Posts Tagged ‘Mike Brown’

Sometimes too much Art seems barely enough. Sometimes too much Art is just too much.

After foolhardily taking in the MCA’s Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration and the AGNSW’s POP to POPism within hours of each other, I have been left shellshocked by the sheer scale, size and slammin’ power of the experience.

They don’t call them blockbusters for nothing, Jim.

At the entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Chuck Close show stand two huge portraits ­– as impassive and monumental as Easter Island moai heads. The two works span time and process: Bob, from 1969 is rendered in greyscale airbrush, cool and smooth; 2012’s portrait of Lou Reed, Lou, is a Jacquard tapestry, bristling with tiny digitally-mapped woven threads.

POP Lou, Chuck Close 2012

The two pictures say a lot about Close: they are pictures of pictures, images of photographs; they also show his restless search for media and process, whatever the material or labour-intensive cost involved. The show is subbed Prints, Process and Collaboration and is curated to reveal the mind-warping amount of planning, prep and plain hard graft involved.

The pictures also raise questions about where Close sits in current Art: he has always been a hard one to place, as his work, once aligned simplistically with photo-realism, actually seems closer to minimalism and conceptual art, based on grids of small cells as it is. He works on these small square cells, and, as they disappear, a monumental (photo-realistic) image is revealed.

The range of processes he adopts is staggering – from the (digitally mapped) 19th century Jacquard Loom weave, though plate-etching processes such as Spitbite and Mezzotint, to traditional Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock prints – the hours of painstaking labour involved suggest a meditative onanism as much as a saintly work-ethic masochism. This is the man who said “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.POP Self-Portrait (Yellow Raincoat), Chuck Close 2013

The craft element alone can take your breath away, but of course it is the startling beauty of this work that rivets you to the spot. The coloured self-portraits, broken as if seen through facetted glass, the deep rich earth tones of the square grid images, the delicious grays of the pulp-paper pictures are a spiritual experience, beyond craft.

And each face is coolly inscrutable, giving away no secrets apart from their planes, surfaces and shadows. Close’s hours of process seem to have seeped into the very fabric of these pictures, causing time to slow when you are in their presence.

Enough of this cool stuff: time for something hot!

Up the hill to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ POP to POPism to see banners shouting Warhol! Sharp! Lichenstein! Haring! hanging along the front of the old girl.

Inside, we are reminded yet again how well the AGNSW does these things: 200 works (mainly killer, some filler) from over fifty lenders worldwide, have been brought together and divided up into seven themed areas for bite-sized consumption.

We are also reminded how heavily calorific Pop Art is – making each bite-sized chunk a gourmet junk food feast in itself.

‘Swinging London’ has Hockney, Peter Blake (that well-known album cover designer) and Richard Hamilton (that other well-known album cover designer) all in fine form. The art and music that zapped the world from London in the 60’s was unstoppable. That energy is here.

But it was ‘The American Dream’ that set Pop solid in history and stamped its icons into our DNA. Looking at Warhol’s Marilyns, Lichenstein’s comics (with their obsessively hand-drawn half-tone dots) and the super-slick billboard cut-ups of James Rosenquist (originally a pro commercial billboard painter) you are still stunned by their power, electricity and in-your-face sex.

POP In the Car, Roy Lichtenstein 1963

The American works dwarf anything else here. With exceptions such as Martin Sharp, or France’s Niki de Saint Phalle (her 1968 ‘Black Beauty’ raises the smile that good Pop should), the Euro and especially Australian work seems almost timid by comparison and less sharply focussed. The Annandale Imitation Realist work of Australians Colin Lanceley and Mike Brown cloyingly piles junk on junk, where Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages of street trash speak with poetry and a dusty grandeur.

Andy Warhol is said to have been “the only artist who truly understood the Twentieth Century”. His work here reinforces that smart idea: his Marilyns are confections of sex and repetition, his electric chair pictures too cool. 1965’s ‘Electric Chair’ has a casual, ill-considered cropping (though of course exquisitely considered) and is rendered in a magenta and lime-yellow colourway. The nearby pictures of Jackie Onassis are black on sky blue. It is all the same. We read of an execution and flip the magazine page to see who Jackie has married now. Our feelings are deadened by repetitive sensation. Warhol’s frustrating interview style – all boyish ‘gee’s and ‘I don’t know’s, often misunderstood as irony – mirrored this. He truly understood that history was rolling over us too fast and he nailed it again and again.POP Electric Chair, Andy Warhol 1965

Other Americans such as Claes Oldenburg – here represented by a huge ‘soft’ cloth electric fan – and the gutsy hot-rodded Ed Kienholz, say the same thing in their own big, bad American way.

Modern Pop – or the Art that continues Pop’s sexy throb down the years – is represented here by reference to ‘Popism’, a brief local movement and 1982 NGV exhibition, the shining light being the hypersexualised Juan Davila who carried the shock element of Pop aloft in his pornographic vistas.

Of course, the spirit of Pop is most alive today in the marketplace that spawned it – the world of advertising and popular entertainment. References are made every day to Pop Art, the movement which referenced mass marketing and junk TV in the first place.

Sometimes too much Art seems barely enough. Sometimes too much Art is just too much. The work of Chuck Close fills you up with beauty, lovingly made, a strand or cell at a time. The blast of Pop Art at POP to POPism fills you up with electric energy, splashed on and plugged in at high voltage.

Sometimes too much Art is just too much. But if you can handle it, it is worth the wild ride.

 

Published December 2014 on megaphoneoz.com

 

 

 

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Heavy guitar rock comes in and out of fashion with almost meteorological regularity. Who is this week’s saviour of rock?

The truth is that heavy guitar rock never ever goes away and whenever things get too precious, it appears to be a rockin’ guitar band that pops up to give it a shot in the arm – or an analogue kick up the auto-tuned arse.

Rock and roll, metal, punk, grunge, pub rock – they are all manifestations of the primal urge of rock. The mutant hybrid of a guitar, an amp, a teenager – all pushed beyond what they were calibrated to do – has given us some of rock’s most feverishly thrilling moments. From Link Wray to The Who to The Stooges to Iron Maiden, it is Boy’s Own fun and fantastic stuff.

tracer2

Australia seems to do guitar rock exceptionally well – giving the world one of the most iconic guitar bands of all time in AC/DC, and producing enormously popular and influential bands such as Rose Tattoo and Midnight Oil. Because much of Australia’s toughest hard rock was born in pubs, clubs and skinned-knuckle venues, it has always had a feeling of being bullshit-free and unvarnished – more ‘real’ – much as Australians see themselves.

Adelaide three-piece, Tracer, seem set to follow that fine hard rock lineage that recently has wavered a little too into cartoon territory with bands such as Airbourne. Their new album, El Pistolero has garnered top marks from Kerrang!, Classic Rock Magazine and Total Guitar and it is no surprise.tracer 1

Produced by Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley – the go-to guy for anything truly rocking (Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa) today – El Pistolero hits all the marks, ticks all the boxes and kicks all the pricks. Shirley has drawn a great sound out of a band that already had a big, thumping rock and roll heart.

Tracer’s sound balances their precision with sludge, their momentum with thud and their howl with growl. The mix is one of the most exciting I have heard for a while.

No cartoons, no posing, no weekend warriors – Tracer are a hard-working band who sound great because, like all the real bands – old like the Stooges or new like Kyuss – they do nothing but work at what they love.

El Pistolero is out today, June 5, thru Mascot/Warner.

The band’s tour kicks off June 12; details are here – http://www.tracer-band.com/?page_id=6

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Prior to posting this review I asked Tracer’s Mike Brown a handful of questions. Here are his responses:

TheOrangePress: The title, graphics and 3 part ‘Del Desperado Suite’ give El Pistolero that eternally-cool spaghetti western vibe – what drew you to this theme?

Mike Brown: We’re movie nuts in the band and we’re especially drawn towards directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for their quirky, oddball films that are just dripping in coolness. I think we take that approach to our music too, trying to make cool music with a bit of a weirdness in it. I was watching the Rodriguez movie Desperado and I started tinkering with a flamenco guitar to learn the song in the film and that led to me writing a couple of tunes that were inspired by the film. I mean, the guy is a guitar playing, vigilante super hero! That’s fuckin’ awesome! We started writing songs that had a Mexican/south-of-the-border vibe to them and I was writing lyrics that followed the storyline of Desperado just to see if it could be done. It was a bit of a challenge for us because there was a high possibility that it could end up corny or a bit cliché but I think the songs that are based around the film came out really cool. We already had a bit of a tex/mex, dry, desert sound but with this album we wanted to open it up a bit and push the barriers in the stoner rock genre that we’ve been classified in (not something of our doing by the way). So we tried to get a more expansive, cinematic vibe to the tracks, which I think really came out in songs like ‘There’s A Man’ and especially ‘Until The War Is Won’.

TOP: Tracer’s sound is obviously inspired by ’70s guitar bands such as Led Zeppelin but there is just as much Soundgarden sludge in the mix as well. How did to arrive at this mix – why not go entirely one way or the other?

MB: It happened very organically. We never decided to write songs that sound like a certain band or consciously copy a sound. I think it’s derived from our influences. We kind of pick what we like from them and it subconsciously goes into the melting pot for us to pick and chose from when we’re writing songs. At the end of the day, we write songs that we want to hear. And that’s mostly because nobody else is making the music that we want to hear in our heads. I love the sludgey Soundgarden and Kyuss stoner rock, and I love the free form of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple so we take elements from those guys and leave behind the stuff we don’t dig, mix it in with what we want to hear and Tracer is what comes out. I have no problem in wearing my influences on my sleeve and I always remember what David Bowie once said… ”I have never had an original idea in my life.” This from an artist who I would consider one of the most original that has ever lived!

TOP: ‘Caveman’ Kevin Shirley – you really couldn’t find a better producer for the Tracer sound. How did working with Kevin come about?

MB: Kevin had worked with a few artists on our label, namely Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart and Black Country Communion and our music got put forward to him by the head of our label. Apparently he got very interested in recording with us and we got an email about two weeks later saying “Kevin is in. Be in LA at the end of November to record an album.” We just thought “Holy fuck! We should write some songs!”

TOP: What was it like working with him? He appears to have pulled some great performances out of you – was there any blood spilled?

MB: Yeah he really did get the most out of us for the record. He has a great ability to read people and knows when to push people to their limits and when to mother them towards a good performance. There wasn’t any blood spilled but there was plenty of sweat and hard work. Dre and I went to LA to prove a point with our playing and we had been working really hard on getting our level of musicianship up and also concentrating on good performances, especially with the vocals. I think Kevin picked up on this and pushed us further in the studio. With Kevin taking the producer role, which was something we had previously done ourselves, it really freed us up to concentrate solely on the playing and I think it shows on the record.

As far as his methods, all I can say is he is extremely quick in making decisions and recording in general. He catches the vibe very fast and then moves on before the magic dies. We had 14 songs tracked with drums, bass, guitars and main vocals in 6 days! He has a great knack for capturing that live excitement that comes from musicians playing together and getting excited by the music together.

TOP: Why do you think there is pretty much always a market for heavy, guitar-based analogue rock?

MB: Because it’s real! It’s emotion provoking and I don’t think people get enough of that in their lives from external sources. I think guys in particular have anger that needs to come out and I think that vocalizing it through rock music is a really healthy way for people to do it. Also I think people still appreciate good musicianship and well-written songs. Dave Grohl has been banging on about this for the last couple of years and I think he is absolutely right. There is a magic, a vibe, an indescribable feeling of when musicians play instruments and it’s recorded as is, warts and all. The artifacts and little fuck ups became that favourite part of the record and you can hear the musician’s soul. You can’t do that with auto tuned, computer music. There is so much terrible crap on the airwaves today that people can’t hang their hat on because it’s there one day and then it’s completely forgotten the next. Artists aren’t creating music anymore they’re creating adverts for a brand and I believe that people are starting to see through it again as they did in the 80’s. Punk, grunge and metal were the saviours in the 90’s because of the plastic-ness of the 80’s music. And I think the same thing is happening now.

TOP: And finally, what are your thoughts on music, in general, today? Please feel free to use bad language.

MB: See rant above haha! To be honest I try not to get caught up on it. There is an underground swell throughout the world at the moment for rock music and it will only take a couple of bands to break through before we start seeing a resurgence in real music for real fans and not fake music for scenesters.

Thanx.

Published July 2013 on theorangepress.net