Arts & Aesthetics

§ So here we end for now….

NOTE: This was written a while back before I left the city. For whatever reason I never actually published it. Perhaps it was still too raw. Now here I am in Baton Rouge with friends, a job, health care (yeah!), and less drama in my life. Yep, I miss New York but one plays the cards one draws. I’m satisfied.

….I leave Brooklyn and New York in some five days or so. It has been such a fast 15 months, filled with happiness, richness, and sadnessIt has not been what I expected, harder and easier than I thought it would be.

Hard, perhaps impossible, to find a decent living though I believe I had something to give to the city. For whatever the reasons, it was not to be. I have my suspicions, but I try not to dwell on them. I try to convince myself that it was not a failure on my part. I try to be forgiving and sometimes I am.

Still I will remember this time with more joy than sadness, with as much satisfaction as disappointment. And I hope to be back, for this place will always be a part of me. It is the greatest city and home I can imagine. I just finished Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, a book I first read at perhaps 13. At the end the Count tells his chosen son, Maximilien Morrel, the following:

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.

And so I appreciate this time I have had. I appreciate Karen’s kindness, beauty, love, and generosity, and I will miss her deeply. I treasure the unquestioning attachment that the little Kitty at my side shows me and hope that she will be happy on our approaching journey.

And I appreciate all that the city has shown me; the excitement, the energy, the charm, and the grit. I marvel at the art, the music, the architecture, and the skyline I have been able to experience on a daily basis. I will miss the museums, the subway, and my runs in Prospect Park. I will miss the people who I have met here, and I thank those who helped me along the way.

Here are some images of people and things that have made this such a great adventure.

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§ On Really Seeing Art

Note: this is a May, 2015 post from my old Blogspot site ChrisBeachamPaints that I’m reposting in response to an interesting article from

I awoke this morning with a hangover from the morose, depressing experience from last night that I described on Facebook [Aside: That post provoked the most compelling, soul searching discussion I’ve ever been a part of on Facebook. It is so relevant today.] I decided to do something about it. First, I listened to some Bob Marley. Pulled out some of my old art from when I first started painting. Sat on my little second floor downtown apartment deck with coffee and the latest issue of Art in America. Thought about what I might do art wise. (Definitely not that!) So I decided on a visit to the excellent and free NC Museum of Art a short drive from my place.

Most of us have a tendency, I think, to visit museums like they are all you can eat buffets. You know, there is all this food and you’ve got to have some of everything or you’ll feel cheated. At a museum we don’t want to miss something really good — especially if you think you won’t be able to return. So you’re worried that you’ll come home from your trip to London where you visited the Tate and somebody will ask if you saw Monet’s Water Lilies and you’ll have to say “No” and then they’ll spend 10 minutes telling you all about it.

But when you do that everything becomes a blur or maybe, like when Karen and I visited the new Whitney last week, you walk away overwhelmed and drained. (The new Whitney is amazing.) So this time I figured I’d spend more time with fewer pieces. I immediately went to the far northwest corner of the museum. I glanced around and saw Andrew Wyeth’s Winter. It is amazing and has the added advantage of being placed near a bench where I could sit, contemplate and write in my little Moleskine.

It was painted in 1946, tempera on board, right after his father’s death. What makes this piece so special? It could be the boy appearing to flee down Wyeth’s famous hill, his weight and the tragedy dragging him. Or the beautiful and imposing hill itself. The brushwork with the subtle changes in color and texture that creates both a sense of space and claustrophobia. The shadow too, that follows the boy down the hill adding to the force of his sadness. It is an immensely sad and perfect painting, a simple image that tells a story that could fill a book.

Nearby is a Jacob Lawrence called Forward from 1967. It is a great companion to the Wyeth. Here we see Harriet Tubman pushing the escaping slaves forward to freedom, playing the role of the hill in Winter.

She is shoving the man forward, a revolver in hand. He’s enormous, strong, and terrified, hiding his facing with his immense hand. The colors are bold and the shapes blocky without the detail of the Wyeth. To me the man is the compelling figure, the lines of his ribs, the splayed hands themselves viscerally showing both his physical strength and his terror.

This vision of humanity, of fear, of tragedy, of strength, of heroism, of courage, of determination, of fearlessness both breaks my heart and gives me hope.

I felt maybe there was a piece to create a triptych with the Wyeth and the Lawrence so I walked around, glancing here and there.
And then I saw it, a John Singer Sergeant of the Flight from Egypt, circa 1877-1879. It is a sparse piece, dark, and impressionistic.
Here the forward motion is provided by lonely Joseph, staff in hand, his arm around Mary. We see Mary, her face shrouded, a shawl around her head. She holds Jesus, the child’s head merely a shape but lighter and with a halo.


The donkey, his head nearly dragging the ground, appears gaunt and deadly tired, stumbling down the path, his massive ears just more weight to carry.

Joseph is held up by his staff, Mary by Joseph, Jesus by Mary, and the donkey by force of will and necessity. Joseph’s face looks obscured but on closer examination quite detailed, his nose, his beard, and the holes of his eyes amazingly evocative. Again, like the Wyeth and the Lawrence, a sad, beautiful, and contemplative composition.

I spent an hour plus with the three pieces. By doing so they became more than canvas and paint and more than beautiful works of art. They told me three stories that reflect the best and worst of humanity. Stories that made me think. Images that made me sad and feel intensely alive.

§ Inauguration Setlist

I felt like the inauguration required a setlist of appropriate songs with lyrics that reflected our angst. Needless to say there is no Ted Nugent.

I wear my heart on my sleeve here. But I want to make it clear that I do not demonize those who disagree with me. I have friends and family who are celebrating tomorrow. I couldn’t disagree more. But I know they are good people and I will shake their hands and hug them the next I see them because we can’t do this alone.

Read on or go directly to the playlist.

1) We start with Randy Newman and some humor with Political Science
“Let’s drop the big one
And see what happens”

2) But there ain’t much humorous going on in Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit
“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root”

3) The Neville Brothers version of Dylan’s With God on Our Side, what can I say?
“The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell”

4) So we change speed with the Rolling Stones and Sympathy for the Devil:
“What’s puzzlin’ you
Is the nature of my game”

5) Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain requires some explanation. George Clinton asked the guitarist Eddie Hazel to imagine he had been told his mother was dead, but then learned that it was not true. No lyrics except George’s suitably bizarre intro. Eddie goes deep and wails over the 10 minutes. Interpret as you wish.

6) Steve Earle The Revolution Starts Here
“So what you doin’ standin’ around?
Just follow your heart
The revolution starts now”

7) The Drive-By Truckers released my album of the year, What it Means in 2016 but here we are in 2017. Trayvon, Ferguson, when will it stop?
“And it happened last weekend
And it will happen again next week”

8) The Band‘s The Weight is of course a classic and classically relevant.
‘When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
And I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on, would you go downtown”
And she said, “Well, I gotta go but my friend can stick around”‘

9) Billy Bragg & Wilco did a wonderful job interpreting unused
Woody Guthrie lyrics in Christ for President. We really need Woody back.
“…cast the moneychangers
Out of the temple
Put the carpenter in”

10) Bob Marley & the Wailers. No way to leave off Bob Marley.
Redemption Song
“Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom
‘Cause all I ever had, redemption songs”

11) I guess Big Star might be an odd choice but The Ballad of El Goodo is a classic.
“It gets so hard at times like now to hold on
Well, I’ll fall if I don’t fight
And at my side is God”

12) An American election and I have two songs by the British socialist Billy Bragg. So be it. Waiting for the Great Leaps Forward still speaks to me.
“Start your own revolution and
cut out the middleman”

13) And two by The Band who are sort of Canadian. It is what it is…Anyway the lyrics to I Shall be Released are by a Nobel Prize winner. And as he writes:
“Any day now I shall be released”

14) Randy Newman raises his hand. He wants another word with us and starts to play A Few Words in Defense of Our Country.
The end of an empire
Is messy at best
And this empire’s ending
Like all the rest

15) So we get to the end and with another Brit. But Nick Lowe’s sentiments are pretty universal. I think we can all get on-board for:
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding

The Music

But I don’t think I should end on an uplifting note.
Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello don’t think so either.


§ The 2nd Ave Line Opens!

We’ve waited and waited for this and I was there on the 2nd to see the 2nd.

Well it’s special: clean, bright, and filled with cool art. Just four stations total but it’s totally worth a visit. Without more comment here are a few photos.



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§ Sigh: Joan Mitchell at Cheim & Read Gallery

Joan Mitchell Drawing Into Paintmitchell_cheimread at the Cheim & Read Gallery, 547 W. 25 St in Chelsea showing until December 23rd 2016. Go, just go. No arguments.

Yesterday I went to 25th St. in Chelsea to see a few special exhibitions and explore what else might be interesting. One of the many exciting things about NYC is the galleries often present exhibitions that rival or exceed what the museums are presenting. For example the 2009 Gagosian exhibition of late Picasso is one the great art experiences of my life. Roberta Smith wrote that it was “One of the best shows to be seen in New York since the turn of the century”. Calling it “staggering”, she correctly noted that it “should make any museum glow green with envy.”

The Joan Mitchell show doesn’t come close to matching the depth and scope of the Gagosian Picasso, but for me it is one of the most glorious. Cheim & Read know Mitchell: they’ve represented her and presented her work going back at least two decades. I don’t say Joan Mitchell is the greatest painter of course, but she may be my favorite painter. She was no Picasso but Picasso was no Mitchell either.

They have done a terrific job of presenting the work. Painted from 1958 to 1992, the year she died, they show a consistent mastery of color and of an abstract style that forces the viewer (or at least this viewer) to fall head first into the canvas and create a personal reality within the abstract.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1964

I should get the embarrassing part out of the way. As I walked in I saw the large (108″ x 80″) 1964 piece above. Here is what I wrote in my little journal as I sat in front of the canvas:

The reaction is visceral. A smile, a bodily tingle, an expansive feeling in my stomach…like returning to a home I’d never known. This makes we want to cry; I do cry. The feeling of joy and gratitude is overwhelming.

The exhibit contains maybe 20 pieces in four smallish rooms.  After viewing the full exhibition, I again sat in front of piece above.  I continued:

They are so full of life — live really lived — the good, the bad, the joy and the sorrow. As rich as life itself.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1977

I turned on the bench to look at the gorgeous oil diptych above, Heel, Sit, Stay (110″ x 126″, 1977):

I feel I want to fall into this painting. I want to lie with the lilacs, feel the sun on me, smell the breeze filled with earth and life.

I could go on but I think you get the idea that I love this show. This work by this amazing woman is a prime example of why I love art. Joan loved the Romantic poets, Wordsworth especially. Patricia Albers writes in her biography of Joan, Joan Mitchell Lady Painter – a Life, of the two:

At their best, both painter and poet — retain not conventionalized memories neatly fitting the preset schematics of  adult experience but rather something closer to the unwieldy and unnameable raw material of life. (p 102)

Or has the Irishman Van Morrison sings in his brilliant and beautiful ode to the romantic ideal Summertime in England  from his album Common One:

Take a walk with me down by Avalon
And I will show you
It ain’t why, why, why
It just is.

Again, sigh. Some more images from the show below.

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§ CreateNYC: The Work Begins in Queens….

The October 25th NYC Cultural Plan kickoff event in the Bronx at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture at Hostos Community College was great fun and filled with energy. While it was informative as an introduction to the Cultural Plan process, it was intentionally not focused on the hard work of what we need to do to create and implement NYC’s first ever plan focused on culture.

That work (at least from the public involvement standpoint) really kicked off last night in Queens at the NY Hall of Science. Near the end of the 7 line, the Hall is basically in the same general area as the Queens Museum, beautiful Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the USTA Tennis Center, Queens Botanical Garden, and the Mets’ Citi Field. It’s in a great and diverse part of the city.

The Hall is a terrific venue and last night it was filled by the many faces of the city. All colors, all ages, all gender identities, and a boatload of languages were represented. There was great food and lots of kids running around and playing ping pong. We started with brief remarks before a dance and music performance kicked off the work. The Hester Street team did a great job of moving the process along but still giving us enough time to dig into the issues.

We worked at tables: equity & access, arts education, affordability, neighborhood character, and several for general arts & culture issues. (I was at the latter.)

queensmeeting-2Equity, access, and neighborhood character were key focuses for us though we did have a good discussion on how arts and culture affect overall economic and community development.

I haven’t spent much time in Queens except for a couple of visits to the Queens Arts Museum and walking around Long Island City and Astoria to visit MOMA PS1, the Noguchi Museum, and Socrates Sculpture Park. So it was very interesting to listen to the others at the table who had stronger connections and very different perspectives. I heard about pockets of Queens where arts and culture are not as much a part of the community, where access is limited, and where connections between different cultures are not strong. I was at a table of mostly millennial women and I heard talk of wanting to feel a stronger and more open interaction and a desire to fit into a richer cultural scene.

We ended with report outs by each of the tables (maybe 12-15) and there was much overlap but some veered off into different directions. One thing was consistent between all the tables: we can do better to make arts, culture, creativity, and shared history a part of every New Yorker’s life.

The next event is on my turf in Brooklyn. A good background graphic on the process is here and I’ve added parts of it below in a slideshow.

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§ The First Ever New York City Cultural Plan!


It’s hard to imagine that a 400-year old city which has historically been a world mecca for culture and the arts has never actually thought about creating an actual cultural plan. Now’s a great time as cities and towns across the world have started to examine and promote their cultural assets and milieu. The task was correctly handed to the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs or DCLA as its known. Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl is the perfect leader for this task.

hesterstreetlogoThe Hester Street Collaborative won the contract with a team that includes James Lima Planning + Development, NOCD-NY, BJH Advisors, and House of Cakes Design. It is a massive effort working under a nearly impossible deadline but the city made a great choice. To keep up with the effort bookmark CreateNYC.

The plan public kickoff event was held in the Bronx at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture at Hostos Community College on October 25th. It was a rousing event and a lovely evening. As someone pretty new to NYC (1st anniversary will be December 19th) it was wonderful to see so many of the people in the NYC cultural world I’ve met during 2016 including Charlotte Cohen of the Brooklyn Arts Council, Wendy Feuer of NYC DOT, Jennifer Lantzas of NYC Parks, Susan Chin of the Design Trust for Public Space, and Shirley Levy and Tom Finkelpearl of DCLA.alicesheppard

The event was excellent and very well attended. As I mentioned to Betsy McLean of Hester Street and James Lima of James Lima Planning, it went off like clockwork. It started with a rousing hour of short speeches and beautiful performances – just long enough but not too long. While all the performers were wonderful, Alice Sheppard’s dance was my favorite.

After the performances, everybody stayed for the after event with various informational tables, food, and conversation. I got to make a number of new friends and learned more about the process. It was a tremendous start! Here are a few photos I took:

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FYI, the next big workshop events are in Queens,


Come to an event! Through the spring of 2017 there will be borough-wide workshops, focus groups, round table discussions, and community-based meetings convened by local organizations. Keep up at Create NYC!

§ Street Art & Graffiti in Dumbo

Here is more Brooklyn street art and graffiti, but I’ve expanded my horizons to DUMBO. I went to Dumbo for one of the Open House NYC Oct 16 venues at Kings County Distillery in the Paymaster Building at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard. FYI: it’s a fun visit.

I went early so I could walk around Dumbo and decided to look for street art. I headed to a less visited area, more industrial and residential than Brooklyn hipster. Most of these are on John and Plymouth streets going north out of DUMBO.

Many of these are closer to graffiti than street art though I mostly ignore that distinction. There were a fair number of political-leaning images and some humorous and tongue-in-cheek. I’ll include a photo or two of the distillery too. Take a walk around Dumbo and check them out in person.

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§ The Fabulous Beverly McIver at the Betty Cunningham Gallery

Detail of a Beverly self-portraitBeverly McIver at Betty Cunningham Gallery

I can’t believe I waited so long to post on the Beverly McIver exhibition! (At least I did publish on Tumblr a few weeks ago!) But you only have a few days left: closing on October 15th.

Beverly McIver is a wonderful artist from Durham NC. She’s honest, fierce, compassionate, and talented. She’s an academic, a mentor, and a treasure in the Research Triangle Region. She’s also a really good human being.

Her talent is undeniable. I went by and chatted with her to hear about her new exhibit. She’s put together an amazing amount of fascinating and bold work in 2016. It’s hard to imagine how someone could create this much fabulous work in 9 months, but I think she was just in one of those places that artists get artists get: where something clicks. It can be something dramatic or tragic or beautiful. In this case I think it’s a joy. What a joy this show is!

As an aside, I met Betty Cuningham (another thrill) and she could not be nicer or a better gallery owner! Here’s a link for you for the McIver show:

Here are some of the pieces in the show.

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§ The Awesome Patti Smith


Patti Smith - M Train
Patti Smith – M Train

Patti at Congregation Beth Elohim SynagogueThe Reading…

I saw Patti Smith Friday night, September 15, 2016, at the beautiful Congregation Beth Elohim synagogue in Brooklyn reading from her recent memoir M Train. She is an institution in the city and was clearly adored by the 1,400 crammed into the space.

She brought Lenny Kaye along and, between the readings, they played 5 or 6 songs including a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” Here’s a 1976 version from Boston that segues briefly into “Louie, Louie” at the end.


Patti, Lenny and the crowd closed with a rousing “Because the Night”, a song she and Bruce Springsteen wrote about her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith.

It was a delightful night. She’s quite charming and seems like someone you’d want to talk with over a cup of coffee. Her extemporaneous asides were self deprecating, humorous, and witty. After stumbling over a sentence she noted “Hey I wrote it, doesn’t mean I can pronounce it!” By the way, the paperback of M Train includes a new ending chapter that was not in the 2015 hardcover.

The Book…Van Gogh

An aside and disclaimer…The thoughts below may very well be nothing more than a projection of what I want to be true…

Today I sit outside on our little deck reading M Train. I’m struck by how she remembers scenes. They are descriptive of course, but I get the strong feeling that they are remembrances through a hazy lens, intentionally coated with petroleum jelly. Her goal is not to recreate the scene but to interpret it like an impressionist painter. She picks and chooses, choreographs, and curates what is and what is not of essence.

I imagine a sense of time where memory is elastic and purposely romantic. Where what is important is less about accuracy and more about inhabiting a world in which one is both a participant and a director. It is akin to my axiom to never ruin a good story with the truth.

But she is after truth in the sense that she gets to the core, if not the perfect details, of the experience. To claim that she is not faithfully portraying the scenes misses the point. Did Van Gogh faithfully paint his sunflowers and are they not the most beautiful you’ve ever seen? M Train is like a deep satisfying dream, perhaps a story filtered through an image of an opium den or maybe a channeling of the ghost of William Blake. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

This is not really a review per se as I’m less than halfway through the book. It’s more about building myself a frame of reference as I slowly make my way through, savoring each little nugget. Obviously M Train is highly recommended.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about Patti I highly recommend checking out the brilliant Maria Popova at her fascinating website Brain PickingsIn this post she writes about when Patti really knew that she was an artist. The quote from Patti’s delightful first memoir Just Kids suggests that my interpretation makes some sense.

The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.

What a beautiful swan she is.


§ NYC Cultural Affairs Guided Tour of Harlem Public Art

Willie BirchI was lucky enough to get on the list for #NYCultureonWheels and join NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (NYCDCR) Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, Kendal Henry, NYCDCR Director of the Percent for Art Program, artist Gabriel Koren, Eugenie Tsai, the Brooklyn Museum’s Curator of Contemporary art (and Tom’s wife), and a pack of public art lovers. We toured Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) public art and NYCDCR Percent for Art Program pieces. In addition, we were joined by Marcus Garvey Park Alliance President Connie Lee who showed some wonderful work within this underappreciated Harlem park.

It was great to meet Commissioner Finkelpearl and see Kendal again, but I met some new wonderful and interesting people too. Artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez was so gracious and we saw two of his pieces. Connie Lee was a great tour guide. I also chatted with a delightful young woman from The Studio Museum of Harlem and I can’t believe I’ve forgotten her name!


While writing this up I found a fascinating NYT article on Alison Saar’s solemn and captivating piece and why Harriet Tubman is defiantly heading south.

I also found a rather tragic but unfortunately way too common story of Gabriel Koren whose Frederick Douglass sculpture at the northwest corner of Central Park began our tour. The 2015 article describing her loss of studio space, Priced Out of Brooklyn, a Sculptor Seeks a New Studio to Rent, is even more relevant today as I watch and read about the loss of space for artists of all types in nearby Gowanus. Reports like this seem to be in my inbox on a weekly basis.

Back to regularly scheduled programming……Here’s a few pics of the public art, murals, sculptures, and installations we saw on the walk. Click on any image for a slideshow.

§ Lesley Riddle, the Carter Family & the History of Country Music

Step by Step cd coverOkay, so this is a bit of a tangent, a little history on Lesley Riddle, an important and underappreciated African-American musician who, with the Carter Family, changed the course of country music. I’ll follow up this post with another that includes some of Lesley’s music and also some bits of tape recordings from Lesley, Maybelle Carter, and Mike Seeger.

A couple of years ago when I was Creative Economies Director at the NC Arts Council I was tasked to write an appeal to the NC Historic Commission for their rejection of a highway marker honoring Lesley Riddle, an African-American from Burnsville, NC. Riddle had a singular relationship with A.P. and Maybelle Carter and the Carter family starting in the late 1920s. The appeal followed a specific format documenting errors made by the commission. The appeal was successful and actually got applause from the panel. (It helped that two friends from Burnsville played a couple of Lesley songs at the end!)

The written appeal is 10 pages (download here) and includes the history of Lesley & the Carters relationship along with a series of support letters from historians, a relative of Lesley’s, and Rita Forrester, Sara and A.P. Carter’s granddaughter. I hope you enjoy this bit of history, truly a great American story.

Lesley Riddle appeal for a highway historic marker