teenage ears are to sound.  My era was 1989-2000, and even today I seek out artists I’d overlooked from that era.  Bands like Skunk Anansie or Mansun, who I picked up on in the mid-2000s after they had both broken up.  Mansun is particularly special to me- something that goes on when I have a day like today, groggy from allergy pills, editing something not very creative, wondering how I’m gonna make the mortgage in 3 days.

Mansun was the brainchild of Paul Draper, a multi-instrumentalist who formed the band with friends before they actually learned to play their guitars.  His singing is a bit of glam and the sound borrowed from classic British rock traditions, but with prog touches that stretched songs into angular directions and tempo shifts.  Most important was Paul’s natural weirdness.  At the time Oasis would write such deep and unique missives *cough cough* as “D’Ya Know What I Mean”, Mansun was kicking out songs called “Take It Easy Chicken”, “She Makes My Nose Bleed” (referring to the manga habit of male characters nose bleeding when aroused), “Egg Shaped Fred,” and “Being A Girl.”

The first album was built around the concept of a strange village, complete with stripping vicars.  It was Monty Python and The Prisoner through the amp of T.Rex.

The second album “Six” is an insane classic, the Id run wild.  The videos are funny and a perfect fit for the tunes.

The third album was really toned down, and showed influence of Prince in both style and song titles.  It’s not really my thing to be honest.  Then they broke up, and post-breakup saw a neat collection of unreleased work, b-sides and demos.  But I’ve got two great albums plus a ton of neat b-sides.  Jesus, I miss b-sides.  That’s where artists could slip out the experiments, the interesting stuff without the record company wondering if they could make a mint off it.

Inspiration + Influence: Queen

There are many big bands that I know about, totally overlook for years, then finally dive in and discover their greatness.  I started listening to U2, the Beatles and Pink Floyd when I was in my late teens, the Clash and Led Zep and Springsteen and Elvis and the Byrds in my early 20s, Dylan Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Buffy Saint Marie and the Motown artists in my late 20s, Smashing Pumpkins and disco in my early 30s, and now at 36 I finally understand the greatness of Queen.  It’s not like I had never heard any of these acts, or the other staples of pop culture, but there’s the negative part of myself that is suspicious of “icons.”  The truth is, things are usually iconic because they are great and stand the test of time- but icons all have low periods (Springsteen’s late 80s/ early 90s, U2’s Rattle + Hum, etc) and if you approach these artists during those times it’s a turn off.  In some cases I just wasn’t mature enough to enjoy, say, folk or country when I was a high school youngster because it was all techno/ electronica/ industrial, all the time.

Which brings me to Queen, my latest obsession in the fall of 2013.  It all started with a combination of fucking around on wikipedia/ youtube and seeing their sillier videos (“I Want To Break Free” and “Radio Ga-Ga”), and my kids enjoying/ requesting “Bicycle Race” because it was featured on an Angry Birds cartoon.  “Bicycle Race” is a good example of all the things amazing about Queen, and what they were doing that Inspires me today:

1.  It’s completely ludicrous but has serious moments, comparing religion to belief in fictional characters and referencing pop culture of Jaws, Superman and Vietnam

2. it’s full of wild energy in several directions

3. it has childish appeal

4. it’s inventive with basic tools/ instruments

5. most of all, it has PERSONALITY.  The way the band think and perform and the subject matter all inform on who the creators are.

And, you know, the video has dozens (hundreds?) of naked women riding bicycles around a track.

Personality is so critical to great art.  It’s like the gods of myth breathing a soul into clay, and then the clay comes alive and learns and grows talents.  It all starts with that unique soul.

Queen were also very big on talent and overindulgence- they had rows with the punks, calling them talentless and Freddie saying it was “complete rubbish” that they only wanted to play small gigs, saying anyone creative wanted the largest audience possible.  In their prime Queen were making mini-operettas, playing with all genres,  I personally go back and forth on the notion of “talent,” it’s usually not high on my list as to whether is something is actually good or not.  Eddie Van Halen is very talented and does nothing for me.  But I have a fondness for good craft, and absolutely want the largest audience I can get for any of my creative endeavors.

Currently I’m in a phase of music making that involves sampling a lot of rather famous vocal tracks- separated from the music thanks to the Rock Band games and people who hack them for multitracks- and layering these voices in Garageband.  There are three artists who stand out as the undisputed creative geniuses of vocal mixing, and those are Queen, the Beatles and Bjork.  But I’m also inspired visually by the camp concepts, the sweeping grandiosity that was Queen.

Inspiration: Doug Jeck

Between photography, music, ceramics and comics, I have to make choices as to how much time and energy I have for each.  The hardest part of loving various creative mistresses is that even though it’s all indulging a muse, things can get compartmentalized – should I spend so much time working on music when it won’t result in another gallery show or etsy sales?

That’s why I appreciate artists like Doug Jeck, who is primarily known for his ceramics.  I came across Doug’s work in a book called “Making Marks” by Robin Hopper, and the sample Jeck piece showed a photograph applied across a ceramic face of the photo’s subject, Jeck’s father.  The combination of photo and ceramics is something I thought about but never fully realized.  I had actually thought in the reverse- making ceramic pieces to photograph in a diorama, but I personally don’t have the patience to do diorama work.

Doug Jeck
Doug Jeck

Another of my favorite pieces involves a woman’s head atop the body of a sleeping dog, sort of a modern domestic sphinx.  It’s lovely, primitive, mythological, silly, and something everyone can relate to.  I love it.

Doug Jeck

Influences: Japanese Photographers

This is an entry from an ancient (2009) blog but I was pleased to rediscover the work of these excellent Japanese photographers.

A few weeks ago I mentioned doing a weekly investigation of a photo artist to broaden my horizons. Today, I can report on two such
artists, both very famous Japanese photographers, Masao Yamamoto and Hiroshi Sugimoto. I came across Yamamoto checking out some of the photo gallery shows coming up in Tucson. He was part of an upcoming show co-featuring one of my old professors, Carol Panaro Smith, and I found his minimalist approach very appealing in the same way sumi-e or haiku satisfies in their elegant nothingness. You find this a lot in Japanese art and not so much in Western art, especially modern US photography, which seems to be more focused on information overload.

Here is one of my favorite images from Masao Yamamoto:


 is someone whose work I had seen before–exposures of a movie theatre, taken over the period of the entire movie. I didn’t put the name to the work, but while looking at Masao Yamamoto’s site I saw images of seascapes reminiscent of the album cover of U2’s No Line on the Horizon. That cover was actually a Sugimoto image, representative of his recurring theme of photographing time via really long exposures.


Etsy for Artists

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A monkey polaroid emulsion lift collage created in 2007

I have an Etsy store with the Wife, Vesna, called Jay Street Art Lab which features everything made in our house.  When the kids are old enough to make saleable artwork it’ll go up there as well.

With all sites, one has to work Etsy properly if one expects any sales, and that means:

1. making friends

2. advertising on other social networks

3. having the shop listed on the business card when we have tables at art fairs

4. photographing the merch multiple ways and having 5 photos

5. easy to understand bios, policies, etc.

6. reaching out to a potential audience and letting them know you exist

7. Having lots of stuff up, not just a couple choices

8. take as much customer guesswork/ decision making out of the equation by not offering variations or different sizes

9. make stuff people will want!

I used to look cross eyed at Etsy as much as people do Model Mayhem or other free-for-all sites where people show up expecting to get paid right away and then rant on message boards, disappointed when things turn out differently.  But there’s no substitute for hard work, and following the above guidelines is a good place to start.  Below is a sampling of the huge variety of stuff- crafts, mixed media pieces, photo prints, ceramic masks, figurines- from our shop:

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Harley Quinn clutch created by Vesna the Wife.
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Mosh Scream Queen shrinky dink made into an embellished necklace by Vesna the Wife.
Aquaman clothespin doll, created by both me and Vesna the Wife.
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Mosh Scream Queen shrinky dink made into an embellished necklace by Vesna the Wife.
Actress Stephanie Danielson as bodypainted by artist Jamie Graden, who did the illustration after we printed this photo.
Actress Stephanie Danielson as bodypainted by artist Jamie Graden, who did the illustration after we printed this photo.
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MODOK mask made by me
ceramics april_06
Captain America wall mask created by me