Archive for October, 2010

the “it” girls

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

In 1920 the 19th amendment was finally passed in the United States and women won the right to vote. And following right on the heels of that legislation, women forged an analogous and complimentary cultural movement in the heat of the roaring twenties popularly known as the “flappers”. Although the entomology of the term still remains vague, suffice it to say it’s meaning falls somewhere between being a young  woman (with low hanging hair flapping on their back), to any number of slang  phrases denoting “prostitute”. Or to put it another way would be, the unlikely union of innocence  and intrigue, or the combination of ingenue and femme fatale. The flapper name was eventually conjoined with another popular term of the twenties, “it”, or in this case “the it girl”. “It” was originally coined by English writer Elinor Glyn who described the effect as such;

In Glyn’s story, It, a character explains what “It” really is: “It…that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes… [e]ntirely unself-conscious…full of self-confidence… [i]ndifferent to the effect… [s]he is producing and uninfluenced by others.”

The notion of “IT” eventually became synonymous with flappers through its personification in popular silent films, culminating in the movie of the same name, “IT”, that featured Clara Bow as the “IT” girl. These were movies where the subject itself was self referential to the flapper movement itself or the new fangeld notion of “it” as a way to explain the appeal of the movement and the special quality of it’s headliners.  Clara Bow, along with Louise Brooks, and Colleen Moore became the pivotal film stars that helped popularize the flappers and the notion of it, as a sort of power potion, that laid out both the texture, attitudes, risks, and rewards of the movement itself. Interestingly enough, both Bow and Brooks not only played “it girls” but were actually  “it girls” in real life, having come from poverty ridden lower class backgrounds (Bow) or regular middle class backgrounds (Brooks & Moore), who somehow through their own personal tenacity, charisma, natural talent, and stunning good looks,  got themselves in front of the Hollywood cameras and wildly succeeded without the benefit of either education or training. These three women, through the new medium of film  laid out much of the aesthetics of the newly liberated woman, not so much through playing one in the movies, but by simultaneously being that new woman in real life as well.  Louise Brooks and Clara Bow, went well beyond a simple anti-establishment aesthetic of dress, choice of art preferences in music and dance, or sexual titillations, but went on to established notorious reputations within the film industry of being independent to the point of openly if not colorfully challenging the authority of the very studios that employed them. Clara Bow was especially troublesome with her “unpredictable” Brooklyn street language and mannerisms, and as a consequence, was never never invited to  elite Hollywood parties or social events, and according to some, wasn’t even invited to her own premiers. At any rate, both Bow and Brooks, in spite of their enormous natural talent and success were  eventually blackballed out of the movie business because of their no nonsense and confrontational posture toward the movie elites – both also found themselves living out the the remainders of their lives from whence they came, in relative obscurity, if not in poverty. Colleen Moore, on the other hand quit the flapper identity when scripted alongside Bow (in the Ultimate Flapper) and found herself wanting, married a producer and continued making films until retirement.

Some of the attitudes promoted by the “IT” phenomena beyond the utilization of sexual liberation, unselfconscious charisma, personal independence,  natural self confidence, and a decided anti-authoritarian attitude  were; an implicit internationalism in the adoption of European avant-garde clothing styles instead of American traditional ( flapper dress was distinctly French art nouveu), the first unabashed (and serious) embrace of African American cultural arts in both music – jazz being the preferred music, and the popularization of African American dance styles like the Charleston, the Black Bottom, and later the Lindy Hop, and finally, the blurring of sexual identity and the beginnings of acceptance of gay lifestyles into popular culture.

More than anything though, the “IT” quality pioneered by the above actresses soon became the defining quality of success of the modern woman untethered from traditional roles and expectations.

***The lasting impact of which I witnessed yesterday. In the grocery store I saw a middle aged woman with a perfect Louise Brooks haircut, and just after dark saw any number of  teen girls dressed as flappers for Halloween.

Or as William Faulkner said once, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

colleen moore

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

as Patricia Fentriss 1924 in Flaming Youth, 2010 9″ x 7″ spray paint on panel

(study for) overton window

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

2010, 15′ x 21″ x 2″, oil, spray paint & glue on wallpaper on wood (click on image for closeup)

a tortured space

Monday, October 18th, 2010

2010, 22″ x 33″ x 2″, oil & spray paint on wood, (click on image for closeup scan)

overton window

Friday, October 15th, 2010

2010,31″ x 23″ x 2″, oil & spray paint on wood (click on image for closeup)

John Ballard at NEWSHOGGERS has a good piece up on how the Overton Window works.


Monday, October 11th, 2010

2010, 15″ x 19″ x 2″ oil paint on wallpaper on wood (click image for closeup)

steve gilliard & sayyiad muqtada al-sadr

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

In case anyone might be thinking I’m the only one pinning the Sadr angle in what’s been happening in Iraq, Driftglass has posted up a compendium of posts by the late Steve Gilliard that puts my own posts on the subject in (wanting) perspective. Unfortunately, I came upon blogging about the time Steve Gilliard passed away, so I’ve never seen this string of posts, but by any metric the guy was amazingly prescient.

french trader, half breed son

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Bingham, Fur Traders on Missouri River, 1845

This painting “Fur Traders on the Missouri river” by George Bingham has always been one of my favorites. I remember all too well on seeing it at the Met many years ago, and it’s not lost a shred of enchantment after all these years. I really love the the hazy luminous background as contrasted with the sharp focus of the characters in the boat, which is in turn contrasted by the characters themselves – the staid cranky looking rower in the back with the amusing and quizzical (half breed son) character mid ship ratcheted up yet again with the pure black and white of the bear cub tied on the bow.  As things happen in this arcane world, an old high school friend  who has lived in Canada since she graduated from college, visited a couple of months ago and her husband, Michael Barnholden left me a copy of his recent book Gabriel Dumont Speaks which looks to breath a living voice into French/ Indian rebel leader of the Metis people in Canada. The Metis people are the result of early French and Native intermarrying that led to what is now considered a legitimate Canadian native ethnic group – that was at the time in open rebellion (1885) against the Canadian government. Dumont was the military leader that organized the regional (including affiliated tribes in N America) resistance  championing the native rights of the Metis people in Canada.

Maybe it’s my own distant French heritage, or my fascination with native culture, but I had no idea that there was an acknowledged ethnic group in Canada that at one time took serious military, political, and popular action in defense of an allied native culture.

And in the same spirit of connection, the Bingham painting reminds me in another personal connection to the artwork of old college roommate April Gornik and how her paintings that recall the best of Bingham type luminoust  paintings, along with his 19th century contemporaries Fredrick Church and Albert  Bierstadt.

But before I leave with one of Aprils paintings, the original title of the Bingham painting was “French Trader, Half Breed Son”. The original title was changed by the American Art Union in an early and unsung, fit of political correctness.

April Gornik, French Waterway, 1997, 72″ x 94″ oil on canvas

righteous brothers reunited… more time

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Moqtada al-Sadr, left, dropped his opposition to the serving Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki

Well this is getting a little old, seeing that I’ve posted at least three or four times (in the last 7 months) predicting that the Brothers had buried the hatchet and were back together like old times, but this time I think its finally safe to buy those concert tickets. This report covers all the details outlining how Prime Minister al-Maliki and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have made amends to the degree that they can begin forming a new government in Iraq. While it’s been my contention all along this process that this, from the vantage of the larger Iraqi narrative, would be the eventual outcome, I must admit that I underestimated the animosity between the the two. It was my sense last spring, that the press was making too much over the bad blood in a bout of wishful thinking that saw the election as a real chance for Iraq to magically transcend its sectarian political complexion  and sprout into western colored liberal flowers. For a whole host of reasons  (especially how the Iraqi constitution was drawn up) this was never going to happen even if Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya party won the election, which they did, or if a newbee like Adil Abdul Mahdi could be shoe horned into the process (as a compromise), which he wasn’t. The thing is,  and what has always been the underlying bottom line bedrock is Shiite power. The major Shiite powers, when push comes to shove are not going to compromise the power that comes from majority based unity over the petty infighting that gets much of the publicity. And much of the last seven months of bickering for the most part boils down to how both Maliki and Sadr can be accommodated into a majority alliance satisfactory to the internal and outside powers of Iran and to a lesser degree the United States and Syria. Which itself boils down to what Maliki and Sadr both want individually. Malik wants to remain, with his “nationalist” political apparatus, as PM. Sadr wants the United States out, a nationalist theocratically grounded government installed, and his political allies released from prison. So in a lot of ways this conclusion was always in the cards, it simply took this long to hammer out the deal.

The early indications of how this deal between Maliki and Sadr (according to Roads to Iraq sources)  went down as thus, assuming the certainty of the government sticking to the 2011 withdrawal date: The Sadr Trend will head up the anti-terrorism security apparatus and five service ministries. The former head of the Mahdi Army will head the Interior Ministry. All political prisoners from the Sadr Trend will be released from prison.

And oh yeah, Nuri al-Maliki will remain Prime Minister of Iraq.


According to this, the new government in Iraq will be a big step toward theocracy in Iraq:

The allied government has already agreed to give the Najaf Marjaiyah, the Shi’ite religious council, supreme power to issue binding edicts in the country, and would make Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the dominant power in the council, the virtual ruler of Iraq.

Sadr’s role in this is almost certain to cement him as a growing force not just politically but religiously, and as he continues to pursue his own Ayatollahship he will find those powers increasingly one and the same, and establishing himself as a dominant force in the country long beyond Maliki’s term.

This development has been in the works for a while. Early in the INA negations there was a motion to give Sistani final decision making oversight/power in political matters, not unlike the Iranian model.