Mourning Series – Gut Wrenching, 1992

An Excellent Contrast To Sue Coe’s Porkopolis

Newberry, Mourning Series - Gut Wrenching, 1992, charcoal on Rives BFK, 30x22"
Newberry, Mourning Series – Gut Wrenching, 1992, charcoal on Rives BFK, 30×22″

In 1992 I wrote the review of Sue Coe’s Exhibition, Porkopolis, at the Santa Monica Museum, the same year when I drew this work, Gut Wrenching, from the series Mourning and Rebirth.

A year or two before the series two family members died, and a dear friend. The friend had died from a brain aneurism, he had posed for me; my very dear grandmother had died when I was abroad; and my lover’s sister died of cancer. My grandfather had died some years before, but he was very old when I was young, and I didn’t remember him well. Oddly, my family thought I should stay home, while my other 4 siblings (both older and younger than me) went to his service. Apparently, the consensus was that I was too sensitive to be exposed to a funeral.

Peter Duble, was a contemporary, and he worked in Wall Street, and a few times after work he would take the Staten Island Ferry and come pose for my project The Individuals’ Revolution. He was one of the most passionate friends I had ever had. He did everything with a vengeance, to suck up every microsecond of life. He was like a fire cracker exploding 24/7. A likely reason for his intensity was they he knew he would die young. He had a disease of weak blood vessels, it was diagnosed when he was teen, and the doctors only gave him one or two decades to live. He died when his brain’s blood vessels swelled and exploded leaving him brain dead. A decision had to be made to pull the plug.

Marjan Mechielsen Peters, had a more peaceful death, but terribly gut wrenching. She was a young mom, with a husband and four children. She had terminal cancer and had time to say her goodbyes. I had never been in the physically proximity to someone dying, but I was visiting her country Holland at the time, and she asked to see me. She held my hand and talked about my art, and how magnificent my painting Denouement was, and that no matter what happened, come hell or high water, I must always paint as I was given a special gift. The next day she passed.

I loved my grandmother so much. I might never have been an artist if it were not for her brilliant perception of humans, truth, and talent. Ha, I might have also picked up my distain for postmodern art from her. I was still a child and she was absolutely brutal in her critique of a Time Magazine (or Life) Magazine cover of a Mark Rothko abstract painting. She wasn’t angry, perplexed, or worried, rather her body language was thoroughly amused at the ridiculousness of it. She said with ruthless confidence, “It is like a house painter painting square swatches of color and saying ‘Hey lady, is the color you want?!'” It amused her so much, and then her interest in it was over, and never mentioned again.

She had the entire Time/Life book library of visual artists. At the time they were all the classically great artists like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Delacroix. I loved pouring through those books. Later as a young adult, I was traveling to Europe, and she asked me to put a rose on Michelangelo’s grave. Now, I think she was cleverly initiating me into powerful mysteries of honoring and respecting art.

But my most powerful memory and emotion I have ever had was when I was eleven years old walking with her in La Jolla, looking at bookstore windows. And there was a painted portrait of a women, that had light and shadow gently moving around and caressing her. And her eyes were limpid with the most empathetic gaze I had every seen in a painting. The painting was Rembrandt’s life partner, Hendrickje Stoffels, c. 1654. It is in the Louvre. That moment the world stopped, and all I felt was a love on level beyond my comprehension, and it would fuel me for the rest of my life as an artist. My grandmother in her wisdom, knew the book was right for me, and she gave it to me for my 12 birthday present. I devoured that book every night trying so hard to decipher what visuals caused the magical feelings I had for his paintings. Rembrandt became, and still is, my primary standard of what great art is—gravitas and love, mixed with irresistible currents of light and shadow.

These three deaths were beyond my ability to absorb them. I couldn’t take in the ceremony honoring my grandmother, and I did not want to be there or think about it. It was not that I was cold-hearted, but whenever I thought about them, I froze. I thought it was absurd that me with all my passion for art couldn’t be equally passionate about mourning. My strength has always been how I think and feel as an artist. Then I realized the way to mourn these special people was to honor them through art. With clarity of mind and emotion I decided to make The Mourning and Rebirth Series of nine large charcoal drawings, working with models to convey mourning, loss, and love.

A concept that surfaced was that mourning is a feeling that just goes out and dissipates into the universe. There is no solution, nothing you can do to stop the loss, and there is no plan B. I have always felt right making paintings with happiness as an end in itself, but it was hard to leave loss as an end it itself, I wanted to rebel and fix it. But the art made me accept I can’t fix everything, and had to just accept the loss.

When the series was completed they were framed in customed heavy large black frames from, at the time, the best framers in Los Angeles. Then showed in my 2,000 sq loft in L.A. and I sold most of them. Three of them went my friend Dr. Annie Iriye, an OB/GYN physician that was instrumental in creating an all female group and staff. Another went to Wally Harper, famed Broadway musical director, composer, conductor, dance arranger, and musical supervisor. It was unexpectedly that works of such gravitas were collected.

My biggest disappointment with the art world is that when I would visit a museum or a few magnificently galleries I would feel homesickness, as those places were fitting for my work, instead of stupid installations of bricks and other absurdities that they showed. But over time I learned how spiritually corrupt the art world is.

Newberry, Mourning Series - Gut Wrenching, detail feet, 1992, charcoal on Rives BFK, 30x22"
Newberry, Mourning Series – Gut Wrenching, detail feet, 1992, charcoal on Rives BFK, 30×22″
Newberry, Mourning Series - Gut Wrenching, detail of knees, 1992, charcoal on Rives BFK, 30x22"
Newberry, Mourning Series – Gut Wrenching, detail of knees, 1992, charcoal on Rives BFK, 30×22″

I was living and breathing this extraordinarily intense and meaningful state of mind when I visited the Sue Coe exhibition of slaughtering pigs. Coe’s art is based on social commentary, the subjects are abstractions of political opinions, social justice, and protests. It is not psychologically personal. It might feel personally important to her when she is passionate about Donald Trump (one of Coe’s themes), but if she is more passionate about a politician than her personal life and loves, then she has little emotional intelligence and belongs in therapy, not in a museum. When artists express political beliefs they devolve into propaganda hacks, destroying the wisdom they may have had about the human condition. When you combine that with Coe’s lack of technical talent, a question arises: What the hell is the crap doing in a museum? After 45 years observing the art world as an exceptional artist, the answer is: the crap is in the museum because that is what they want to show to the public. The deeper explanation to why (from a previous essay):

There is a disturbing pattern to contemporary art museums for over 50 years, they don’t show us the best artists, they show us mediocrities. The question is why? One reason can be envy driven, that when an institution elevates mediocrities the result deflates attention from great artists. Another can be low-self esteem, that the art exemplifies the administrators absence of self-worth. A third option can be that the museum has nefarious agendas, like money laundering, and that the art is beside the point. A fourth can be that contemporary art museums are tools for a massive PsyOp that disintegrates the mental, emotion, and sensory network of people, consequently rendering them vulnerable to manipulation. A fifth can be psychotic self-hatred, not content to off themselves they live for destroying human values.

A contemporary museum does not want great contemporary and meaningful art.

Back in 1992, the director the Santa Monica Museum that held the Sue Coe exhibition, Porkopolis, was quoted in a newspaper article, I am recalling it from memory, but he said something like: the future of art will be disturbing and violent [the tired riff of Kant’s concepts of the Sublime, violating our imaginations]. After seeing the exhibition and having a coffee break with my colleagues at Otis College of Art and Design, we were discussing the exhibition. One of the art professors was trying to convince us, and herself, that her art was was disturbing and violent. And if it wasn’t it would be; she would go jump through hoops to get a show at the museum. The director of the museum was subliminally changing the attitudes and behaviors of both artists and and viewers.

A museum is a powerful PsyOp tool.

There is a great book by Michael Fitzgerald, Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art. He discusses how financers and museum directors worked behind the scenes to increase the market value of art by getting museum approbation. The book also great stories during WWII and Picasso.

Museums are great secular temples. They convey that the greatest, the most profound, and only extraordinarily vetted artworks will be presented for the edification of the masses. They are used, either for good or bad depending on the director and board, to psychologically shape the attitudes and behaviors. It is unconceivable to most people that a museum would be used for nefarious reasons, even if every fiber in their bodies tells them they are being bullshitted. Due to this BlackOp manipulation the audience will be the first to engage in self-recriminations, such as: who are they to judge. And then like docile sheep be led to the slaughterhouse.

It is pathetic and sick that anyone would take noble institutions and turn them into whore houses, or worse, to turn them in tools of mass indoctrination with the aim of destroying human evolution. It is a postmodern anti-value playbook, infiltrate prestigious institutions, and destroy any values they might have offered.

The antidote is to be hypercritical of institutions, not to automatically assume they are authorities, or noble.

Great art is made of up talent, innovation, and perceptive insights into the human psyche; not the political rantings of untalented sociopaths.

Michael, Idyllwild, June 7, 2022

Frame of References:

Coe, Sue. Scenes from the Slaughterhouse. https://www.graphicwitness.org/coe/meatpack.htm

Coe, Sue. The Broad. https://www.thebroad.org/art/sue-coe

Fitzgerald, Michael. Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art. https://www.amazon.com/Making-Modernism-Picasso-Creation-Twentieth-Century/dp/0520206533/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1654703251&sr=8-2-fkmr2

Harper, Wally. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wally_Harper

Iriye, Annie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9YTdgR93wE&ab_channel=ThurstonCountyChamber

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48433/48433-h/48433-h.htm

Newberry, Michael. The Cult of Oblivion: CIA, Abstract Expressionists, and Kant

Newberry, Michael. Oh Please, Not the Bacon

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