Skip to Content

Blog Archives

The Forgotten History of Montgomery Jones

My great grandfather Montgomery Jones and his brother Joe came to Wyoming from somewhere but I never knew exactly where.  I know they wanted to “become cowboys” and I knew that’s exactly what they did: my grandmother loved to tell the stories of my Monte riding horses with Buffalo Bill, wrangling and taking care of business with other homesteaders in Cody, Wyoming while Bill Cody was out doing shows.  Eastern U.S. born and immigrants had come from all over to unlikely places like Wyoming and Idaho for gold or for promise of a better life for their families.  But the details of Monte’s early (pre-Wyoming) life were not so interesting to me.  Until now.

Photo Aug 04, 7 29 12 PM

My great grandfather, future cowboy Monte Jones, squeezed into the middle.

A week ago during the long road trip from Cincinnati, Ohio to my new home here in Moscow, Idaho, my wife Mei and I stopped at my Aunt’s house in Cody, Wyoming.  As usual, we got out the old cowboy family photos.  There were the old true sepia favorites: My mom and sisters in oversized hats, indians and cowboys with names like Shootin Billy and Davey the Kid playing poker at the Cody Stampede, etc.  As we turned the pages and my aunt recounted the histories, I noticed one family photo I had never investigated closely, featuring Monte as a kid squeezed awkwardly into the middle.  Then Mei spotted it–a photographer’s stamp in the bottom right corner reading: MOSCOW, IDAHO.

I had never even heard of Moscow Idaho (until I got a job in the nearby town of Pullman, WA) let alone visited or lived here.  But of all the places in the country to randomly end up, I am here now in the very same place that my great great grandfather chose when he decided to leave Virginia to find some freshly acquired U.S. government land for his family.

With a little help from the University of Idaho (now within walking distance from me) I learned that, ERICHSON AND HANSON, the photo studio stamped in the bottom left, was comprised of two prolific and skilled photographers Henry Erichson from Germany and John A. Hanson from Denmark.  As well as studio work, the photographers compiled the (now partially reconstructed) photographic history of the U.S. war with the Nez Perce Indians.  Since Erichson and Hanson’s partnership was so brief (University of Idaho Library Nez Perces Indian War Series ’77 (1891) . April 2001), I can practically confirm the date of the family photo as 1892: the same year The University of Idaho opened its doors and the year my current employer, Washington State University was founded.  It’s likely that the Danish photographer Hanson took the picture of my great grandfather and great great grandfather with family in Grangeville, ID, while Hanson was still in partnership with Erichson who remained here in Moscow, ID.

Well, okay, so that old photo was probably not taken here in Moscow but in Grangeville, ID, on the other side of the Nez Perce reservation.  My Aunt says that yes, Monte and Joe had lived in Grangeville for a while before they ran off to “become cowboys”.  That’s always where my mom started the stories.  Well, now it starts right here in Idaho.  Or is this where it ends?

Today, I am going to Grangeville, ID to find the ghost of my great, great grandfather Jones.

4 Continue Reading →

Momento/Memento

Friday night I celebrated the opening of a group exhibition, Momento/Memento at REVERSE space, a gallery in Brooklyn, New York. I showed digital paintings, and friends Jacob Lynn, Christy Wittmer, and Corrina Mehiel showed fiber works, sculptures, and photographs, respectively.

We had a nice little write up in Artfcity.com, calling the exhibition a must see event and describing my photos as possessing an “Alzheimer’s-like strangeness”

This was my first show in New York and I am happy to have shown alongside good friends from Cincinnati. Here’s an excerpt from the exhibition description:

OPENING FRIDAY, JUNE 19TH, 7 – 9PM, REVERSE will present, for the first time in New York, four Cincinnati-based artists working on the objectification of time and memory.
Consciousness is endlessly grasping for objects as moment boxes. Yet there is an important etymological distinction between our contemporary understanding of memento (commonly misspelled momento)—a French souvenir, which can take the form of anything from a cheap snow globe to an interesting rock—and memento mori, which symbolized the medieval practice of reflecting on mortality and the transient nature of the universe. It is in the gap between these two definitions of the same term that the exhibition MOMENTO / MEMENTO operates, as Joe Hedges, Jacob Lynn, Corrina Mehiel, and Christy Wittmer work to acknowledge an objectified attachment to moments in time.Photo Jun 19, 7 55 51 PM (1)

Read the entire description here: http://reversespace.org/momento-memento/

0 Continue Reading →

Selfie or Self-Portrait? Van Gogh and the Art of Sharing

Under the pretense that I was an artist, and that the lives of artists should be documented through self-portraiture, I began taking photos of myself around 2000.  At that time the idea of turning a camera on one’s self was still commonly seen as odd, despite (or perhaps because of) the sudden proliferation of bad MySpace mirror profile pics.  While the practice of spontaneous digital self-portraiture received an enormous boost of in 2013 due to increased usage of camera phones and image-based social media services like Instagram, many still view the practice of taking a selfie as odd or worse–vain, absurd and a reflection of the millennial generation’s self-obsession and inability to enjoy the present moment.  But what happens when an artist makes an image of herself?  Where is the line between a selfie (#selfie) and self-portraiture?

The artist has long enjoyed a special status in culture, an expectation of self-centeredness or even self-obsession.  Thanks to Van Gogh and many others, the self-portrait is connected with ideas of authorship, genius and creative struggle.  Strictly speaking, the selfie is a photograph taken with a digital camera and posted to a social network.  However, self-portraiture is inherently social in nature; through painting or photographing their own faces and bodies, artists attempt to reveal to others some aspect of their very essence or being.  What could be more social than that?

VanGogh-self-portrait-with_bandaged_ear

Does Van Gogh’s Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear from 1889 prefigure the #selfie? #vangogh #urgentcare #sucks #whatwasithinking #omg #ear #holyshit #dutchmedicalcare #artist #suffering #torturedartist #modernism #postimpressionism #gauguin #hatehim #sad #lonely #yellowhouse #arles #injured #bandaged #forlorn

Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait with a bandage on his ear is perhaps the art world’s first #selfie in that it succinctly captures the image-maker in a peculiar moment.  While the source of Van Gogh’s injury is still unclear, one thing is certain–the event involved his man-crush of the moment and fellow post-impressionist Paul Gaugin.  Perhaps, Van Gogh cut off his own ear in a fit of depression upon hearing Gaugin’s decision to leave their yellow house studio in Arles, France.  Or, was it Gaugin that sliced it off during a fencing accident?  Either way, the image is nothing if not a provocative update about Van Gogh’s status.

For centuries the words visual artist essentially meant image maker.  An image-maker was a particular kind of person and making compelling images required life-long dedication and skill.  Now that photographic and digital media technologies have become less expensive and the speed of transmission is approaching instantaneous (i.e. Instagram), nearly anyone with the means and motivation to acquire and learn to use a cell phone can become a prolific–although not necessarily adept–visual creator.  This renders the majority of self-portraits in existence anything but artistic.  Could an unending stream of images tagged #bored, #drunk, and #cleave really be Joseph Beuys’ dream of the democratization of art?

A Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1500.

A Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1500. #selfie #artselfie #blinging #robes #mirrorselfie #jesusstyle #pimpcoat, #fur #selfportrait #self-portrait

Since the Renaissance, the self-portrait has been a form of advertising.  We feel no shame; as artists, self-promotion is a necessary part of life, for who can survive without patrons?  Thus, the self-portrait has survived and enjoyed lasting popularity in art as a two-punch tool: a way to communicate proficiency in one’s chosen medium while maintaining appearances.  But Millennials in the twitterverse are not searching for their Medicis.  We (and I use “we” loosely as I am caught between Millennial and Gen-X stereotypes) have been voraciously consuming–or reluctantly swallowing–images our entire lives.  Why should the right and responsibility to promote and preserve one’s image be reserved for artists and corporations?  Seen in this light, the selfie is subversive:  The audience becomes the artist, the consumer becomes the producer selling herself back to the world.

For all the selfie’s alluring sociopolitical ramifications and high entertainment value, the quick digital image simply neglects to do well the things that art does well.  The selfie does not conform to the elements and principles of design.  The selfie is of a positively low-quality.  The selfie is impulsive.  But isn’t that precisely its charm?  The selfie does not apologize for its vanity nor attempt to hide its self-consciousness.  The self-portrait, on the other hand, takes itself so seriously that the posturing of artists is often comical.  After decades of living in a culture of government and corporate lying and spying, is it any wonder that Millenials distrust the idea of authenticity itself?

Some random Instagram Selfies.

Some random Instagram Selfies.

The bad selfie (and most are bad) could be seen as a reflection of the distrust of propaganda (as evidenced by the hashtag “nofilter”): a willingness to put oneself on display without the handling, designing, research and development, testing, photoshoping, retouching, reshooting, retooling, editing and censoring, all the artifice of bureaucracy.  The artist too, unfortunately, has no choice but to self-censor, selecting and editing ad nauseam, having lived forever with an unforgiving, internal overlord, possessed by the specter of art history and bent on getting things just right.  Just maybe, the less a selfie resembles a self-portrait, the closer the image is to truth.   For to create art is to lie.  To represent is to misrepresent, and to create a self-portrait is to, well, #filter.

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin), September, 1888

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin), September, 1888

Van Gogh was indeed an interpreter (not a truth teller) but his willingness to interpret, to stretch, to bend and color made him a master and a great innovator of modern art.  His paintings are some of the most moving works of all time, in any media; in the strokes you feel his presence, his suffering, his joy, his life.  This connection with future viewers, forged by a willingness to overshare, secured his legacy.  Most people will never attempt to become great painters or photographers.  But our desire to share our sadness and madness and joy and everything between through images with any available technology is a reflection of our humanness.  Unfortunately, a quick look at the latest selfies in my feed reveals that society at large still has a great deal of catching up to do–the artist has been sharing for a long, long time.

_____________________________________________________________

For a continued exploration of this topic in a fun way, I created an Instagram account dedicated to self-portraits of artists.  Follow me on your cell phone or browse the images so far at instagram.com/artselfie.

Art Self artselfie selfie

0 Continue Reading →

Portals/Planets

A one-day iphone series of things I found on a street in an industrial part of Cincinnati.

0 Continue Reading →

Mintabox.com: A New Interactive Internet Art Project

Well after about six months of tinkering I am finally finished with this project.  This is one of those projects that just grew and grew and I have had to cut myself off, at least for now so that I can launch it.  Please visit:

Mintabox.com

Mintabox.com: An interactive generative web-project designed to investigate the meaning of information storage in the information age.

and add your own box.  mintabox.com is an interactive, generative web-project designed to investigate the meaning of information storage in the information age.  The site is inspired by my paintings and conversely, my paintings have begun to become inspired by the site.  The project is a meld of some of my creative interests including collecting, painting, photography, and web-design as well as a merging of conceptual interests including nostalgia and the effects of digital technologies on our aesthetic and sociological experience.

To use this site, visit the “main array” on the first page at mintabox.com. You may click on any existing box in the main array to “open” the box and see inside it. Inside each box you will see words and images that were submitted by other anonymous contributors. To add your own contribution to the array, select “add a box” from the top menu on any page and follow the instructions on each subsequent screen. Your newer box will cover older boxes. This process will continue indefinitely.

I am hopeful that people will actually take the time to play with the site and possibly even take the time to submit something clever.  I am considering submitting mintabox.com to some internet art databases.

I will be teaching internet art at the University of Cincinnati this fall.  This project is the first of several that I have begun to deeper my understanding and engagement with the medium.

0 Continue Reading →

Pieces of Paintings

I believe every inch of a painting should be considered.  Here are some small areas of the surfaces of my paintings that help make color, texture, and the physical properties of oil paint so exciting for me.

 

0 Continue Reading →

Walking a Path / My Studio

For the last few months I have been trying to find my way into a new series of paintings. It has taken me a few starts and stops but I believe I have found a good path. I hope to have some images of new paintings for this website soon. In the meantime, I have uploaded some photographs of my studio.

0 Continue Reading →