I delivered two pieces today to the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, CA. I’m part of a photography group show called Depth of Perception, which runs from Jan. 31st to March 1st. If you’re in the area, the opening reception is Sat, Jan 31 from 5-7 pm.
The two pieces are 32×40-inch. They are Alley 102, Goast Pier, and Alley 97, NOW
Wet toilet paper
Continuing the Phil series…
One day I walk into (my old roommate) Phil’s bathroom and notice he’s fixing his defective toilet. Most things were defective in the dumpy industrial building we shared. He’s temporarily placed his toilet in the bathtub and so one silly idea leads to another….
Phil and the wet toilet paper
Phil the filmmaker
My first working art studio was in a rickety and leaky 3-story industrial building in Montreal - I lived and worked there with my film maker friend Philippe Spurrell for almost 3 years (1992-94). In fact we were the only tenants for most of that time. The building was unsafe and the leaky roof would cause chunks of ceiling drywall to come crashing down in various places. This brown dripping water would also of course leave huge surprise puddles in very inconvenient places. We had to attach an elaborate grid of tarps to the ceiling to carry the water away.
Our desperate landlord had no money, but he let the two of us live (illegally) in this magical dump for a rock bottom rent, which was all we could afford. He knew our presence was slowing the building’s disintegration. In the end, the building was condemned and we were forced to leave, closing a chapter of years that were among my most inspired. It is in those years that I developed the Alley series and the Bug series, and it was the location for all my first bug shots. I would crawl around the filthy and macabre basement on my knees with a flashlight (and with all the ceiling lights off - to get me in the right frame of mind) looking for dead bugs, spiderwebs and other tiny locations.
Phil and I had been friends for years before this and we are great friends today. He has become a successful filmmaker - his 2007 film The Descendant won Best Feature at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
All this background is to draw you a picture of the setting and inspiration that led to a series of photographs I produced of Phil. I’ll post several of these back to back.
Phil and pea soup
Father of the Bride
In the late 80’s, when I shot most of my street photography, I came across an outlandish wedding where almost everyone seemed to be having a ball. But the generational gap was stark, and it looked like a nightmare come true for this elderly man and his wife.
In 1991 I went to Spain for an extended trip. It was my first chance to see both of my parents’ homeland, to visit relatives I’d barely, or never seen before, and to get a first feel for my heritage.
Bullfighting is probably the greatest anomaly in the country. It is grim and exciting; somber and celebratory. It has a rich history but for obvious reasons Spaniards are largely opposed to it - in fact a 1991 Gallup poll showed 75% of the country had no interest in it. The fans it has are ageing and fiercely committed.
While in Madrid - probably the world capital of bullfighting… certainly the city a matador wants to perform in- I had to experience a bullfight. Protests surrounded Plaza de Toros de las Ventas. There was one placard I still remember: “Wake up! You are an embarrassment to the country!”
This picture of mourning within the pageantry is one of only five that I took during the 2-hour spectacle, and it sums up my feelings of the experience…
This note is probably the best compliment I’ve ever gotten… sent to me by my friend Earl Hamner, after receiving one of my pieces. Earl, by the way, is the creator/writer/producer of the 70’s and 80’s TV shows Falcon Crest and The Waltons (in fact, The Waltons was based on his life… Earl is John Boy).
Dear Xavier, “Dance of the Spirits” is here and what an absolutely stunning work it is. It truly speaks to me. I once bought a painting from an artist named Lew Davis because it made me want to live longer. Once again the joy and elation of “Spirit” gives me the same emotion. Jane and I were at the beach when I learned from the computer that the piece had arrived. Since we were uncharacteristically experiencing a powerful rainstorm back in town I got on the phone with a neighbor to check on it because FED EX has been known to prop a package against the front door. The neighbor rescued it, actuarially the delivery person had left it in a sheltered place, but I was greatly relieved. There was a tug of war between Jane and me about where to hang “Spirit.” She is a generous woman and finally allowed me to bring it to the office since I spend most of my waking hours there. I will send you a photo of it in a day or so to where it is currently in residence. In my last e-mail I described my feelings as wow. Now that I have seen it I am changing that to a triple wow! Earl
Dance of the Spirits, 2000
Philip K. Dick on alleys and garbage
My friend Michael Murphy sent me these excellent quotes from the late, drug saddled and schizophrenic writer, Philip K. Dick:
“There was a beauty in the trash of the alley I had never noticed before; my vision now seemed sharpened rather than impaired. As I walked along it seemed to me that the flattened beer cans and papers and weeds and junk mail had been arranged into patterns; these patterns, when I scrutinized them, lay distributed so as to compromise a visual language.” From Radio Free ALbemut
“The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum.” From Valis
National Gallery gallows
Here’s another image from when I shot lots of street documentary work. This photograph was taken in Ottawa’s National Gallery in 1994.
New Image: St Paul, MN
At the Uptown Art fest in Minneapolis this year, oops… make it last year… I met 3 friends (Emmanuel, Jeb and Donald) who found it perfectly acceptable to hang out with me in dark alleys at the wee hours of the night. I got two excellent shots, thanks in large part to their intimate knowledge of the city and its creepy corners. Emmanuel, it turned out, makes it a point to explore these areas on a regular basis, and so his sherpa skills were terrific. He also wrote a funny account of his experience with me that night.
Alley 111, Intersect, St. Paul, MN, 11pm