May 4th, 2006


Hello (and goodbye) flowers!

What's the connection between art and ethics? Is art that's ethically good good art? Not always. But I feel very drawn to art which is both aesthetically satisfying and "ethically beautiful". It's important to me. I like to endorse art which is not only beautiful, but seems to have been made by a person who is morally beautiful. This relates very much to my reactions to the Japanther fiasco on Saturday night at the Whitney (and I suspect this thing is going to be the talk of New York when the Village Voice runs its story about it), and it might even relate to something like "the Smiths phenomenon", the fact that wherever you go in New York The Smiths are playing, and one of the qualities (apart from Morrissey's good voice and strong lyrics) that makes The Smiths so enduring is the deeply humane quality of many of their lyrics, the ethical stance on meat, property, exclusion, and so on. Millions of badboy rock artists come and go (I'm thinking of Andrew WK, or ARE Weapons, or people like that), but the ones who endure often have a higher ethical view; they actually address the question "How then should we live?" and come up with some answers.

I was in Kinokuniya at the Rockerfeller Center yesterday leafing through Drop Dead Cute: the new generation of women artists in Japan, and decided I really like the work of a painter called Yuko Murata. Using thick paint, simple shapes, nature imagery and off-kilter compositional crops, Murata paints with an almost childlike naivete. Her work makes me think of painters like Luc Tuymans or Karen Kilimnik (with whom she shares a Tokyo dealer, Gallery Side 2). There's real compassion in her paintings of animals; I instantly feel I'm in the presence of a good person, a person I'd entrust with important decisions, a person who "feels with" all living creatures.

Here's a little internet exhibition of Yuko Murata's paintings: an owl, an arched rock, a little bird, a sheep, a bat, a rabbit, a mouse, a field.

Murata is 33. I feel like I know where she's coming from, because I've known so many young Japanese women with similar tastes and ethics. They've been, to be honest, the greatest loves of my life, and in a sense my gurus and "seeing formers". I idolize them. I know their taste. They always love Mark Borthwick, and Jonas Mekas (and indeed a cursory image google turns up a photo Yuko made of Jonas Mekas, if it's the same Yuko). I'd say Tujiko Noriko is cut from the same cloth, and so is Rinko Kawauchi.

Hikaru Furuhashi is just about to graduate from SFAI. She loves Jonas Mekas, Mark Borthwick, and the philosophy of the Dalai Lama. Her work, like this 8mm film, Where is my head?, combines electronic disorienteering and a slightly spooky, surreal quality with friendliness and a sort of universal empathy, especially with nature, the sky and animals.

I don't doubt for a moment that this nature sentiment is rooted in Shinto. It's something I've tried to capture on my forthcoming album "Ocky Milk", but I actually doubt that, in the end, I've managed to transcend my own deep protestantism and its need to fight and quarrel and reject. It might be easy to stereotype this way of feeling and thinking about life as something hippy, something a bit "Hello trees, hello animals, hello flowers, hello sky!" But I can promise you that it isn't easy to achieve, especially in the world we live in today, and despite the fact that it's precisely what we need.

In contrast, yesterday I watched American artist Joe Gibbons' film "A Time to Die", part of the Whitney Biennial, in which "Gibbons is an irascible hit man accosting autumnal flowers for hanging on to their beauty after their prime". He actually makes chopping the heads off blooms look tremendously violent, which is funny, but also sad:

"Our botanical pugilist," says the Lincoln Center Film Society "picks on specimens less than his own size, quoting Ecclesiastes and offering life lessons with last rites of occasional mercy and ruthless pruning. Tidy tips for candytufts: “Life is short,” “A moment’s sunlight on the grass.” Gibbons personifies Pascal’s definition of man as a thinking reed, albeit with a switchblade.  A Time to Die serves as a timely update of some of Gibbon’s early Super-8 films, where he sucker punched garden varieties and showed nature who was boss."

Goodbye, flowers!