Click on any image to make it larger

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Parisian mysteries

Timothy, Cathy and I arrived in Paris on Sunday morning excited and stuporous. We would leave exhausted and stuporous, but that comes later. I flew to the City of Light to continue work on “the Saranay Motel” with my man Elliott “Catfish” Earls, who wouldn’t arrive for another few hours. After depositing our luggage and showering we took a walk to the Centre Pompidou. I had not visited Paris in almost eight years and it felt good to know that I still had a sense of its layout. Cathy then took us to visit a designer friend named Matali who lives in Belleville (like the triplets). We ate a delicious lunch with Matali, her husband Francis, and her twin sister Dominique. Still in a stupor I then went alone to the Museum of Gustave Moreau, one of my favorite painters. Afterward I walked back to the hotel, which unearthed my inability to comprehend the scale of my map. I thought it would be a ten minute walk or so and it ended up being closer to thirty.

In the evening we all went to dinner at a nice little hidden spot in Marais, and this is where things get intricate so pay attention. At dinner were Gary Wasserman, W.B. Finney, Elliott, Cathy, Timothy, and I. Gary is a steel magnate and the co-producer of “the Saranay Motel.” He and Elliott met a few years ago at a Cranbrook event and have been involved with one another ever since. W.B. is the current patriarch of the illustrious Finney family of Thursday City. He is a major art collector and founded the Wanda B. Finney Academy of Art and WBF Art Museum. Cathy is the director of the WBF, as it is known. Timothy is the WBF’s Art Director. He is also a former student of Elliott’s. Gary began contributing to the WBF because he has offices in Thursday City and was impressed by the collection.

Why were we all in Paris?

Gary and Elliott proposed for Elliott to do a performance piece at the WBF in conjunction with the soon to be completed “the Saranay Motel.” The WBF agreed. Well, in the course of the negotiations the WBF was also in the process of acquiring Napoleon’s throne from the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts), and when Elliott got wind of this a light bulb went off. What if we filmed a scene on Napoleon’s throne? Of course. In order to make this happen, though he no longer has any executive power at the WBF, W.B.’s connections were needed. Through him Cathy and Gary negotiated some time in the museum’s major summer exhibition with Napoleon’s throne. And that is why we were in Paris.

Dinner was delicious and the conversation delightful. I fell in love with W.B., who had just arrived from Budapest, as he was charming, erudite, generous, and truly eccentric. Gary was gracious and wry as always. Cathy was ebullient, despite her jet lag. Timothy was observant. Elliott and I were provocative, as we are wont to be. We were off to an auspicious beginning.

Monday was Bastille Day. Gary had organized a party at his office on the Champs Élysées. The parade was to start at half past nine, so Cathy woke everyone up around seven in the AM to get there and avoid the crowd. Of course I didn’t get up. I drug myself out of bed around nine and shaggily stumbled down to the hotel cafe for breakfast. To my surprise Elliott, W.B., and Timothy were still there ruminating.

I scarfed down some hard boiled eggs, fruit, two croissant, and juice while W.B. talked of the oft illustrious, oft illicit, but always fascinating history of the Finney family. Once on the street the crowds were indeed dense, and the police lines disallowed a direct route to Gary’s office. But this proved fortuitous as it gave W.B. the opportunity to be tour guide—this is the hotel the Nazis used as their Parisian headquarters during the occupation, this is the hotel the Empress used to frequent, this is the best chocolatier, this is the oldest cake maker, this place makes the best luggage, etc. Once we finally arrived the crowds were lining the Champs Élysées awaiting the festivities to begin. Gary’s office, in the same building as the Disney Store, was on the third floor overlooking the avenue. We had a splendid view from the balcony. We got to see Sarkozy riding slowly down the avenue in a military vehicle waving to the crowd, but unfortunately Carla was not on his arm. Something that shocked us Americans was that he was in an open vehicle with no fiberglass shields or head protection. Of course from our vantage we could see the security positioned on the roof tops and even on top of the Arc de Triomphe, but it was still surprising that he had no immediate protection. The next bit of excitement, half an hour later, was the jets in formation. There were at least ten waves of them. But overall the parade consisted of a lot of waiting, incredibly boring marching, and sickening diesel fumes from the tanks. Quite a lot of yawn inducing militarism, especially considering France hasn’t had a really impressive military since around the time the Bastille was stormed in the first place. They should definitely stick with the arts where they much more impressively excel.

Tuesday was film time. Elliott, Timothy, and I got to the museum early to scout out the location and determine what we would need. We had been worried that the throne would not be impressive enough and that the light would be horrible, requiring us to orchestrate acquisition and installation of a light package in a city we have no working knowledge of—potentially disastrous. Our entourage had expanded to nearly fifteen people since Bastille Day, but the three of us were the only ones with any notion of the wearying amount of preparation and labor it takes to get even a minor scene to work, the rest were just along to watch the silly monkeys at play. Fortunately the throne was beautiful, the unexpected rug even more so, and the light was adequate. So we scheduled shooting to start at half past five in the PM and went off to find a lavalier mic to nullify the echo chamber that was the museum. The one snag so far.

Of course this is where the story turns into a slapstick comedy. Elliott and I are furiously efficient when we are actually creating together. At peak performance his feverish creativity harmonizes with my lucid creativity and we blaze. But there are times, and this was one of them, when we notoriously can’t manage to distinguish our heads from our asses. I always want to blame Elliott for these times, but in truth that is like blaming alcohol for bad behavior—alcohol can’t make you do something you can’t do. So queue up the rapid silent film piano music and watch in delight as Elliott and I stumble around in circles all over Paris looking for a microphone. One of us wants to go this way, one the other. One Parisian points us down that street, the next back down this. A security guard points us to the right, a street vendor to the left. A Starbucks every four blocks gives us wireless to touch the iPod for directions, but the iPod runs out of juice after two dead ends. The store we were looking for doesn’t have any, and the next store is too expensive. After stopping to pick up Timothy we finally end up near the Moulin Rouge on a street full of music stores that are all closed for lunch. Of course. So we decide for lunch as well. Once at the store, which has exactly what we need, we decide it is too expensive still and we will use the built-in mic on the camera, which is just as suitable and was there from the start. So, back to where we began.

We arrived at the museum ready to do what we came for. After the requisite introductions and laying down of the rules we finally got to work. There was a lot of chatter from the peanut gallery, but we managed to get everyone out of the shots without too much trouble. We convinced W.B. the day before to take part in the film as he is such a character. So, Elliott and W.B. were in costume and acting while I ran the camera. Timothy was behind me documenting the process. And Dan from Detroit was behind him documenting the documentation. The rest of the “crew” chatted and networked while stealing peeks when possible.

We were finally doing what we came for and everything was running smoothly. W.B. and Elliott were hamming it up. And I was capturing everything as stop motion first—video would come next. W.B. was commenting on Elliott’s fake teeth when suddenly the camera just stopped working. I pressed the button, but nothing happened.

“Elliott, there’s something wrong with the camera.”

“What? No there isn’t—let me see it.”

There was something wrong with the camera.

We began trying to correct the problem, and W.B. went to use the rest room in the meantime. We were engrossed in the technicalities when suddenly W.B. roared “How dare he!!!!???” and stormed out of the room with Cathy and Gary hot on his heels. What was that all about? We had no idea and continued trying to rectify the camera situation. A few minutes later Gary came back in and asked us what we did to W.B… Huh!? What we did to W.B.? We did nothing to W.B. But apparently he was incensed at our insensitivity and vulgarity. Without warning hearts were in throats and stomachs were in knots. What did we do? I ran outside to find W.B. and discuss the problem. By the time I got to him and Cathy they were at the hotel. W.B. had credit card in hand and was clearly checking out. He was also screaming at Cathy. I stepped forward to say something, but there was no chance. W.B. was absolutely livid! He was raving about how he owed us nothing and he didn’t want anyone near him. Cathy was calmly trying to reason with him and pleading for him to calm down, but he was having none of it. He pressed the button for the elevator. As the door opened he shouted once again “Don’t come near me!!!! I don’t want to speak to anyone!!!! I owe them nothing!!!!!!! NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the elevator closed. I was in shock.

I walked back to the museum dejected, baffled, and utterly astounded. What had happened? Everything had been going so well, and suddenly we had been struck by a lightning bolt from a cloudless sky. When I got back to the museum Elliott and the gang were trying to figure out what had just occurred. Then we all went back to the hotel (sans W.B.) and spent an hour trying to figure out what happened. Then Gary took us to his favorite restaurant, Jean George’s Market, and we spent a few hundred dollars trying to figure out what happened. But we never figured out what happened. The only person that knew what happened was gone. The only machine that knew what happened broke down from the burden of the knowledge.

The rest of the week was actually quite productive. We filmed a lot of material. We ate a lot of good food. We had a lot of good arguments. And we gained new insights into character and existence. But we still don’t grasp the cause.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Transmissions from outer space

I returned from Paris on Friday completely exhausted from a dramatic week. I was absolutely useless for the first two days and am now trying to catch up with work, communications, wedding planning, pet sitting, reading, creation, etc. I am working on a long (by blog standards) illustrated story of the Paris trip, which will hopefully be posted this weekend, but for now an image from the sketchbook.

This is Kavorkian.

Comics requires one to be very rigorous. Drawing the same characters over and over necessitates an effort of sustained concentration and strictness in thinking that can become suffocating at times. I am continuously developing methods for more efflorescent forms of creativity, which will still fit with the graphic language I am developing in my comics. I am also consistently striving to harmonize left and right brained modes (amongst other more arcane modes) in all the work, but this kind of piece is unquestionably more right brained. I begin with a more or less hazy image or feeling and just start drawing, improvising as I go, but with very deliberate strokes causing the final image to appear planned.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thoughts on Democracy

The Wolfsonian Museum, in Miami, approached me to design a poster for their show “Thoughts on Democracy.” They asked the designers involved to take 4 classic Norman Rockwell posters and reinterpret them for today. The show opened last week and will be up until late Fall.

The New York Times had a big review of the show, in which Elliott’s poster was featured prominently—mine unfortunately received no mention, but I am a “no name” so…

Read the online Times article here: New York Times.

And check the Wolfsonian propaganda here: Thoughts on Democracy

The show is getting reviewed pretty well and it is exciting to be a part of it. I will update more fully soon, but I am flying to Paris in 3 hours so I gotta go!

Here is my poster: