new page: travel writing

Lady Liberty

I started a new page (see sidebar) that I'm calling Travel Writing, consisting of "photo-essays exploring the Texas outback and New Jersey inback." The emphasis is more on visuals but I do write captions. Here's what I have so far:

1. A View from the Picnic Area (2020). A pretty spot outside Glen Rose, Texas, is blemished by the local gentry.

2. Trip to Regency Bridge, June 7, 2020. The last suspension bridge in Texas that you can drive across, built mostly by hand labor in 1939.

3. New Jersey Wasteland Tour (2003). A walk between Grand Avenue and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, an industrial zone gone to seed that would eventually become condos.

An upcoming project will be a comparison of Jersey City in '03 (based on that same group of photos) with "street views" from today. Funky used car lots then, soulless condos now.

trump is already cutting social security and medicare

Last month Pres. Trump began dismantling Social Security under the guise of "covid." I'm not sure how many of his supporters actually get this, or if "the media" is explaining it clearly. He has signed an Executive Order directing the IRS to stop collecting Social Security and Medicare taxes from people's paychecks for the next four months; these wage-earners will then be hit with a catch-up payment in January (which will be very unpopular, to say the least). If elected, he says he will suspend the collection of Social Security and Medicare taxes permanently. That's the beginning of the end for both programs -- without those taxes, Social Security runs out of money to pay benefits in 2023, according to its chief actuary.

It seems like a dumb thing to do in an election year, since so many people depend on these benefits, but it's possible it's being overlooked with all the focus on law-and-order concerns. Biden is bad on Social Security issues but he's not promising anything this blatant. Trump deliberately confuses the matter by calling these "payroll tax cuts" (which sounds good) rather than "Social Security and Medicare tax cuts" -- it's all the same thing, though.

from the vault: my Artforum review of Perry House, 1993


Houston painter Perry House died in July 2020. He had a long, productive career and will be missed. Back in the '90s I reviewed his show at Davis/McClain gallery for Artforum and later organized an exhibition of his paintings at Gray Matters in Dallas. The Artforum review appears in text form below with a couple of minor tweaks to restore my original wording.

My Gray Matters essay [PDF] waxed more enthusiastic than the one below. For the magazine I wanted to champion a Texas artist lesser known in NYC so I indulged in some procatalepsis, anticipating questions that I felt would arise in a less nurturing critical environment. Whereas catalog writing is typically more boosterish.

A struggle I had with Artforum early on was over what image to use. I had sent a print of The Curtain, The Ship of Fools to accompany the review and then someone at the magazine contacted the gallery to request additional images. Possibly the art director's convenience in laying out pages guided image choices as much as any critical judgment, but it was annoying that they ultimately ran an image of work that I had criticized! (The editor later apologized for this.)

Houston Reviews, November 1992
Perry House

Perry House bases his paintings on an assortment of recurring motifs he calls his “cast of characters,” shapes that combine aspects of sculpture, furniture, architecture, and everyday objects, many of which symbolize the artist’s past experiences. The names assigned to these motifs (“The Ball,” “The Throne/Chair,” “The Cash Register,” and so on) are individually mundane but cumulatively poetic; their obsessive reappearance as images in paintings—isolated, abstracted, or fused with quasi-Modernist patterns—gives them a talismanic power.

This vocabulary of private symbols could be pretentious were it not for House’s sense of humor, vented through confidently eccentric brushwork and a caricaturist’s knack for exaggeration: the crisscrossing stripes receeding into space in The Screen, 1991, for example, suggest a minimalist grid formation enacted by a regiment of night crawlers. Similarly, the scrollwork pattern that crops up in many paintings might be as romantic as the Old South wrought-iron decor it recalls—if one overlooks the fact that the scrolls bulge and undulate like creatures in a Fleischer Brothers cartoon. Equally deflating is House’s handling of paint. Eschewing oils as “too seductive,” he badgers acrylics into messy, anxious life, turning their uninspiring pastiness into something resembling a virtue. A surface complexity arises partly from rampant overpainting: beneath each final coat, the textures of obliterated images continue to assert themselves.

House recently declared his intent to explore “the fine line between humor and horror, and to reestablish mass and volume in abstract painting in the most severe manner.” The former aim suggests a modest sort of content; the latter, perhaps, a Johnny-come-lately challenge to the formalist mandate of flatness. Fortunately the artist’s penchant for thematic understatement doesn’t get in the way of his painting. House’s work hints at George Condo’s irreverence and Ross Bleckner’s personalization of the impersonal without becoming derivative. In The Curtain, The Ship of Fools, 1991, a faux-romantic “character” floats against a field of intense blue, sandwiched between black and white curtains of Op art stripes-cum-scrollwork. This might be Condo’s version of Bleckner, or it might not; given the geographic and contextual distance between Texas and New York (and given the position of the painting within House’s own oeuvre), it’s probably sufficient to say that it represents the high-water mark of a parallel lineage. A more meaningful precedent, of course, would be the late work of Philip Guston, who paved the way for many painters to question, even mock, painting, while zealously continuing to pursue it.

In addition to exhibiting a group of superb paintings on canvas and paper, House arranged a row of painted sculptures on the carpeted floor of the gallery, maquettelike constructions depicting his entire cast of characters. Though these quirky objects made a certain kind of sense against the grimy concrete floor of the artist’s studio, when they were expected to command a major portion of the gallery’s slick space they looked merely academic, especially in contrast to paintings that are anything but that.

—Tom Moody

Other writing on House from this blog

around the web (election edition)

Left-leaning commentator Benjamin Studebaker makes the case against Biden in the general.

Along similar lines, Chris Hedges' rant from 2016 on Democracy Now! is airtight (then and now). [YT - starts at 1:37] Jimmy Dore cuts it off after his speech so I don't know if Amy Goodman replied. She was later a Russiagate scammer so am guessing she was flabbergasted by so much unvarnished truth pouring out of one person's mouth.

James Howard Kunstler is so mad about the Russiagate scams and Democratic incompetence (such as engineering the nomination of a right-wing near-vegetable), he's actually going to vote Trump. JHK's to my right on race and immigration issues but he writes as a lifelong Democrat fed up with the mendacity.

Economics prof Michael Hudson explains how debt jubilees worked in ancient societies (pre-Roman Empire) and why something like that would help to get us out of our present mess.