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Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Big, Bent Ears, Part 7: Anatomy of a Sequence

July 22, 2015 | by

Tape markings on the stage of the Tennessee Theater indicating equipment placement for tUnEyArDs's set at the Big Ears Music Festival in 2015. Photo: Kate Joyce

Tape markings on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre indicating equipment placement for tUnE-yArDs’s set at the Big Ears Music Festival in 2015. Photo: Kate Joyce

What do crushed tulips, baseball, and Jonny Greenwood have in common?

It’s the kind of question that would only be asked in “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” The series’s seventh chapter examines the process and work of photographer Kate Joyce (the answer to the riddle above), a member of their documentary team and an erstwhile child detective. Regular readers will remember Joyce’s work from our “Bull City Summer” series, where her typologies of ball markings on the outfield wall, bubblegum-wrapper lawn darts, and abandoned cups of melted drinks offered an accounting of the game’s periphery. For “Big, Bent Ears,” Joyce takes a similarly sideways view of the action, and her need to look beyond a subject (sometimes literally) in order to see it more clearly defined is on view in her filming of an interview with Greenwood earlier this year:

I was looking for a way to bring the outside in, to invite the street into the room. The way we framed that shot was to have Greenwood sit nearly in front of a window and focus the camera lens through the window on the exterior. I had spent so much time walking around Knoxville, photographing scenes around town. I wanted to see if there was a way to combine the street with the interview. I remember when the interview was over being disappointed that more things didn’t happen outside the window.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Cy Twombly, the JACK, and the Morgan Library

July 2, 2015 | by

JACK Quartet

On November 24, 2014, the JACK Quartet performed Matthias Pintscher’s Studies for Treatise on the Veil in a gallery at the Morgan Library, in New York, before a thirty-three-foot-long painting by Cy Twombly called Treatise on the Veil (Second Version). Pintscher’s score was written in response to Twombly’s painting; Twombly’s painting was composed in response to music, that of French composer Pierre Henry, a pioneer of musique concrète. Members of the JACK were, in turn, influenced that evening by their very proximity to Twombly’s painting: “The music requires so much concentration,” said violist and director John Pickford Richards, “and I felt that the painting was giving me concentration while we were playing.”

Chapter six of our series “Big, Bent Ears” details this curious network of connections, which Richards calls a “daisy chain of beautiful responses.”

Here’s another one: Before the Morgan exhibition, Twombly’s painting hadn’t hung in New York since 1985, and Pintscher’s composition had never been performed alongside the painting. And no one had ever filmed a concert at the Morgan Library. Rock Fish Stew’s video of that evening, which is part of chapter six, is witness to this extraordinary confluence and is itself an element of it. Twombly called his Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) “a time line without time,” which is rather like a story without a beginning, middle, and end. Or, as the “Big, Bent Ears” team likes to think of it, serializing uncertainty and reveling in digressions.

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Only the Dreamer: An Interview with Victor Moscoso

March 30, 2015 | by

Photo: Greg Preston

Photo: Greg Preston

Victor Moscoso has, as he says, always ridden two, if not three, horses at a time. As an art student, he made fine-art paintings and did “art jobs,” such as hand-painting grocery signs. Later, he made paintings and posters, and then paintings, posters, and comics. He was one of the “big five” of design in the sixties—with Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Wes Wilson, and Rick Griffin—and has been one of the Zap Seven since 1968. Yet Moscoso is every bit his own man.

Born in Galicia, Spain, in 1936, he emigrated with his family to Brooklyn when he was three. From there, he went on to study art at the Cooper Union, Yale University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. In San Francisco, he began making psychedelic posters for the burgeoning music scene—for groups such as the Who and Big Brother and the Holding Company and for venues such as the Shrine Auditorium, the Matrix, and the Fillmore. He borrowed from Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession, LSD trips, and contemporary commercial packaging and rendered his elaborate, frequently abstruse compositions in hot, vibrating colors. These designs helped define the psychedelic era.

In 1968, Moscoso, Griffin, and S. Clay Wilson joined Robert Crumb on the third issue of Zap Comix. When Crumb founded the magazine, there was nothing else like it, and its seven contributors produced stories so bawdy and rowdy and inventive that comics would never be the same. Moscoso’s work for Zap is formally innovative as well; many stories are told by way of nonlinear, surrealist dreamscapes in which the imagery morphs and folds back onto itself. Moscoso made three wraparound covers for the magazine, the most famous of which appeared issue no. 4: an eye-bending, joyously vulgar transformation of a dancing Mr. Peanut into a dancing phallus. It is a masterpiece of graphic art that, as Gary Panter has put it, “will represent the twentieth-century imagination for centuries.”

Last year, Fantagraphics gave Zap Comix the deluxe treatment, reissuing the magazine’s four-decade run in a six-volume box set. And this month, a show of Moscoso’s drawings from 1967 to 1982, including his preparatory work for Zap comics and covers, opened at Andrew Edlin Gallery, in New York. Moscoso spoke with me over the phone last month from his studio in Marin County, California, about learning to make art and then having to unlearn it all.

Are you on a cell?

I am.

They’re very convenient. Especially the ones with cameras on them, man. That is dynamite. I don’t have one, but my wife does. It’s a marvel. This may be before your time, but there was this comic strip called Dick Tracy, and he had this wrist radio with a little picture on it and a wire running up his arm.

Where did the wire go?

Underneath his garments, so that when he was getting dressed, he’d get the wire on. And he could talk to headquarters at any time.

I remember the wristwatch, but I didn’t know he had a wire running up his arm.

That was a detail kids like me were really interested in. And here we are. Jesus Christ, I’m living in a comic strip. Except everybody’s got ’em. Not just the cops. In fact, the cops gotta watch out.

Did you read Dick Tracy for the story or the art?

Mainly the art, because that was before I could read. Comics was one of the places where I learned to read, because the pictures interested me.

I remember at the age of three and half watching Hoppity Goes to Town, which I saw in Spain. I was blown away, as a little child, with the fact that drawings—I could tell the difference between drawings and live action—were moving. I saw that drawings were coming to life. I think that is when I decided, without realizing it, that that was what I wanted to do. Later on I saw comics, in particular Walt Disney comics. There is one artist in there whose name is Carl Barks—he was on design at Walt Disney, and he was an excellent storyteller. I used to wait every month for the new issue of that comic book to come out.

Eventually I went through all the comic books at the time, and I came upon the EC comics, and in particular, Mad. Read More »

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Jane Wilson, 1924–2015

January 15, 2015 | by

Jane Wilson, Frozen Fields, 2004, oil on linen, 30 x 36 inches. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Jane Wilson, Frozen Fields, 2004, oil on linen, 30" x 36". Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Last month, I got a peek at a private collection of work by the painter Jane Wilson. Tucked away in a Midtown East town-house office are a handful of her diminutive watercolors and a very large oil painting depicting one of Wilson’s characteristic landscapes—a sweeping, hazy view of a sliver of land and a limitless sky.

Last fall, I saw a host of such paintings in Wilson’s show at DC Moore Gallery. Yet there’s a difference between admiring her evocative landscapes—or, more precisely, skyscapes—in a gallery setting and discovering them in a secret spot, where, I imagine, they exist for their owner as a private portal, an escape—out of the office, out of the city, out of one’s own life. Imagine sitting in a darkened, quiet office and looking up at Wilson’s plush, golden altocumulus clouds or at the purple and blue striations of storm clouds over a teal sky or at the dappled, cobalt blue of twilight. Where couldn’t you go? Read More »

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Paper Trail

December 23, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

The invitation card for Claes Oldenburg's Store, New York, 1961.

Three years ago, PPP Editions published a limited-edition book called 100 Fanzines / 10 Years of British Punk 1976–1985. I have a copy and keep intending to give it to any number of friends who know more about the Clash, the Mo-dettes, or Attila the Stockbroker than I do, but I haven’t yet handed it over. I certainly wasn’t a fixture of the Thatcher-era punk scene, but I nonetheless feel nostalgic when I look through the book. The cover of Verbal Warfare no. 1, from 1981, contains the line “Beware of the serpent that twines around the cross … his body, the living dead at their production lines,” and I notice that it’s written in a script that resembles my sister’s eighth-grade cursive. I’m transfixed by the the ratty hand-drawn graphics and raw, energetic designs, not to mention the silliness and badassery of titles like Ignorance of the Unborn, Terminal Illiteracy, Surrey Vomet, and Raisin ’ell (number 10 is the special “This issue sucks!” edition). I also love the zines’ materiality: the staples in the bindings, the softly foxed corners, the smudges, visible erasure marks, and toner streaks. The idea that these are at once mass-produced publications (you can almost feel a phantom photocopier heat coming off the page) and rare objects—always already ephemeral—is fascinating.

The very notion of ephemera is curious: objects of little value that weren’t meant to be preserved but whose vulnerability, I imagine, appealed to someone. Political buttons, business cards, seed packets, and train timetables—scrappy artifacts that otherwise would have been lost to the dustheap. Even ephemera’s subcategories—like “fugitive materials” and “gray literature”—are suitably mothy and eccentric. In the art world, potential ephemera is everywhere: small-edition artist books, exhibition posters, flyers, announcement cards, invitations, press releases. The Museum of Modern Art Library, in New York, houses an extensive archive populated by such materials. A photograph of the files at MoMA QNS shows reams of folders that resemble medical records, though a bit of feathery orange fluff peeping out from one folder suggests something less sober. Through its sheer volume, the archive offers a minihistory of art and of individual artists.

David Senior, a bibliographer at MoMA Library, curated an exhibition around the archive; “Please Come to the Show” was on view last year in New York and earlier this year at the Exhibition Research Centre in Liverpool. It must have been fun digging through all the files and (re)discovering canon-adjacent materials like Claes Oldenburg’s blue, slightly stained business card/invitation to The Store; Nancy Spero’s pugnacious, textual invitation to “Torture of Women”; and an announcement, addressed to Frank O’Hara, of the premier of Warhol’s film Empire (admission: two dollars). Read More >>