Saturday, July 9, 2016

On the move.

In the last few weeks I've had multiple, unexpected reminders that there are actually people who read the words I post to the internet. This fact always surprises me. So to those friendly folks who are listening, here's an update.

For quite some time, I've wanted to create a more graphically-appealing presence on the web.  I've finally moved in that direction.  Which means, you'll now find an all new Art Lobster at an all new web address:  I hope you'll subscribe and continue to follow.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

American Psycho: A minimalist's guide to love and murder.

American Psycho is the latest entry in the sub-genre of serial-killer musicals.  I really wasn't planning on seeing this show but an interesting article in the Times inspired a ticket purchase. Based on the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the idea of this show is ridiculous from the get go. So it's strange that it made for such an engaging experience.

The producers embraced the strangeness at every turn, starting with the set (designed by Es Devlin); a beautiful, minimalist white living space that created tension just with the knowledge that later, someone will have to get the blood out. And there is definitely blood, including a nifty trick with a clear scrim, but I won't ruin that surprise. The set does delightful tricks throughout the show. Like in the second act when it transforms into a pool in the Hamptons that is so lux, so sleek, so sexy that those of us who aren't in the one percent can only look on longingly.

Of course, the set isn't the only star.  From the moment Benjamin Walker emerges as Patrick Bateman from a tanning bed and wearing only a pair of tighty whities, he is captivating and creepy. For the rest of the show, no matter how much you want to look away, you can't.  And Benjamin wasn't even my favorite performer in the show.  That distinction goes to Helene Yorke as the impossibly "superior" Evelyn Williams. A highlight is her performance of "You Are What You Wear," a snobbish rant dripping with luxury.

You can't talk about the cast without acknowledging that these actors are quadruple threats.  They're all perfectly talented at the singing, the dancing, and the acting.  But they're all also surprisingly comfortable doing all that in little more than underwear and a pair of hand weights.  Oh sure, Broadway actors tend to have sleek, handsome bodies.  But these are bodies that require hours at the gym.  These are physiques that actors perfect over months in order to star in some summer superhero blockbuster.  The extra physical refinements (along with some clever sex scenes) add to the sexuality of this show which only serves to heighten the tension.

So what about the music?  This isn't your traditional musical.  For starters, the voices and instruments are so processed, it sometimes feels more like a concert from an 80s synth band than from a theater on 45th Street.  But for the most part, Duncan Sheik's songs are likable and fueled by emotions, many of those emotions inspiring un-comfortableness.  That's largely what makes the music work. Still, there are moments when the songs turn toward the mundane and detracts from the spectacle.

I saw five shows this trip to New York.  American Psycho was a last, reluctant ticket. Turns out, it was my favorite thing I saw.  Sure it's not for everyone; I won't be suggesting my mom and her friends enjoy the Saturday matinee. But if you for a musical, theatrical shock, this does the trick.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Marshmallow memories.

It started the first year I left home for college.  For every major holiday (and maybe a few that aren't so major) my mom would send a package. The boxes arrived filled with candies, decorations, surprises, and of course a card reminding me how much she loves me.

It continues to this day.  My mom is in her 80th year and still, like clockwork, packages arrive filled with holiday surprises and that ever-present card. There's one other consistent item included in these gifts: Russell Stover chocolates.  My mom loves Russell Stover chocolates.  So in nearly every package there are a few individually wrapped treats.  They take a variety of shapes depending on the holiday in question.  There are Santas and Snowmen. Pumpkins and bunnies. And of course hearts. Some are filled with caramel. Some with peanut butter. And some with marshmallow.

When you have a mom as charming and thoughtful as mine, after a while it's easy to take these packages for granted.  So it was a delightful surprise when Felix moved in with me and encountered his first holiday package from my mom.  He was delighted. He loved this tradition. Even though they came addressed to me, he quickly assumed shared ownership. This reminded me how excited I used to get all those years ago in college when there was nothing better than a note in your mailbox notifying you of a waiting package.

There were times when Felix would arrive home before me and find a box waiting on the porch.  I'd enter the house to find him excitedly waiting so we could open it. As it turns out, Felix loves Russell Stover chocolates too, particularly those of the marshmallow persuasion. Over time, there developed an unspoken agreement between us that any Russell Stover chocolate-covered marshmallow treats were his.  For some reason, this silliness made us both happy.

So here it is, the month of February. And just like clockwork, I arrive home late from a long day at work to find a package sitting on the front porch. It's addressed to me in my mother's loopy handwriting. I know what's inside: Valentine's Day treats, decorations, and a card that reminds me how much my mom loves me.

There is also a single Russell Stover chocolate covered marshmallow heart. And I have no idea what to do with it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The joy (and grief) of cooking. For one.

Robert Graham Paris
My great uncle was an elegant and intriguing man.  Robert Graham Paris left his and my home town (Worland, Wyoming) at the age of sixteen.  And depending on whether you believe the bio from a book jacket or one from a PR agent, he either traveled to San Francisco or New York City where he studied acting with the likes of Boleslavsky, Ouspenskaya, and Belasco. (I have no idea who these people are but I assume they mean something in the world of acting.) Soon, his talents landed him Hollywood jobs in the mid-30s as head drama coach at Columbia Studios and later at Samuel Goldwyn.

If you believe reports from the time his clients included Lucille Ball, Bill Bixby, Lloyd Bridges, Carol Channing, Bette Davis, Glenn Ford, the Gabor sisters, Rita Hayworth, Shirley Temple, and Shelly Winters. He is also the author of a notable acting book called How To Act.

So what warrants a discussion of my great uncle when I barely remember him from a few short visits he paid to Worland in the 60s and 70s? The answer is complicated.

Robert Graham Paris and I share some similarities.  I was in my early 30s before I understood why my uncle was a bachelor and why my family was uncomfortable talking about him.  That was when someone finally got up the nerve to uncomfortably whisper, "he may have been a homosexual." There have been similar uncomfortable whisperings about me.

We also share a middle name: Graham.  My father has the same middle name. So it's a link to someone I didn't really know, but would have liked to.

Oh. And we both spent time with Carol Channing.

Recently, I went through the torture of renovating my kitchen. During that time I also dealt with the unnerving death of my best friend, confidant, and companion of 18 years, Felix Flores.  Those two events created a situation I can't seem to resolve.  For over a month I've had a gleaming new gas range complete with a stunning, modern hood. And I haven't been able to bring myself to cook a thing on or in it.

I always cooked dinner for Felix and me. And now I can't face a new stove, not even to boil water.

That brings me back to Robert Graham Paris. I've been looking for something to give meaning to the first use of my new stove.  Something that would make me realize that cooking just for me could still be comforting. Something that would recognize the grief and sadness I feel, but that would honor Felix's weird and quirky nature.

It just so happens that my great uncle Robert Graham Paris was also the author of a cook book; the tragically-titled Gourmet Cooking for One.

Gourmet Cooking for One by Robert Graham Paris published in 1968.

A few years ago someone published Microwave Cooking for One (which could be a description of my current culinary life). And I wondered if it was an even more tragic title.  But now I imagine a mature gentleman with silvering hair.  Possibly in his 50s. Wearing a cravat and smoking jacket. Sitting down in a lone chair at the end of a long table with a single setting of fine china. The candles flicker as wax drips onto a damask table cloth.  He slowly lifts a fork and savors his first bite of asparagus soufflé.

With that image glowing in my mind, Gourmet Cooking for One becomes cinematically tragic. A tale only a Hollywood acting coach could inspire. And only a friend like Felix would find as fitting and absurd as I do.

That's why, the first thing I will cook on and in my new range will be asparagus soufflé from Gourmet Cooking for One by Robert Graham Paris. Then, I will sit down at a beautifully appointed table with floral centerpieces and flickering candles. I will grieve, and feel guilty, and probably cry. I will raise a glass to Felix and to all the wonderful meals we shared together. And I will wish that he were here to capture the entire affair in a cinematic photograph.

Then, I should probably plan a dinner party with friends to make sure I haven't completely lost it.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Obliteration Christmas: A tale of friendship, tradition, and the art of the Christmas Stocking

Sometimes, the most endearing holiday ideas are those that are also the most frivolous and ridiculous. For example, every year that I've known Felix Flores I've made him a Christmas stocking. The early year weren't great.  In fact, they were horrible. Maybe even embarrassing. But overtime, the silliness of the exercise took on the status of Holiday Tradition. Felix and I amused ourselves with the surprise, handmade stockings filled with unexpected, funny, and sentimental gifts that usually didn't mean anything to anyone but us. He often told me it was his favorite part of Christmas. (Previous stocking posts are here, here, here, and here.)

With each passing year my production skills improved and I became more adept at manipulating felt, glitter, beads, and rhinestones. The stockings also took on more meaning as insider info made reference to experiences we shared during the year. Like this year when Felix and I visited New York's Gagosian gallery to participate in Yayoi Kusama's Obliteration Room.

Here's how Yayoi Kusama obliterates a room.  She builds a traditional, completely white living space inside a museum or gallery.  Then she invites a bunch of people to "obliterate' the room by placing brightly colored dots of varying sizes all over the colorless surfaces.

The result is this:

I like the tension of Obliteration Room.  The idea of obliteration, destruction, even loss of all that minimalist white space juxtaposed against the pure joy of the whole affair. So even before Felix entered the hospital earlier this year, I started a stocking. I decided to finish it after his death. Here is Obliteration Christmas, the official stocking of 2015

I wanted the stocking to maintain the interactive nature of Kusama's original idea.  So on the front are hand-sewn metal snaps.  The accompanying satchels contain felt dots that the viewer can apply in any configuration he or she desires.

I recognize the frivolity of 18 years of stocking construction. That's a ridiculous endeavor. I also recognize that with the death of Felix this will be the last year I'll get to enjoy this particular frivolity. I suppose that's a sad sentiment. But that's not the intention. Instead it's a reminder, mostly to myself that all those unnecessary, strange, curious things we do during the holidays are the things that help create the most important relationships of our lives. Relationships like the one I had with Felix.

So merry Christmas everyone. And merry Christmas to all those weird, wondrous, and magical traditions.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A poorly-informed trip to The Cloisters.

The exterior of The Cloisters.
(NOTE: this is a review I forgot to post from a 2014 visit to New York City.)

Museum-going is one of my favorite vacation activities as is evidenced by Art Lobster's many posts about museum visits.  So most people were shocked when I admitted that during all my visits to New York City, I had never been to The Cloisters, the satellite site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My friends seemed to lord this fact over me, as if finally they had been to a museum I hadn't. People cooed about how relaxing and beautiful the setting is. And they pontificated about how interesting the collection is.

So on my last visit to New York, I made the trek that is about as far north you can go in Manhattan, hiked the somewhat confusing roads and park paths, and entered the imposing entrance to the Cloisters. I showed my Met membership card, entered the museum, and was immediately embarrassed by how ill prepared I was for this museum experience.

In my defense, there are legitimate reasons why I had never attended the museum and why I was ill informed. Medieval European art isn't something that I actively seek out.  I tend to gravitate to living artists or artists of the last 100 or so years. The Cloisters doesn't really do special exhibitions.  That's usually how I choose the museums I want to visit.  I look for an interesting temporary exhibit, make that a destination, and then find other things in that museum that look interesting.

So having done little research, I walked into the first gallery and was surprisingly confused.  What was I looking at?  Was this an old religious convent that the Met had converted into a museum? And how was I to judge the objects on display.  The confusion was enough that I immediately returned to the information counter to do the only thing that made sense.  Get some basic info and pay for an audio guide.

The Unicorn in Captivity (ca. 1495 - 1505)

Turns out, The Cloisters was built specifically to house the Medieval European collection of the Met.  That's how they were able to incorporate many of the architectural elements right into the building. The Met's collection includes an impressive array of massive stone doorways, stained glass windows, and Cloisters, all of which have been thoughtfully built into the building.  Set among this are plenty of interesting art and objects.

The walls of one large room are covered with unicorn tapestries.  They are massive.  And while modern unicorns are usually rainbow-jumping cartoon characters, these animals were fierce creatures. Most of the tapestries involved hunting, trapping, or killing unicorns which was apparently a popular medieval activity.  The tapestries were spectacular.  And I can only imagine that they would have been all the more spectacular at a time when movies, videos, cartoons, immersive games, etc, did not exist. Not to mention the craftsmanship of the weaving.  I'm still not exactly sure how this was possible.  The work shown here is The Unicorn in Captivity (ca. 1495 - 1505, wool, silk, and silver and gilded silver-wrapped thread).

Medieval folk seem to thrill at the terrors of hell.  Gruesome images were to be found everywhere at The Cloisters. There was an entire collection of these small, stained-glass window medallions that featured truly awful scenes of hell.

Souls Tormented in Hell (ca. 1500 - 1510)

Much of what makes The Cloisters impressive are the soaring architectural spaces which feel authentic to the Medieval sensibility the museum is  trying to recreate.

Medieval craftspeople were nothing if not focused on difficult-to-execute details.  Hand carved flourishes and figures can be found everywhere.  And I'm sure the tools used to create them didn't make the task easy.  Many of those featuring people suggest that Medieval life wasn't all that fun.

Of course there are the actual Cloisters which have been painstakingly reassembled from locations in Europe and elsewhere. A cloister is a covered walkway usually found in convents or monasteries. Most feature a wall on one side and a colonnade on the other that opens to a court yard. And yes, now I too can now coo about how relaxing and beautiful the setting of these spaces can be. Here's Felix taking a casual stroll through one such space.

I'll admit I'm a little ambivalent about the intent of The Cloisters.  There were moments when it felt theme park-ish, as if the Disney imagineers had been called up and asked to create a Medieval European village.  At the same time, its quiet beauty and engaging content make for a lovely museum experience.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Book eighteen: Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore.

As last year 's year of reading books about art and artists continued, it got harder and harder to find books that looked like they were worth reading.  Sometimes you have to take a risk.  I did that with Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu.  I’ve read a Christopher Moore book once before and while it was not awful, it wasn’t my favorite read so I’ve stayed away from Moore’s hugely popular books ever since.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to report that Sacre Bleu was a pleasant surprise.  Reading this book was a reminder that books about art and artists tend to be serious, heavy, sometimes dark, frequently depressing, and so on.  So this light and frothy supernatural romp was a welcome change.
Here’s the premise: Maybe there’s a reason Van Gogh went crazy and cut off his ear.  And maybe his suicide (in which the artist shoots himself in the stomach and then walks a mile to a doctor for treatment) is just a little too suspect to not warrant investigation. 

The book opens with news of Van Gogh’s death spreading through Paris.  Baker Lucien Lessard, whose father was an acquaintance of many of the great French Impressionist painters, receives the news and immediately feels the need to spread the word. Eventually Lucien is in cahoots with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (with many other cameos from artists of the time) as they find themselves caught up in a mysterious tale.

Central to that tale is a twisted, shriveled character called the Colorman (who peddles artists’ paints like drugs) and the beautiful female muses who are associated with the paint maker.  As the book progresses, it takes on a dangerous, supernatural air with loads of surprises. It turns out, that for tens of thousands of years, a mysterious shade of sacre bleu is responsible for some of the world’s greatest paintings.  But the artists may have suffered the consequences.  In fact the color may have been responsible for some horrible moments in history.

Moore makes the French art world of the late 19th Century a delightful and exciting place where lust, liquor, and artists collide.  His take on historical characters is just plain fun.  Toulouse-Lautrec is one of the funniest characters I’ve read in a long time, even though the humor is frequently, dare I say it, off color, even blue. The adventure sequences crackle with suspense. The result a funny, pleasurable read about a subject matter that tends toward pomposity.