Friday, October 24, 2014

Passion Latest

Facebook reverses itself.  We can promote our page after all.


Our book is getting around the gay press, mostly as a novelty item.  Our fight with Facebook was featured on Gay Star News.  Reporter Tris Reid-Smith probably deserves the credit for getting Facebook to reverse itself by doing his job and finally getting through and talking to a human being at Facebook.  I suspect that everyone I talked to at Facebook was a robot or an algorithm.

Our book is also the subject of a feature on Queerty.  The article described the painting series as "steamy."  'Bout time Jesus generated a little steam heat.

Even before the Facebook fracas broke out we were featured in an article on Pink News in Europe.

And to top it all off, the haters are starting to notice.  Here is a video posted by someone calling themselves AdamAndEveNotSteve:

I enjoy the creepy robot voice with a British accent doing the narration.

Not bad for something I started in the summer of 2001 with lots of second thoughts, back when I was a badly under-employed and under-paid adjunct professor who owed lots of back rent on that studio space.


For reasons that are not clear to me, our book appears to be generating much more conversation in Europe than in the USA.  Here is an article in Czech with a generous selection of paintings from the series.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stay Tuned ...

The Passion saga continues to unfold.

Also, I still have lots of pictures left from my trip to bore y'all with.  There's a lot more of Paris to see, then Hamburg, Heidelberg, and Coblenz, then Amsterdam, and Oslo.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And the Controversy Continues ...

Here is the reply from Facebook I got this morning over why they pulled our ad:

Hi Doug,

Thanks for writing in. I'm here to help. Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking. Prohibited images include:
         -Car crashes
         -Dead or dismembered bodies
         -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires
To resubmit your ad, edit the image from your ads manager. 
Review our policies on ad images here:
          Facebook Ads Team Facebook

Here is the reply I sent:
 Dear Michelle,
Here is a link to the website for the book we are trying to promote and to all of the images in thebook:  The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ's Passion. Facebook publishesCrucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria which you lay out in you reply.   If promoting a book of art means that we are limited to strictly happy uncontroversial subject matter, then only Thomas Kinkade and the work of a select few children's book illustrators would pass muster. Picasso and Michelangelo would both be out of bounds by your own definition.   Facebook publishes the most bloodthirsty homophobic rants all the time, but lately seems to have        a lot of problems with anything with gay, and especially gay positive, content. Is this a problem for Mr. Zuckerberg?   I suspect that Facebook is trying to impose a kind of candied anodyne vision upon the chaotic variety and vitality of human communication that uses its social network. Where better to directly enforce that vision than in advertising policies?   The author, the publisher, myself, and a few friends are in conversation with Lambda Legal over this matter.
      --Doug Blanchard, the artist of the book.

Here is a follow up that I sent:

      Dear Michelle,
      A follow-up to my previous reply. I notice that the Facebook page for the Mel Gibson movie
      The Passion of Christ -- a much more violent version of this subject than anything in our book -- has more than 3 million likes.
      Can you explain this to us, and why our book was singled out?
      suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.


I got the reply from Michelle at 3:14 in the morning according to my email inbox.  I suspect that Michelle is a robot.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Well What Do You Know. My Work Is Controversial

Facebook just shut down the promotion of the Passion book page.

I'm guessing the religious crazies scared Facebook into canceling their promotion.  If you support this book, then pop over to the page on the link and let Facebook know what you think.

It might be time to contact Lambda Legal or talk to a First Amendment attorney.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Saint Luke

Today, my parish of Saint Luke in the Fields celebrated its patronal feast day.  Saint Luke's Day was officially yesterday October 18, but we celebrated today.

According to tradition and to centuries of old wives' tales, Saint Luke was a man of many talents.  The author of the Gospel that bears his name, and of the Book of Acts, was a physician and an artist.  Rogier Van Der Weyden shows him in all of those roles in the painting above from 1440.  Luke comes out of his study to see the Virgin and Child appear to him.  He makes a silverpoint drawing of them from life, just like a portrait painter of the 15th century.  He wears the robes of a scholar of the day, robes also worn by medical doctors in 15th century Flanders.

There are many paintings in Europe which claim Saint Luke as their author; Our Lady of Cambrai, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Czestochowa among others.  None of them are older than the 10th century.

It is fitting that Saint Luke is always credited with painting the Virgin and Child.  Art is an incarnational enterprise.  The artist makes real and concrete ideas, thoughts, imaginings, and observations, and puts them before our eyes.  Leonardo da Vinci, parodying Dante, once claimed that art is the grandchild of God, that the artist through imagination, knowledge, and skill of hand, can summon whole worlds into being just like God the Creator.  However, only God creates out of nothing.  The artist must have something to create out of; clay, bronze, stone, steel, paint, mosaic, computer bytes, or his/her own thoughts.

Art is a conjuring trick, using all kinds of smoke and mirrors to put angels and monsters before our eyes.  Until recently, criticism since the 18th century always found fault with art for its powers of deception.  But as Picasso pointed out, art may be a lie, but it is a lie that tells truth.  The argument since the beginning was always over how much lying is necessary to point to the truths of human experience.  Generations of people argued over whether or not art should imitate nature or create its own world, and over what each of those concepts really mean.  "Show me an angel and I will paint it," said Gustave Courbet.  To which Edvard Munch replied. "The camera cannot compete with the brush and canvas as long as it can't be used in heaven and hell."

Art and religion always walked through the centuries together in an uneasy partnership.  Muhammad did not trust art.  He said that the artist who paints or sculpts a human figure will be commanded by God on the Last Day to make it speak.  The artist will inevitably fail and fall to perdition.  Muhammad saw art as a mockery of God the Creator and a vainglorious presumption by arrogant humankind.  Many Christians from the Iconoclasts to the Puritans came to the same conclusion for largely the same reasons.  And yet, as the art historian Kenneth Clark pointed out decades ago, it was no vainglorious idolator who wrote "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of Grace and Truth."  Christianity never came to any agreement over the role of art in its worship, and yet Christians created some of the richest and most varied art of any religion ever.  Muhammad consigned the artist to hell, and yet Islam is full of magnificent art adorning its places of prayer.

Human beings have been making art for around 40,000 years, maybe even 60,000 years if some scientists are to be believed; long before people planted crops, or made anything that we would recognize as "society," long before cities were built or written history began.  Art may well be older than anything anyone now would recognize as religion.  Who knows?  Art might even be older than language.  Something so useless to the business of survival yet taking up so much of our time and energy from the very beginnings of us must be central to what we are as human beings.  We had the beauty of holiness long before we started worshipping the Lord.

As long as we've had art, so we will continue to have it until we are no longer human; until we become disembodied angels or we completely merge with our own technology into a kind of cyber-immortality.  All those sweeping pronouncements by academics and critics that painting is dead, or sculpture is dead, or whatever are ridiculous on their face and have stopped no one from painting or sculpting or photographing or experimenting with new means of expression and creation.  When Duchamp's prophecy comes true and someone really does use a Rembrandt for an ironing board, then painting and sculpture will no long have any meaning to us, we will stop looking at it, and we probably won't be human anymore.

Art is no more perfect or divine than we are.  Our attempts to visualize the mortal and immortal will never be perfect.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta said that if we want to see the true image of Christ, then we should look to our left and to our right at the people around us.  And yet, how poor we should all be if we stopped trying.

Painting David, from the David Wojnarowicz series, 2011

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision

A project in the making since the year 2000 is finally coming to fruition and I hope out of obscurity.

The book is now on sale at Amazon.

The paintings were recently featured by The Advocate on their webpage.

The book now has its own website, a splendid creation of author Kittredge Cherry, with a beautiful Youtube video by Andrew Craig Williams in Wales and Kitt's partner Audrey Lockwood.

I spent 5 years painting this series, and Kittredge Cherry spent almost that long writing her splendid text transforming these paintings into a spiritual meditation:

Endless rows of corpses fill a vast black space in Jesus Among the Dead.  Even in death, Jesus is not separate from humanity.  He lies with the skeletons, the dead bodies, and the stink -- a common man in a common grave.  Jesus can be identified by his crucifixion wounds.  His corpses only stands out because it has not begun to decompose.  He glows just slightly with a sick luminescence.  Jesus just lies there, not judging, not rescuing, not rising.  He is simply present with people in the darkest state of their being.  This must be hell, or some human holocaust.  Perhaps there is no difference.  


The book is starting to get some international press.  Here is a feature in the UK Pink News.
The comments are the usual horrified fundamentalists, Gay-Christian = Jewish-Nazi comments, and why-didn't-you-paint-Jesus-as-a-disabled-lesbian-of-color comments.
Ah well, I better get used to it.  I knew I would be stepping on a lot of toes when I started painting this 14 years ago.  I shouldn't be so surprised when people complain.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Joseph Beuys

picture from Wikipedia

Joseph Beuys means a lot to Andreas Hellgermann, our host in Münster.  There are pictures of Beuys and by Beuys throughout his small house in the village of Westbevern about 5 miles north of the city.  In his living room hangs this print that shows Beuys smiling as he is forcibly ejected from the Düsseldorf Academy after he was fired from his teaching post in 1972 for encouraging non-registered students to sit in his class.  Beuys inscribed on the photograph "Demokratie ist lustig," Democracy is funny (Andreas' translation; the usual translation is "Democracy is cheerful."  I think Andreas' translation is closer to what Beuys meant).

All the pictures are mine unless noted otherwise.  My pictures are freely available, especially to educators.

Picture from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

For Andreas, Beuys is a hero and something of a prophet.  Beuys loudly and publicly called out the post-War German Federal Republic and its economic miracle on its hypocrisy, evasiveness, and denial.  As far as Beuys was concerned, the Nazi regime was destroyed only to be replaced by the controlling paranoia of the Cold War and a soul-stealing consumerism that could be just as controlling.  To avoid becoming more grist for the ambitions of others, Germans must face their past and all the nationalist mythology appropriated and poisoned by the Nazi regime that West Germany was trying so hard to forget and bury.  Even more, Beuys said, human beings must find a way out of competing systems of coercion to some place that is truly free and life-sustaining.  Beuys in his heart of hearts was an anarchist, like a lot of 20th century artists from the Dresden Expressionists at the beginning of the century to the East Village artists at its end.  And who can blame Beuys and all those legions of artists from the preceding century for feeling that way?  Modern life is full of constraints with all of us feeling helpless at some point, at the mercy of larger impersonal forces directing our lives without our consent, and always watching, monitoring, and evaluating us whether it's the corporate personnel office where we work, marketing agencies monitoring our preferences, or some government agency monitoring our email in the name of national security.  Language from advertising to management-speak to government propaganda is all about manipulation in this kind of world.  The artist, who enjoys the rare privilege in modern society of a real connection between his/her inner life and outer work, must choose between actively resisting this manipulation or passively accepting it.  Beuys chose to resist, and he did so loudly and publicly through provocation and spectacle.

Andreas and his friend Thomas Polednichek arranged for us to visit the Beuys Archive at the Moyland Castle Museum near the Dutch border.  Beuys was born in Krefeld near Düsseldorf, but he grew up in the region of Kleve where this castle is located.  Andreas and Thomas are both scholars of Catholic theology, and neither is ordained.  Both see Beuys as a kind of liberator and solidly in the tradition of German mysticism from Meister Eckhardt to Novalis.

Here is our little group walking through the forested grounds on our way to the castle.

On the walk to the castle:  Thomas Polednichek (that may not be the correct spelling), Bill Paulsen pushed by Jan Hellgermann, David is behind him followed by his girlfriend Nicola, then Andreas and Andrea on the right.

Here is splendid Moyland Castle, a spectacular castle manor complete with a moat.  It is all a post-War rebuild.  Heavy fighting in this area left it a ruin which was not fully rebuilt until 20 years ago.  The castle was first built in the 14th century and modified extensively down through the centuries.  Just about all the battlements, crenelations, and spires that we see today are from the 19th century.

Picture from Liveauctioneers

Voltaire and Frederick the Great first met at Moyland Castle.  They both proposed turning the castle into a philosophical academy.  I don't know what became of that plan.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery used the castle for a field headquarters during the Second World War and received Winston Churchill as a frequent visitor there.

In the former chapel of the castle listening to Thomas explain a particular work by Beuys.

The object under discussion is one of Beuys' last works made shortly before his death in 1986, "Capri Battery".  He made this while recuperating from a lung infection on the island of Capri.  It is lighthearted and quite lustig, especially compared to so much of his other work.

It is a yellow lightbulb in a socket plugged into a lemon.  The lemon is changed regularly.  It is about themes that preoccupied Beuys throughout his life; the mechanical and the organic, light and energy, art, science, and nature, and healing.  The piece is a little humor, light, and energy for Beuys' own failing health.  As Thomas pointed out, a yellow lightbulb makes light, but it is fairly useless for doing most tasks.  It does make a very warm and inviting light.

It is also a lightbulb plugged into a lemon.
It is a little like a Surrealist object where ordinary objects are modified or combined to make them extraordinary.  But the Surrealists made these objects for effect, as in creating something that was disturbing or suggestive.  Beuys made objects to teach.  He throws some odd thing our direction and challenges us to understand it and learn something from it.

Beuys inevitably gets compared to other found object artists from Duchamp to Rauschenberg.  But, his use of objects is very different.  He is not interested in the anti-art gesture of Duchamp, nor is he interested in Rauschenberg's Pop art cool.  Beuys' provocative combinations of otherwise unremarkable objects are supposed to be instructive, to get us to think about another way of living.  So many of Beuys' objects are not clean and new like Duchamp's readymades.  Nor are they oddball throw-aways like Rauschenberg's stuffed eagle or goat.  Beuy's objects are very ordinary things like chairs, flashlights, electrical sockets, hot plates, toys, blankets, etc. that are all old, worn, and damaged, like debris from a war or from some catastrophe, or perhaps from some future archaeological dig.  Beuys is closest in spirit to the early 20th century artist Kurt Schwitters who also used old worn discarded debris in his work for its evocative qualities.

I had no idea until this trip that Beuys began his career as a serious, if not quite orthodox, Roman Catholic.  His earliest work, on view at Moyland Castle, is religious.  Most of the usual modern art  textbooks say nothing about that.

This is Beuys' earliest surviving work (Gerrit from the Netherlands identifies this as Sonnenkreuz or Sun Cross from 1949 and I think he is right) when he was still a student at the Düsseldorf Academy.  It is the crucified Christ before the radiant sun.  From the beginning, Beuys associates light and warmth with healing and redemption.  Cold and dark he associated with "the letter killeth,"with the rationalizations necessary for dominating people, with death and entropy.  Thus his use in his later work of materials like fat and felt, things associated with warmth.  That also explains his lifelong preoccupation with forms of energy, especially the energy necessary to generate light in the form of batteries and electrical systems.

It turns out that Beuys' earliest surviving artworks from the late 1940s and early 50s are religious works, variations on a combination of the Crucifix with the the radiant sun, that set up themes that would run throughout his work over the whole course of his life.

According to Thomas, while Beuys left the Roman Catholicism of his upbringing, he never really turned upon it.  He thought that institutional and doctrinal religion was no longer adequate to the challenges of modern life.  Like a lot of people who are still Christian, and even Catholic, Beuys felt that the healing work of Christ was no longer well served by the historic institutional Church.

I neglected to record the titles of these works while I was there, and I've not been able to find them online.  For that I apologize.

Here's another Beuys found object piece.

A small toy lighthouse sits on top of an old dusty scratched record, a 78 of music from Bizet's Carmen, Entr' Acte number 1.

The record turns into a kind of sea of music with the addition of the lighthouse.  And what is the point of a lighthouse?  To warn us and to guide us as we come into port from the open sea.

Here we are discussing this very object and its meaning.  Bill Paulsen objected that there is just not enough "there" there to support all these sublime interpretations.

Beuys' work is hard to access for a lot of people.  Partly for that reason, Beuys was always controversial and there was a taint of fraud that followed him (as it did most modern artists beginning with the Impressionists).  It doesn't help that so much of the writing about Beuys is in impenetrable art-speak.  Here is one example from what is supposed to be a textbook for students (which our faculty rejected):
When artists of the neo-avant-garde engaged in scandal and shock, on the other hand, the most evident effect of their actions would be -- in accordance with the rituals of the cultural industry -- the spectacularization [is that a word?] of the artist as "star" and the social role ensuing from Beuys (and Klein and Warhol for that matter), in manifest contradistinction to his predecessors, and even to his contemporaries, programmatically incorporated for the first time these principles of spectacle culture and strategies of cultic visibility into his persona as much as into his work.
Although precursors such as Jackson Pollock may have transposed painting into the register of spectacle they did not fully submit to its principles.  But once cultural practice had been severed from all utopian and political aspirations, perhaps from its ambitions for a semiotic revolution, the neo-avant-garde inevitably consummated the shift into an exclusive register of spectacular visibility. -- from art since 1900, volume 2, page 526, by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin HD Buchloh, and David Joselit
In other words, Beuys became a celebrity and used that status to provoke people.
Not all the writing on Beuys is this bad.  Here is an example of some really fine writing by Joan Rothfuss of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

To be fair to Bill Paulsen, that's a problem with Beuys' work as far as I am concerned.  There is not much of an aesthetic payoff in looking at it.  The found objects of Schwitters and Rauschenberg probably work for me because they are embedded in paintings and given an aesthetic context; also I admit that I am prejudiced in favor of painting.
Beuys depends on the museum or gallery to provide the context for these combinations of discarded objects to be considered as art.

And sometimes they do have a kind of power as partially destroyed remnants of a catastrophe; partially burned paper, shorted out electrical circuits, twisted metal, unraveled and torn fabric, melted fat.  There is a lot of implied violence in these works.

One of Beuys' most famous works, The Sled, 1969,  with a felt blanket, fat, and a flashlight, everything we need to find our way and to survive in a cold rationalizing world.

Everyone is an artist, said Beuys.  To me that usually means that if everything is art, then art is a meaningless distinction.  According to Thomas Polednichek, that's not what he meant.  All of us shape the social matrix in which we live and move.  We cannot help but do so.  We all do our part to "sculpt" the social sphere.  And if we do so, then why not deliberately remake our part of it to suit ourselves and make it better, just like an artist?  Perhaps that's what Beuys meant.  Many people look at work by Beuys and say that they could do something like that, to which Beuys would probably reply that yes, you could, why don't you?

The account Beuys once gave about his early life -- that he was a fighter pilot shot down over Crimea and rescued by Tatar nomads  -- turned out to be a partial fabrication.  But the real account is remarkable in itself.  Beuys was a member of the Hitler Youth who attended the 1936 Nuremberg Rally.  In fairness to Beuys (and to the former Pope Benedict) membership in Nazi youth organizations was compulsory, and so was attendance at the Nuremberg rally in 1936.  When he came of age in 1941, he volunteered for the Luftwaffe and was a radio operator and gunner in a dive bomber squadron.  He was indeed shot down over Crimea, but was rescued not by Tatars, but by a German search team.  He spent a brief time in British captivity and was released in the summer of 1945.

Beuys had an overarching view of modern human life as evolving out of that cold rationalizing systemic way of life that was all about dominance and control, and toward a more spiritual state in which our thinking and emotional parts would live in harmony.  He had a mystical concept of the world filled with spiritual and sympathetic energies that drive all life.  He regarded his own role as an artist to be like that of a shaman, as someone who summons and makes contact with all of those energies within and around us.

Beuys was a romantic in an anti-romantic age who actively engaged in the life of his time with the intention of changing the world and improving it.  Instead of the cool detachment of Pop and other modern movements of the time, Beuys work is about passionate engagement.  It should come as no surprise to learn that he considered becoming a Green Party candidate for the German parliament.  He lived his own call to liberation.  His quarrel with the Düsseldorf Academy in 1972 was ultimately over freedom of access.  He could have charged a fortune and demanded all kinds of impossible requirements to study with him, and many would have eagerly paid and worked hard to get into his classes.  But, Beuys did quite the contrary.  He insisted that anyone who wanted to study with him could do so. Beuys admitted 142 students to his class that the Academy rejected.  When he insisted, the Academy fired him from his post and forcibly ejected him.  It's hard to imagine any celebrity teacher no matter what the subject doing any such thing these days.  Beuys wanted to give it all away for free.

Picture from the Mildred Kemper Art Museum
Anselm Kieffer, Burning Rods, 1984 - 1985, Saint Louis Art Museum.

I mostly know Beuys as the mentor to someone I have no doubt is a very great artist, Anselm Kieffer.  Kieffer takes so many of Beuys' preoccupations with myth and German history and makes them into grand operatic paintings like this one that I knew well when I lived in Saint Louis.

Joseph Beuys was no doubt a very great man.  I wonder how he would fare now.  He died in 1986, four years before German reunification.  Today's Bundesrepublik is a very different country from the old Cold War West Germany and is dealing with very different issues such as an ever more cosmopolitan population.  Germany today really does look like its winning soccer team, more than it looks like the crowds from old black and white photos from its turbulent past.


The castle was pretty wonderful.  I joined the kids and climbed up to the observation area on the tower and felt every single one of my 56 years in my tired out legs.

The castle tower with the observation level just at the start of the roof line

What you see from the tower of Moyland Castle looking east.

The Westphalian countryside from the castle tower