Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gomes’ The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, my past and future

“There was a time when we could sing, preach and pray about radical social justice in church and not be ashamed; there was a time when we could hold all of American society to a common standard of Christian Morality that had implications for our economy, our foreign and domestic policy, and the use of our resources and our neighbors”

(Gomes, 163).

My dad had been sent to Houston, Texas by Rohm & Haas company as part of the team to construct a new plant there. I was thirteen, and I spent my eighth grade year in Houston and it proved to be one of the best years of my life as a public school student. It wasn’t because of the high quality of the schools; they weren’t up to Bucks County schools. Instead, it was the warmth of the people. In Pasadena I made friends easily. Also, Pasadena was, at the time, one massive middle class suburban complex. It had none of the stratified caste system of Bucks County - a concentric ring of towns arranged by economic and social status in order from lower to higher, proceeding northeastward across the county. Oh yes, I was kidded about being a “damn Yankee,” and my peers made jokes about the way I pronounced words like oil. “It’s o – i – l,” they’d say as they spelled and then pronounced it in their drawn-out South Texas drawl, “not o – y – a – l.” However, it was all based in congenial camaraderie. As long as I laughed with them, they were more than willing to draw me into the social life of South Pasadena Junior High School. I quickly adapted to the easy society of my southern friends, and the slower pace in the greater Huston area. To demonstrate just how laid-back it was, one day my dad came home at lunchtime and announced, “we decided to close down for the afternoon.” Mom and I laughed because such a thing could not possibly happen in the driven Northeast. I’m not sure it could happen in the Huston of the 21st Century. Never the less, I absorbed the slower more relaxed attitude of the deep south like a sponge, and was not prepared for the return to the fast paced and snooty stratified school life encountered upon our return to Pennsylvania.

After being away but one year and three months, Bucks County was a cultural shock. In fact, the only pleasant social part of my fourteenth year was the little Church my parents belonged to. That year I attended the Presbyterian equivalent of Catholicism’s catechism, a class designed for young teenagers who were to become members of the church. During those classes Reverend Stone presented to us the “Good News of Jesus’ Gospel.” We also covered the books of the Pentateuch with the goal of preparing for that good news. Reverend Stone would often stop during those Sunday school classes and ask, “So, what is the difference between the vindictive, angry and jealous God of the Old Testament, and the God Jesus presents to us in the Gospel? We studied Jesus’ teaching; the parables, the beatitudes, and the miracles. We were allowed to question the Bible, and lively discussions ensued. Did science provide answers concerning some of the miracles? Could a miracle still be a miracle if it was possible to explain it scientifically? Reverend Stone often answered our questions with another. “Why couldn’t a miracle still be a miracle if you could explain it scientifically?”

Those Sunday school classes showed me that God loved all of his creation, and that included everyone, everywhere, even communists, criminals, all Caucasians and all the various races of man. As corollary I also learned that in order to be a good citizen I had to love all of God’s creation, just as God loved me. Additionally, I learned that I had to practice love through “good works,” and I was required to demonstrate that practice at church and in our community before I could become a member of the church. In short, Jesus had long ago taught his disciples, they in turn spread the good news, and finally the written word of The New Testament was teaching me a way to (at least try to) be in this world.

To be continued.

* Gomes, Peter J., The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s so Good About the Good News? Harper Collins Publishers (New York) 2007

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Election Season Economic Crash Fears of an Artist

The following is a total rant.

As a gay male artist, I must admit that out of necessity I am a liberal both politically and in the practice of my Christian religion. Thus, I am constantly angered by the Republican, self-righteous Christian Right’s use of “Values” (like the rest of us don’t have any) and questionable political practices (like lies) to obtain their ideological goals to limit my freedom as an American citizen. At the same time, I am horrified at the stupidity of my fellow middle and working class American citizens in allowing themselves to be hoodwinked into accepting the increasing limitations being placed on their ability to work toward the American Dream by the current administration, and the Neo-con Republican ideologues. * I am even more appalled by the fact that racial prejudice among the (white) middle class may cost Obama the election in November. *2 Darn, I sound frightened and angry as I read this. Its just that the possible extension of this Republican pro corporation, “anything goes” system, for 4 to 8 more years through McCain and Palin scares the (BLEEP) out of me. And now, McCain wants to postpone the first presidential candidate’s debate because he’s suddenly concerned about the economy (bull-BLEEP!)

In fact, part of the reason I am so frightened is because I’ve been watching the economy take its hyperbolic slide down hill since September 2005 with increasing anxiety as greed and denial eliminated the first two and one half years of the slide from our collective consciousness. Yes, September of 2005, three entire years ago. If you notice Bush and McCain have only begun to admit there is a problem during the past 2 weeks, and we are now three years into the worst economic crises since the 1929 crash and the super depression of the 1930’s. *3 Am I the only American that understands the fact that this economic crisis has been brewing for three years or more? Actually the crisis goes back more than thirty years, since it is based on the super-rich Republican Oil Oligarchy’s “lazy fair” ideology, that you let the economy regulate itself, and then (their) wealth (the super-rich oil oligarchy’s) will gradually trickle down through the rest of the upper classes (those rich families worth less than 5 billion dollars each) to the middle (those earning 5 million a year according to McCain) and gurgle as a happy sludgy brook through the professional and working classes, and finally over the edge of a cliff as a tumbling trickle to dust the poor with a bit of rarified black oil oligarchy mist.

I also find it very interesting that there is that portion of the rich and super-rich upper classes that historically, whether Republican or Democrat, define themselves in ways that make sense to me. These honest rich folk feel a responsibility to distribute their wealth through providing well paying jobs to millions of workers, through charity work and endowments. They do so because the very foundation of their philosophy and religious practice makes them responsible for their brothers and sisters, for they do see humanity as one family (which it is genetically). In fact in the good old days the rich Republican understood that not only did government have to be financially responsible, but that responsibility took into its province the provision for its citizenry of the best possible environment in which to grow in spiritual, emotional and physical wealth. I’m not sure what happened to these Republican and Democratic rich folk. I think they are still around; it’s just that the greedy folk have gotten the upper hand.

As an artist I am faced with putting my work out before the public this winter (after the presidential election) and I hope that there is enough wealth left in the United States that a few people who like my work might be able to afford to buy it. You see, I know that original artwork is the last thing people will buy in an economic crisis. And, rich folk, whether Republican or Democrat, are going to look for an Old World, Modern or Postmodern masterpiece. I’m afraid I don’t fit into any of those categories – not yet anyway (I am writing this last with a smile on my face.)

Oh, and now my fellow middle class and working class Americans don’t want the government to rescue Wall Street because the rich greedy fools caused this mess. “U-u-u-h-h-h U-u-u-h-h-h!” Do these nay saying middle class folk really want to let all those bad mortgages turn to dust and watch all those families turned out on the streets, all those billions of dollars in assets evaporate? The "smash-up" such a mess would make causes the 1929 crash to look like a walk in the park! The Democrats in the Senate and Congress have it right here. Here are some of the restrictions that must be put on the bailout. First, don’t allow the CEO’s of these companies to walk away with millions for having put their companies in harms way. Second, make sure that the now government owned companies pay back as much of the tax payers money as possible over time. Third, the rescued companies must be forced to buy back their stock at some point in the future. Fourth, at least some of the money earned from these buy-backs should end up in tax payer's pockets.

My Excuse for this Diatribe

Because of preparing for my show and the concerns that groundwork has generated I’m in a political panic, thus, this entry in “The Art Of John Bittinger Klomp.” In the end I must allow my spiritual self to have the upper hand - that part of me which understands all of this entry to be based on worldly concerns - that God has a much larger view of things including the entire universe, not just this tiny bit of consciousness on this tiny spec of dust of a world lost among the hundred thousand stars of the Milky Way Galaxy which is itself lost among the thousands of other galaxies spread across empyreal space and time.


*Perhaps the American Dream needs redefining or at least the original American dream needs to be reemphasized. It seems to have become increasingly coupled with the idea that one works toward becoming buried in manufactured junk of all kinds, rich beyond anything Midas could have imagined, and entitled to any/all assistance that the government can provide, provided that anyone of any other political, social, religious, racial, sexual persuasion is not so assisted.

*2 (09-20-08) Yes, this will be something of a rant. I was just reading this morning's news, specifically the Associated Press Article titled "Racial views steer some white Dems away from Obama," The article states that racial prejudice on the part of Democrats and Independents may cost Obama as much as 2 and 1/2 percentage points which will go instead to McCain. The article discusses the fact that 40% of whites in America still harbor some prejudice against blacks according to a recent Stanford University study. This is an academic study done with care and precision, not a national poll taken by one of the news services. I personally am ashamed of my fellow Caucasian Democrats who still exhibit such foolish prejudice in the 21st Century. We as middle class whites complain that Latin persons are taking our jobs away from us, when illegal aliens are the only folks who are willing to dig ditches, do public and domestic gardening, wash dishes, as well as other menial jobs. We complain that blacks are lazy when we ourselves would refuse to lift a shovel to dig a hole. Well, I've got news for most white middle class Americans - your present Republican government headed by G. W. Bush has put you in an economic space so dangerous that you may well end up having to do those jobs that the lazy black folk of your imaginings won't do, and the illegal aliens actuality do, because you personally, corporations and local governments won't have the money to pay to have them done. So much for prejudice being alive and well in America!

*3 In view of the fact that I began writing this article last week - the sudden recognition of the worst economic crisis since THE GREAT DEPRESSION has finally happened with the government bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG and many others - we are now a socialist state. Isn’t that nice to know. And all of this has taken place under the Republican, GW - “Lazy Fair” -Bush administration!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Marden Hartley (1877-1943)


Universally agreed upon, Marsden Hartley was probably the most innovative and important artist of the group of modernist artists assembled by Alfred Stieglitz in the early 20th century, though it is arguable that Georgia O’Keeffe was the more important painter of the two. Marsden Hartley would, of course, have known Charles Demuth of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, another of the Stieglitz circle, also a homosexual man. Hartley was not only a painter, but a fine critic, writer and poet, whose texts demonstrate the complex nature of his scrabble to come to terms with the sense of abandonment caused by the loss of his mother at age eight, and by the lifelong struggle with his sexuality at a time when public acknowledgement of ones homosexuality could lead to total humiliation and ostracism. . Hartley’s life and his work demonstrate the living conundrum that homosexual men and women experienced at the end of the 19th and during most of the 20th century. That being said, his worship of the German War machine, and affair with a German officer (Karl von Freyburg) at the beginning of and during the first years of World War I is at best difficult to understand even from this nearly century remove in time. His painting, one of a series, “Portrait of a German Officer,” is the symbolic representation of the body of, and pays homage to von Freyburg.

It is said that the necessity of the closet created the need for Hartley to reinvent himself and his artistic style and philosophy repeatedly during his career, first as a modernist in which the requirement is that the artist’s innermost self be visible in the work, and later as a painter of the various regional American landscapes – he traveled to New Mexico, California, Massachusetts, New York, and of course returned to Maine - and created the series of abstracted portraits of plain fishermen and their families, in particular the Mason family in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. There, he worshipped the two Mason sons who were drowned at sea, and he wrote Cleophas and His Own: A North Atlantic Tragedy, perhaps his best writing, based on his experiences in Maine and Nova Scotia.

Hartley’s portrait of himself as a young tank-shirted stud, painted toward the end of his life, is emblematic of his lifelong battle to recognize his inmost homosexual self, and his career and work both as an artist and writer demonstrate that constant conflict with his sexuality. He is enigmatically, a gay male artist who dealt with the male body, often tangentially through symbols to represent that body, and through writing about his great love for men that he must express also indirectly through metaphor and disguised as brotherly and/or familial in nature, and that love is then finally invested in the American landscape through his painting. Thus, his work is all about Hartley’s gay vision and its relationship to his sexuality.

*It is believed that it is acceptable to use this copyrighted image under the "fair use" section of United States copyright law for scholarly purposes. The original work, "Sustained Comedy," by Marsden Hartley belongs to the Carnegie Museum. It was a gift (1939) of Mervin Jules in memory of Hudson Walker, and is 28 & 1/2" x 22."


Weinberg, Jonathan. Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant- Garde. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

On the Web Sources

Gonzales, Ken. Hartley, Marsden, glbtq: and Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Culture. http://www.glbtq.com/arts/hartley_m.html. Last modified January 13, 2006, viewed 9:24 A.M. EDT. , Tuesday, September 16, 2008.

Hartley, Marsden, "Sustained Comedy."Carnegie Museum of Art, http://www.cmoa.org/info/history.asp. Viewed Thursday, September 18, 2008, 10:24 A.M., EDT.

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Hartley, Marsden. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsden_Hartley. Last modified August 16, 2008, viewed 9:00 A.M. EDT. Tuesday, September 16, 2008.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Robert Mapplethorpe


One in a continuing series of entries about gay male artists and their work

On first glance who wouldn’t say that Robert Mapplethorpe’s work is all about the male nude, and thus the male body? Instead, I would say that our culture gets in the way of our accurate perception of Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre. In fact, if there is such a thing as my thesis statement - that there is this new (or perhaps it’s old) trend in gay male art about gay male vision and its relationship to gay male sexuality – then we must look at Robert Mapplethorpe keeping that possibility in mind. As proof of the possibility, there are those beautifully lit, technically perfect and composed images of flowers. At the same time, there is no denying that Mapplethorpe was about pornographic male images. Very often his men are engorged, and the photographs of well-endowed black men tell of his predilection. I would contend that both types of images are all about Mapplethorpe’s vision, but the second, the male nudes, are also about how his vision relates to his sexuality. His is the self-indulgent eye looking for the erotic subject that stimulates his own sexual desire. Mapplethorpe disproves that my two distinct types of gay male art are distinct. Instead, Robert Mapplethorpe demonstrates that one type is merely subsumed within the other. So, I’m wondering if I haven’t just spent more than a year looking at gay male art and photography through the oculus of a thesis statement that obfuscates rather than clarifies understanding.

*Mapplethorpe, Robert, "Ajitto, 1981." The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, http://www.mapplethorpe.org/, viewed 10:00 AM EDT, Friday, September 12, 2008.
This is a copyrighted image though it is believed that use to illustrate an article about Robert Mapplethorpe is acceptable as long as the image is not to be repeated in any other venue.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Once Upon a Nasty Pea Stone Driveway

It had been pea stone since the house was built fourteen years ago. Weeds grew in it, and had to be dug out and/or poisoned every spring. It was washing away at one corner, and the lip of the garage concrete pad was left floating in the air. Over time all our neighbors paved their driveways with asphalt while ours just got more weed filled and the wood edging timbers rotted and started growing things as well. Through all the gradual decay we kept postponing paving it because we both hate macadam/asphalt.

Now, if HGTV came to make an episode about our new driveway, perhaps they’d call it “Instant Driveway Curb Appeal,” though it wasn’t so instant. I can also hear one of their talking heads saying “you’ve more than doubled your money on this one.” Seriously though, as you can see, this concrete looks like limestone cut from an ancient reef. We watched the workers create our new drive over a 5-day period, and the process is amazing. Once the excavating, pouring, and leveling were done, they had to catch the drying tan colored concrete at exactly the right moment. Then, in something of a rush because they had a several hour window, they used about six different sized rubber molds that were stamped randomly into the wet surface at various angles. Next, as the surface dried further, again at exactly the right moment, a gray powder was scattered about a quarter to a half-inch deep over the entire surface. The powder reacted chemically with the drying concrete to create deeper and lighter tones in the cement surface. When the concrete had cured properly the powder was power-washed away, revealing the darker toned crevices and pits in our faux stone driveway. Finally, after the concrete dried again, it was sealed with silica over and over. Now, when I look at the driveway the ersatz stone surface is so convincing that I know our concrete specialist created a piece of cement artwork, and I’m convinced that our concrete guy is an artist in addition to being a skilled laborer.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

David Wojnarowicz and Peter Hujar

One in a continuing series of entries about gay male artists and their work

I’ve looked all over the Internet, and found a great deal about David Wojnarowicz’ art, less about the artist, and still less about his relationship with Peter Hujar. I did read that Peter had acted as a mentor to David. I also read about the photographs David took of Peter, dead of AIDS in the hospital corridor. Perhaps I know a small amount of the rage David must have felt toward the disease that took his friend/lover and that he knew would ultimately take his own life. I also know something of the alienation he felt toward the society he lived in, having felt like a space alien stranded on earth myself as a teenager and young closeted gay twenty something art educator.

However, I had a good family history with two loving parents, who did everything they could to get a cure for my homosexuality. Yes, a cure. Don’t forget, it was 1962 when I came out to them. Homosexuality was just about the worst thing that could happen to a parent. Besides, obviously and happily it didn’t work. Ah, but I digress. David, on the other hand, had a dysfunctional family history, ended up on the streets of New York as a teenage hustler, spent time traveling as a street person all over the continental U.S., to the West Coast and Paris, and (to my mind) was rescued by Peter Hujar. The artistic training David received was from Peter, and he lived and worked as an outsider in a world that gave him little, and stole the life that David built for himself out of the nothing he had been given.

Anger! Yes. The amazing miracle is that he was able to take the hand he was dealt and turn it into a full house for the rest of us. Did he explore his life in relation to his sexuality! You bet! Did his lover, Peter do the same. Absolutely! Thus two more gay artists disprove my original thesis statement.

*"David Wojnarowicz Majic Box," Beatrice Glow, October 24, 2007 entry, http://blogs.nyu.edu/blogs/bsg251/beatriceglow/wojnarowicz.jpg, viewed Thursday, September 4, 2008. This is a copyrighted image though it is believed that use to illustrate an article about David Wojnarowicz is acceptable as long as the image is not to be repeated in any other venue.