Friday, August 27, 2010


THE CAMPBELL SOUP KIDS were already a well-loved phenomenon in 1905 by the time Campbell Soup Company of Canada opened. The artist Grace Gebbie Wiederseim Drayton was hired to create the adorable chubby-faced boy and girl characters. They immediately became so famous as spokes-kids for the international soup company, their images are updated and used still today. The artist Barry Zaid remembers coming across a picture of the Soup Girl in his mother's photo albums from the 1920s. She had been cut out from the label of a can -- smiling, healthy, and happy. Perfectly energetic, charming, and delightful, her cheeks polished like apples, he immediately fell in love with her.

Fast forward to 2010 and Barry is walking into Marshalls where, right at the front door, he comes across a table full of Campbell Soup Girl cookies jars, all bursting with happiness to greet him. AND, they were only $12.99. Of course he had to have one.

Miss Campbells Soup was so cheerful and welcoming that Barry placed her on the middle of his stove top (he doesn't cook). She was the only object with red detailing in a kitchen filled with only blue-and-white objects. In other words, she was a stand out.

After a life of prominence at center stage in Barry kitchen, Miss Campbells Soup came to be emblematic of welcome, holding up her big red tomato in one hand. Then, one portentous Friday, the exterminator appeared. In preparation for having his apartment "tented", Barry had to face his past and clean out the entire kitchen. When his cat, Cheetah, spied an empty shelf, she lept into the air to reach it and, in the process, knocked over a can of Campbells Cream of Poblano Pepper Soup which came crashing down on poor Miss Campbells Soup's chef hat, smashing her to pieces.

The ray of sunshine behind this drear cloud is that her face remained unmarred and in tact. Barry pledges that she will resurrect in the form of some broken china object d'art.

Until then, Miss Campbell's Soup Girl, R.I.P.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Moving, as we are, from the fossil age into the solar age, everything around us seems subject to tumult. We witness nearly daily the implosions of our institutions and the erosion of our perceived stability. Ours is a balancing act of desires for both change and equilibrium within a world in constant flux, and balance requires fierce focus. Upon what…? We can and must learn from the past, but we can only be inspired by the future –i.e. a vision that combines elements of past and present to create wholly new ideas, perspectives, sensations, and approaches. Such is the everyday work of artists.

Art is witness and manifestation both. Its power is born of the marriage of extremes. Reinvention is the artist’s métier; creativity is our way of functioning. We are practiced at shaping new form out of fragments, of drawing new reality out of pure imagination. We strip, edit, combine, reduce, enlarge, shape, and reshape. We rely on instinct as much, if not more, than on critical, analytical, or linear processes. We naturally think outside the box because most of the time we’re not even aware of the box. We value fluidity over order, possibility over authority. We are inherently collaborative, and we recognize change as opportunity. Our passion is transformation. Our commitment is to “see anew.” In this way, art is a spiritual undertaking, for as artists, we are constantly remaking Creation.

Anything born of creativity is a devotion. In making art, in surrendering reliance on intellect and habits of ego, we transform ourselves and, thereby, as quantum physics tells us, ALL Creation. The spiritual aspects of art take us beyond historical, geographical, and cultural boundaries. They reveal the illusion of catastrophe and dispel the paralysis of fear.

In his article, “Desperately Painting the Plague,” (The New York Times, July 29, 2005. p. B25) Holland Carter wrote, “Pandemics of one kind or another have always terrorized human history. And where science has been helpless and politics mute, religion and art have responded…. Christian ‘high art’, when considered as devotional icons rather than as old master monuments, are viewed from an existential rather than a doctrinal or sociopolitical perspective; through the eyes of a believer for whom a picture of the Virgin is a moral lesson and an emotional encounter, a culture’s cry of pain, before it is a Tiepolo or a Tintoretto. …. the focus is not on the comparative quality of objects or styles, but on intangible elements that science tends to be shy of: how art provokes emotion and conveys belief, and how a certain kind of art, at a certain time, gave certain people who felt the earth had been swept away beneath them a place to stand.”

Taped to my computer is the following quote from A Course in Miracles (Lesson 70): “My salvation comes from me. Nothing outside of me can hold me back. Within me is the world’s salvation and my own.” With that reminder, I consistently reset my ragged inner compass, even as I go in search of my savage self, the fearless Mother/warrior needed to look straight through the ego to the beauty/peace/security inside. Fierce focus and a savage self. Yes, these are as much the artist’s instrument as contemplation, study, and devotion. And without a savage self, the artist cannot surrender the inappropriate or outmoded images endlessly spewed by that ubiquitous constellation of family, religion, and culture.

The artist’s stare is a metaphysical tool, for pure observation is transformation’s fuel. Quantum physics speaks of the effect at an energetic level of the act of observation on the object of observation. Once the observation is tainted with judgment, sentiment, or opinion, the evolution is stymied.

Art is the illustrated story of our humanity, and we are that story’s creators.. Let the nation turn to its most effective illuminators to make our aspirations recognizable. Artists are practiced at creating and deciphering; we are at ease in right-brained or metaphysical states of mind (from which visionary thinking emanates). We understand how fiction, not fact, is the most powerful agent of transformation.

Science, logic, and linear or left-brained pursuits have their value in the objective weighing of fact and detail. They serve best when put to use in service of the imagination, for no calculation surpasses in power or effectiveness supremely articulated passion.

Lasting change occurs not in a static environment or by varying a theme, but as a result of challenging our behaviors and perceptions to recognize another way of being. Faced daily with reports of our perpetual and ubiquitous crises, I wait with ever growing impatience for this country’s national call for artists. Though our president was elected on a platform of promised change, the imperative for innovation seems buried under our campaign of resurrection through repair. When, I wonder every day, will we ever put our faith (and money, energy, and determination,) into the skilled and blessed hands of our visionaries?

Monday, August 9, 2010


The painting, "Solar Flare" is by the artist Judith Hoch, known as Juju. She reports: Solar red hot love that burns, consumes and turns you to dust! The new cycle started on August 3 and 4 and produced large storms in the magnetosphere and beautiful auroras. Will the maximum in 2013 herald the beginning of the "Solar" age of power and energy from the SUN ? Or will the amount of coronal mass "injected" into the magnetosphere down the grid and take everyone off internet, phone, etc for six months or so leading to mass extinction and return to foraging?

Saturday, August 7, 2010



see Keith Gessen’s article “Stuck” in the August 2nd issue of The New Yorker

If you think traffic in Miami, New York, Paris, Mexico, and L.A. is bad, you haven’t tried to drive in Moscow, where the number of cars increased six-fold between 1991 and 2009. The city’s driving conditions bring to mind two pieces of 20th century literature (a time before things got really bad): “Highway of the South, “ a 1964 story by Julio Cortazar that describes how people returning to Paris from a long weekend accommodate themselves to a massive traffic jam by eventually forgetting that they were ever going anywhere. A Brezhnev-era novella by Vladiir Sorokin called “The Queue” has people waiting to buy something (not even they know what any longer) in a line so long and complex, that they begin to live in it.

“No city has ever constructed itself out of congestion. It’s impossible,” says transportation expert Cukan Vuchic of the University of Pennsylvania. In Moscow, post-Soviet development exploded as the population swelled with refugees from rural Russia, the Central Asian states, and Ukraine escaping poverty and from the Caucasus escaping the war. All of them wanted cars. The city fathers, believing that “planning was for Socialists” embraced a no-planning posture and figured, under capitalism, the market would take care of everything. At first, “Moscow filled up with kiosks and flimsy freestanding grocery stores, and little old ladies selling socks. Eventually, these were replaced by office buildings and megastores and even luxury condominiums; the spaces once reserved for new roads or metro stations were given over to construction…. The first great post-Soviet fortune, after all, was made not from oil or gas or nickel. That came later. It was made when Boris Beresovsky, a mathematician and game theorist, started selling cars.”

In the August 2nd issue of The New Yorker, writer Keith Gessen’s article “Stuck” describes the socio/political and economic forces that have brought Moscow to the brink of transportational collapse. He quotes Mikhail Blinkin, a traffic expert and classic dissident (the Saharov of traffic) who spent nearly twenty years at two Soviet research institutes devoted to “urban planning” and in 1990 started a private think tank on traffic: “Eventually, Moscow will simply cease to function as a city…. Some people will live in one neighborhood, and others will live in a different neighborhood, and that will be fine, except they won’t be able to get from one neighborhood to the other.” Blinkin sees Moscow’s traffic and parking troubles as, “a symbol of the city’s general lack of legal and planning culture.”

There are three main factors that determine a city’s traffic, explains Yukio Hatoyama, a traffic engineer who teaches at Moscow State University (and the son of the former prime minister of Japan): 1) Driver behavior – Do drivers care if they enter an intersection before a light turns red and there’s a chance they’ll get stuck and create gridlock? 2) The organization of the roads – radial or gridded – and how well that organization is maintained; 3) The social system, as it is reflected on the roads—are there different rules for different drivers (i.e. do the elite get a free pass to put on sirens and charge through)? Hatoyama remarks that the other place that functions in Moscow’s feudal way is China.

In gridded cities, like New York, there are two tiers: a street tier, on which pedestrians are primary and cars secondary; and a freeway tier, where cars rule and there are no pedestrians at all, Moscow has a radial system that, unlike Washington DC’s, for example, simply doesn’t work. Moscow’s (three) rings are interrupted by drivers pulling on and off from side roads to outlet malls, making the beltways into wider thoroughfares-cum-parking lots (there are some streets in the city center as wide as five lanes in each direction and still perpetually clogged).

Parking in Moscow is no less problematic than traffic. Cars are parked everywhere – from roads to sidewalks, the parking authority is corrupt, and enforcement of existing laws is lax. “Try parking on the sidewalk in Munich or Boston.” says Cukan Vuchic. He recalls how, years ago, “You would go to Salzburg to look a the Mozart statue, but you couldn’t see it, because Salzburg was a big parking lot. The Austrians have since take care of the problem with zoning, signage, and enforcement.”

Over the last few years, Moscow drivers have become one of the city’s most active social groups, Keith Gessen tells us. They have organizied to eliminate the corrupt meter maids and are lobbying for more roads. “Car owner” is the one social category that has actually been created in Russia in the past twenty years, as opposed to all the social categories that have been destroyed. “Perhaps this is the emergence, finally, of a propertied, stockholding – and frustrated, selfish, neurotic – middle class.”