Gàidhealtachd: The Western Highlands of Scotland

My portfolio is full of cityscapes and figurative studies,but missing are the landscapes. I have travelled to this place in Scotland to see if I can change that, to see what impact these dramatic spaces might have on my creativity and what direction my artwork could go when I return to the studio.

Please note however, there are landscapes, and then there are, well- the Scottish Highlands. The region offers some of the most impressive scenery on planet earth. In Anne Sheppard’s prominent textbook, Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art, the professor from the University of London submits the Scottish Highlands as an example of pure and irrefutable beauty. Standing amidst them now, I am confident that she shall get no argument from me.

Glencoe epitomizes Sheppard’s point, so my party and I parked our vehicle there and proceeded on foot to explore the glen.

A volcanic explosion of unfathomable proportions created Glencoe around 500 million years ago, but it feels somehow newly born. That sentiment is accompanied by some disorientation in regards to time; the landscape is grandly Mesolithic. The fanfare of beaming light, swirling air and cascades of water evoke a feeling of genesis. Hiking the steep terrain, I lose my friends for a moment. A careful scan locates them following me up, however, they are so tiny in relationship to their colossal backdrop that they’re easily lost again.

I reach a vantage point where I can observe the panorama. My strategy is to create photo references to take back to my studio.Those images, combined with the memories of the environment, will inform my actions on the canvas. Yet,  as I progress I can’t help wondering what it would be like to create the artwork en plein air, a strategy employed by the Glasgow Boys in the late 1800’s. One gust of cold air, however, suggests that it would be challenging- even for a Scottish impressionist. Instead, I collect my digital reference material and then simply observe, focus, and attempt to absorb a bit of Glencoe.

In reality, Glencoe has already captured my imagination. It is the birthplace of the mythological figure, Ossian (in the 3rd century), who was the epic poet that, through the work of James McPherson, inspired entire movements in art and literature. What’s more, the glen is said to be haunted by a multitude of tragic spirits. That’s not surprising considering the brooding and ominous character of the landscape. One of those phantoms is referred to as the caoineag, a weeping spirit whose cries in the night are a harbinger of doom. I’m told those cries were heard in the weeks leading up to the infamous Glencoe Massacre of 1691 in which the MacDonald clan were slaughtered in their sleep by their guests, members of the Campbell clan. Here and across Scotland, this macabre event has been canonized with monuments, music and painting. In fact, one historical painting, Massacre of Glen Coe 1886, by James Hamilton is part of the permanent collection at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.

For me, these events combined with my experiences and collection of references may come together to inspire a painting. Only some quality time in the studio will tell, but with luck perhaps I’ll be able to add a landscape to my portfolio.

 

Massacre of Glen Coe, 1883-86, James Hamilton oil on canvas

Massacre of Glen Coe, 1883-86, James Hamilton oil on canvas

Ferrocarril: A Treasure From The Golden Age Of Rail

Oil Painting of the train station, ferrocarril, in La Plata, Argentina Recently, this painting found a permanent home. Here is some background information about it.

In La Plata, the capital city of the province, Buenos Aires, located in Argentina, one of my favorite buildings is Estacion Del Ferrocarril. The building is another example of La Plata’s grand train stations from the country’s Belle Époque. It replaced the original train station, Pasaje Dardo Rocha, which was damaged by fire at the end of the 19th century and was restored as a cultural center (on occasion, I have danced tango there).

Estacion Del Ferrocarril was built in 1906, in a collaborative effort by United States architect, Louis Newberry Thomas and British architect, Paul Bell Chambers. Blending classical elements with Art Nouveau, the railway station is a splendid example of machine age high-design, and although some of the ornament has been removed, much of it endures. The dome is adorned with maiolica, an Italian tin-glazed pottery, and decorative ironwork by Andrew Handyside of Britannia Iron Works in Derby, England can be observed throughout the roof of the depot. Inside, the corridors are crowned with sculptural tablature.

Locals had warned me that the neighborhood around Ferrocarril was not safe so I abandoned my hope of sketching on site. Instead I wandered through the building to get a feel for the character of the place, and I took a few photos. The material was enough to inspire the painting, Ferrocarril, and I completed the work in the studio.

ferrocarril_dome

ferrocarril_ironwork1

ferrocarril_interior2

ferrocarril_exterior5

ferrocarril_interior1

ferrocarril_interior4

ferrocarril_exterior1

Teatro Argentino: The Frog Prince

Teatro Argentino  

Everyone knows the story of the Frog Prince. In the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, a spiteful witch casts a spell upon a prince in which the handsome nobleman is turned into an ugly frog.  In popular versions, the spell can only be broken by the unlikely event that a princess will overcome revulsion and kiss his slimy frog lips. Cold-blooded indeed, however it´s just a fairy tale; nothing like that could ever happen in reality, right? Well think again, because something similar has happened in La Plata, the capital city of the province of Buenos Aires. Please allow me to explain:

A model of the original theater.

Once upon a time, there was a handsome

Model of the original theater.

opera house, known as Teatro Argentino. It was designed by Italian architect Leopoldo Rocchi and it was located at avenues 51 and 53, in the heart of the city, among a row of splendid buildings known as the foundational axis of architecture. It was the jewel of La Plata. Completed in 1890, it was built in the classic renaissance tradition and satisfied the most fastidious standards of Italian design. La Plata's opera house was the second grand theater for Argentina.  Although slightly smaller, it was comparable to the country´s first opera house, Teatro Colón, which is considered one of the finest theaters in the world. But then, one fateful day, an evil spirit put a curse on Teatro Argentino and it was turned into an ugly monster.

teatro7

In reality, the calamity that befell the theater was a fire. The incident, which occurred in 1977, gutted the interior of the opera house, and a decision was made to demolish the rest. Then, in a curious move to garner a design for the new opera house, the government decided to conduct a competition. Dozens of designs were submitted and put on display, but the prize went to designers, Henry Bars, Tomas Garcia, Roberto Germani, Ines Rubin, Carlos Alberto Sbarra and Ucar. They were affiliated with a local design college and spawned the beast that now sits at streets, 9 and 10 between 51 and 53.

teatro6

Only by standing in front of Teatro Argentino, is it possible to grasp the shock and awe that it can inspire. It is an enormous concrete bulwark that fractures the neighborhood and defiles the city´s axis of architecture. From street level, it´s possible to peer down several stories into the earth and see the courtyards that surround the foundation of the structure. A thick, metal railing protects the passerby from accidentally falling into the pit. Whatever adornments there were in that place are gone, and it looks like an empty well. From the bottom, the eye can travel up the precipitous exterior to a breath-taking height where it is suddenly truncated by ruthless angles in the roof, angles that purport to echo the diagonals in Pedro Benoit´s urban plan of La Plata. Black, tinted windows and exposed ironwork add a disturbingly sinister mood to the behemoth. Yes, just like the frog in the fairy tale, Teatro Argentino is difficult to cuddle-up with.

teatro_interior4

Though Teatro Argentino feels much larger than Teatro Colón, its hulking appearance is deceptive. Its main theater, Alberto Ginastera, has a maximum capacity of 2000 spectators, but the Colón can hold nearly 3000. Of course Teatro Argentino is more than just an opera house. It has an art gallery, called Emilio Pettoruti, and another small theater space called Astor Piazolla. However, with its additional offerings the total space of the facility, at 60,000 sq m, is only slightly more than Teatro Colón’s 58,000 sq m space. It feels much more massive because of the architectural style, a phenomenon known as Brutalism.

well

During the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, Brutalism was popular everywhere. At the time, it was the most recent manifestation of Modern and was rigorous in its adherence to the mantra, form follows function. One obvious result of that philosophy was a decline in architectural ornament. Expanding upon the Machine Age with grim, German Expressionistic ideologies, Brutalism represented the future for the post-war generation. And it was cheap! Buildings erected in the style were typically made of concrete, or other materials that were economical and readily available. The materials were then left exposed, or raw, a condition summarized by Le Corbusier, as béton brut. Brutalism was especially popular with universities and cultural centers, but the style became popular with government buildings as well. This, perhaps, led to the style being associated with state authority and population control. This, and the fact that, the structures are intimidating, menacing, and irreparably ugly.

teatro5

It turns out that raw concrete doesn’t age well. It grays and stains, and in some areas, it seems to bleed rust. It is also irresistible to the graffiti artist and the skate boarder. Thus, Brutalist architecture grows uglier with time and becomes symbolic of urban decay. Given its context, Teatro Argentino is even more shocking. Surrounded by sumptuous Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture, it is the avatar of Brutalist style. It also suffers all the vexation that accompanies the style.

teatro_interior3

The interior of Teatro Argentino is as austere as the exterior. It’s cavernous and dusky and the thin carpet stretched over the hard surfaces provides little respite from the cold minimalism. Near the concessions, a crumbling relief sculpture in the wall draws the  eye, but the tormented figures depicted there only add to the air of unease generated by Teatro Argentino. Each floor has a cavity in the middle, which opens the space and emulates the shear drops to the courtyards found outside the building. From the lobby of Teatro Argentino, it’s hard to imagine that the building could provide the quality of sound demanded by a world class opera house, but that notion is soon eliminated by Alberto Ginastera.

stage

The main theater, Alberto Ginastera, is the nucleus of Teatro Argentino, and it is strikingly different from its outer shell. Its red corduroy interior re-creates the classic Italian horseshoe shape and the harmonic ratio associated with exquisite acoustics.  The space features four levels of boxes and galleries and a colossal, three ton, bronze chandelier, a replica of the one in the original theater, hanging from the ceiling. The theater doesn’t have all the ornament of the Colón, but its sound, lighting, and stage technologies emulate Teatro Alla Scala, in Milan, and place Teatro Argentino among the world’s great theaters, at least in terms of utility. However, in terms of aesthetics the poor theater remains under the witch’s curse. It desperately needs the kiss of a princess to break the spell, but how might that manifest?

lamp

A recent article, published by CityLab/The Atlantic, predicts that the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, DC, a Brutalist style building, will soon be torn down.  In fact, the article, naming similar buildings facing the wrecking ball, implies that Brutalism could be entirely expunged from cityscapes across the globe. Other articles, like this one from the New York Times, further indicate that, for Brutalism, the end is nigh. Most people abhor the buildings and want them torn down. In the interview with The Times, experts cite the costs of updating and maintaining these “monuments to inefficiency” as opposed to the cost of demolition. Yes, it appears that many of these buildings are doomed and that might be a good thing for Teatro Argentino.

cavity

The aesthetic experience is not limited to beauty. Appreciation can derive from knowledge. Clearly, Brutalism makes a powerful impact, and how the individual interprets the experience will naturally vary. However, if the majority of brutalist architecture is destroyed, then  Teatro Argentino becomes even more unique and special.  It may, one day,  stand alone as the representative of a bold vision of the future. It could be a rare example of a historical moment that will always stimulate discourse.  Perhaps, due to the inevitable scarcity of Brutalist structures,  Teatro Argentino will become more precious, more symbolic and could it be- more beautiful. Indeed, to break the witch’s spell, Teatro Argentino only needs to wait. With time, and with understanding, people’s perspective may change and the frog will get his kiss.

IMAG1216

Portland Impressions

bike_capital In Portland Oregon, the sidewalks are wide and the people are not. Where I am from, it’s the other way around. This is one of many observations I made while visiting the City of Roses, a nickname bandied about because the maritime climate allows the flowers to thrive. Likewise, the climate seems to be working for Portlanders, a hardy group of pale skinned Caucasians (for the most part). Indeed the locals appeared to be fit, high energy and full of vitality, and the ones I spoke to loved living in Willamette river valley. It’s easy to see why. After experiencing the city, the food, and the culture, I was tempted to join them there.Immediately after arriving in Portland, I realized how easy it is to move around the city; from Portland International Airport, a light rail runs straight into the center city. I caught it and got off a few blocks from my riverfront hotel in downtown. From there, I did what Portlanders do: I walked. Portland, I discovered, is a pedestrian paradise. In some instances, the sidewalks are as wide as the streets, and some of the medians, dividing the narrow roads, look like parks. I stumbled upon “pedestrian trails” that connect neighborhoods, and on the west side of downtown, an enormous trail that appeared to wind its way through some sort of enchanted forest, and who, after all, doesn’t like an enchanted forest? It turns out that this area, officially known as Forest Park, is a 5,100 acre municipal park, and is part of a 140 mile long greenway that connects about 30 city parks.forrest2 With city planners, greenways are in vogue. The Queen City, Charlotte, has been working on its own greenway for a few years, but it pales in comparison to Portland’s. In fact, every city’s greenway suffers by comparison. I read somewhere that Portland’s greenway design is number one in the United States, and as I walked below a canopy of towering trees, I didn’t doubt it for a second. Hiking the hilly rainforest, I didn’t feel alone. The park was full of people. Some walked their dogs, others just wandered the paths, but many times I had to step aside to let local hard-bodies run past. As I was passed by about a half dozen women with bulging biceps and thighs like racehorses, it occurred to me, not only can Portlanders eliminate their cars, their gym membership is also optional. After all, why walk on a treadmill when there’s a Forest Park? In addition to the simple peripatetic mode of transportation, Portlanders can choose between the streetcar, the light rail, the bus, or even an aerial tram. The latter elicits a double-take. The sleekly designed cable car connects the south waterfront to Marquam Hill, and was Portland’s unique solution to the lack of parking at the burgeoning Oregon Health and Science University, located on top of the hill. The University is Portland’s largest employer and the Tram affords employees a brisk, and quite stylish, commute. With these impressive transit options, it’s easy to forget the one that Portland is most famous for: the bicycle.hood1 Bicycle Magazine called Portland, Oregon, America’s best bike city, but Portland has heard that before. Portland is one of only four cities that earned The League of American Bicyclist’s platinum status for being bicycle friendly, and in fact, when it comes to bicycle friendly, Portland has international recognition for being one of the best. This is because Portland has a bicycle infrastructure that includes bicycle boulevards, bicycle parking, and bicycle education programs. Portland’s Bureau of Transportation website states that it works to “make bicycling an integral part of daily life,” and indeed it appears to be succeeding. I learned that, in Portland, the rate for people who bike to work is 10 times the national average. And locals don’t just ride to work; sometimes they ride during work. Many companies employ cargo bikes that can move multiple people or heavy loads. I saw one cyclist, with a large trailer in tow, delivering baked goods to a store, and I read about a moving company that employed cyclist to move furniture. You heard me right, a bicycle moving company! Strange bicycle phenomenon abounds in Portland. One afternoon, I witnessed a gentleman riding a unicycle while wearing a Darth Vader mask and an Irish kilt. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t been playing the bagpipes; he actually did a nice rendition of Blue Bonnets O'er the Border. If that’s not strange enough, Portland even hosts a mass Naked Bike Ride. Ok, maybe they’ve taken the bike thing too far, but that’s what makes Portland Portlandia.IMAG0690 My wife asked a local girl what restaurants she could recommend. Without hesitation, she directed us to Lúc Lác Vietnamese Kitchen. We went there, and then we went there again. In fact, I would still be going there if I was still in Portland. The food was delicious and it was inexpensive. The tiny restaurant, located near 2nd and Taylor street, is little more than a food cart (many of which line the sidewalks in Portland). Its counter service means you wait in line to pay, then you pay, and then you wait again, for the food to be prepared. But it’s worth it.IMAG0688 In reality, you don’t need to ask directions to a great Portland eatery; they are everywhere. Just don’t look for chains. I didn’t see a Bo jangles, Chick-fil-a, KFC, or what’s his name-in-the-box. Perhaps they’re present, but they don’t dominate the food landscape. Instead, Portland restaurants have a local, mom-and-pop feel, their savory offerings have a handcrafted character that is difficult to find in my town. In Charlotte, when entering a restaurant, I get a suspicious feeling that I’m either in a front for ConAgra, a private equity firm, or a place that only exists because some business plan suggested the demographic would attract venture capital. In Portland, however, you can still eat in restaurants where the owner is in the kitchen. There is one chain that is omnipresent; Starbucks is on every corner. There’s little reason, though, to patronize it since Portland is ground zero for coffee aficionados.coffee Arabica is serious business in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Portland. The town smells like coffee. Somehow the redolence is appropriate for the cool, rainy weather; it has a comforting effect. I was told that the roastmasters begin their work early, before sunrise. They roast batches of carefully selected beans and then deliver them to cafes around the city. In “third wave” cafes, like Stumptown, coffee is king, everything else is an afterthought. I found Stumptown, in a crumbling brick building. Upon entering, I noticed the scant furniture, beat-up stools mostly, a couple of crooked tables I think. Behind the register, a turntable played indie rock. I passed a humble display of lonely looking muffins and got in line. The place was packed with people. I didn’t need to be near the barista to experience the aromas and the steam, but as I got closer I could see cafe au laits swirled with steamed milk, and shots of espresso topped with tawny colored cremas. They looked like something I needed to have. As it turned out, they tasted as good as they looked. My caffè latte was smooth and rich, yet as I sipped it, I found myself coveting the espressos, which the barista was lining up on the bar. So I ordered one of those too. While he prepared it, the barista explained that Stumptown invested a lot of time training him and the other individuals that prepare the coffee. He explained that his skills had qualified him for competitions and he had won awards. He handed me a demitasse cup and I took a sip of his magic brew. It was strong, but I’ll describe it using the local argot. It was bitter with hints of cacao, it had a good mouth-feel, and (and this is my favorite) it was railroad-y. Ok, whatever, for me it was just good coffee. Clearly, Portland has a strong coffee culture, but there are other things that give it a unique sense of place.bridge Portland has a rugged and weathered feel about it, which is not surprising considering it is a frontier town. Fur traders, prospectors, and Chinookans roamed this territory. Yet, its character really derives from the water. Water permeates the environment giving Portland an eroded and rusty appearance while simultaneously making it lush and green. The town is sectioned in half by the Willamette, a major tributary of the Columbia River. It twists through the heart of the downtown and is the reason the town was, at one time, a major port. The two parts of town are reunited by eleven bridges, which is why Portland is sometimes called Bridgetown. The Portland water experience, however, is not limited to the river. There is also the rain. It can come down cold and hard or it can be more of vapor drifting through the streets, or perhaps a grey cloud suspended just above the cityscape. However it manifests, the end result is a nourishing saturation. The plants thrive. Conifers can reach extraordinary heights. Huge ferns and thick carpets of moss spread across the ground. With so much water to deal with, it would seem that the umbrella business would thrive. However, I saw no umbrellas. The locals, evidently, block the elements using more organic methods including hats, hoodies, and body hair. Fur has some great protective properties, just ask any mammal. Or better yet, ask a Portlander because they are maximizing their own. I’m referring to the beard. Everywhere I looked, I saw facial hair. And I’m not talking about modest beards, no goatees or anything like that. What I saw was big, robust, burly beards, the kind that can replace a scarf. In some instances, a Portlander’s beard is big enough to share with a woman, in the event that she might feel deprived in that department. With ample beard, a thick hoodie, and a bicycle, a Portlander can access the town.francis bacon One thing that should be accessed is the Portland Art Museum  (PAM). Experiencing the Portland art scene was high on my list of priorities, but sadly, time didn’t permit as much immersion as I would have liked. I did, however, get to stand in front of Francis Bacon’s, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, whose psychological studies of the grandson of Sigmund Freud have been all but eclipsed by its stunning price tag. The oil on canvas triptych sold for the most money in the history of art auctions, $142 million dollars. It has not been exhibited since 1965, one year after it was completed. Part of the conditions affecting the buyer was that the piece must be exhibited for a period before taking its place in the private collection. Thus, here it was at the Portland Museum of Art. Admittedly, I had low expectations going into Portland. Beyond New York City, I don’t get very excited about American cities; the city plans are predicable, the franchises and chains are all represented, everyone has their SUV- yawn. Sorry. Portland, however, surprised me with its powerful environment and the way it’s integrated into a pedestrian oriented design. The locals were fit and energetic, and probably not because they spent an hour on the treadmill and ate from the lite menu at Subway. I think their vim derives from a lifestyle that keeps them in touch with the earth rather than isolating them from it. I would venture that the Chinookans had a similar approach. Indeed, Portland seems to be combining some primitive elements with some contemporary technologies to produce a community that thrives on human locomotion, artisan foods, and stimulating art works. Back home now, I’m starting to let my beard grow a bit longer. I think I might be able to re-adjust to the Southeast-if I can just locate some sidewalks…IMAG0729

“An Anonymous Affair” 24” x 36” oil on canvas (commissioned)

“An Anonymous Affair” 24” x 36” oil on canvas In writing, a portrait of an individual is a description. It includes details and is a type of biography. In fine art, the portrait also presents details of the individual. Of course, in art, it’s the individual’s face that is priority. However, in the work, “An Anonymous Affair”, the commission was to create a painting that did not reveal the identity of the subjects. The work could suggest, perhaps give clues, but not confirm the individuals. Thus, painting the face was out of the question. The Patron wanted viewers to speculate about the identity of the characters depicted in the painting, and only those close to the subjects and familiar with their behavior and personalities could form an opinion. Indeed, It might be tempting to declare that this work is not a portrait at all, but instead a narrative painting. In a periods before literacy was widespread, narrative painting was the writing; it was how people communicated their story. Thus, here is a story, not told with words, but with paint. It is the story of two people, told in such a way that a portrait emerges.

At the time this work was commissioned, the clients were immersed in Argentine Tango. They studied the dance and practiced with vigor. Therefore, it made sense to highlight that part of their life, especially when this artist specializes in translating Tango into two-dimensional works of art. The dance, then, was an ideal way to suggest that this was a painting of the client, but because, in the painting, the subjects are facing away from the viewer, it is impossible to know for sure. Yet there are other clues.

Behind the dancers, there is a crowded table. On both sides of the dancers, people gather, and while the ensemble shares a spectral quality, their behavior is strikingly different. Their ghostly appearance creates some doubt as to how real they are when compared to the dancers, and the contrast is exaggerated and humorous. The use of humor is an important clue to the identity of the subjects, as they are known, by the artist, to be jocular. To the left of the lead dancer, there is a structured, peaceful scene, but to the right of the follower, there is chaos. It is evident that two opposite scenarios unite around the unidentified dancers, but why?

The reason relates to how the artist interpreted the clients’ personalities. On the left side of the painting a man is seated, holding a beverage, and seems to be lost in thought. He looks out of the painting and is unaffected by the activity therein. Seated next to him is a woman who is poised and calm. She is having her glass filled by a man who stands between her and the thinker who flanks her. The three figures form a structured triangle, a virtual pyramid engineered for stability and strength. This scene represents traits of the client, who is visible, although with his face obscured, leading the dance, in the foreground. Both his feet are planted firmly on the ground, and through a bold posture, he supports his dance partner with fortitude. His partner, however, does not share his conservative approach.

His dance partner is balanced on one leg. Her free leg, she dynamically swings through the air, which sets in motion the chain of events depicted on the right side of the canvas. Directly behind her are the characters representing her personality. The first is a musician, who eschews the convention of a chair and sits directly atop the table. He appears to be surprised by the spectacle his music has created, and recoils in response. Perhaps losing his balance, he thrust his instrument into the face of the fedora wearing man nearby. That man contrasts with his counterpart in the same position but on the opposite side of the painting. Instead of removing his hat at the table and in the presence of a lady, he wears it without compunction. Furthermore, instead of filling the glass of the lady next to him, he is unconsciously emptying his glass on top of her. Realizing that she is being doused, the woman flails awkwardly and seems as if she may fall completely off the canvas. She is the antithesis of her correspondent who occupies the same position on the other side of the painting.

Dance can be a metaphor for life. Thus, here in this painting, is a story about life. It’s a narrative about how opposing forces work together, and indeed need each other, to be realized. Clearly, this Tango would not exist without these two personalities, and as this painting points out, these two personalities wouldn’t be as they are without this Tango. This painting, “An Anonymous Affair” asks the viewer to examine what may seem to be a contradiction, and then to think again. How can it be a portrait if the viewer can’t see the faces? The answer is, the viewer doesn’t need to see the faces if they read the story.

The Tango Product

IMAG2220 Argentina is frequently the theme of my artwork, or more specifically, Tango. Sometimes I am invited to show and sell artwork at tango events, milongas, Tango festivals, and that sort of thing. So recently, I have been thinking about the milonga from a business point-of-view. Not just because I sell artwork at milongas, but because I have, on occasion, hosted milongas, and more importantly, I simply like milongas. Furthermore, I have been reading about how professional sports market their business, and I believe there are a lot of parallels between sports marketing and Tango marketing. Thus, I have been thinking of the Tango, from an economic perspective, as a good.

Tango is an art. Yet the Tango “product” is not. The Tango product can be considered a bundle of goods that include the milonga, classes and private lessons. However, at its core, the Tango product is the social dance, the milonga. The consumers of Tango products are the dancers and spectators. The Tango product, with its many variables, is difficult to predict or control. The room temperature, the acoustics, the floor condition, and the seating are some variables that impact the mood of the milonga. Furthermore, although the event manager knows that the consumer is there looking for a remarkable dance, he (or she) cannot control that particular outcome. Additionally, disparate skill levels among dance students can make a Tango class chaotic. The Tango product, then, is subjective in the sense that consumers may have different experiences. Thus, those who sell the Tango product experience different challenges than those who sell, say…a vacuum cleaner. So what is the purveyor of such a product to do if he (or she) desires to achieve the best results and strengthen the reputation of their milonga? There are strategies.

One approach for Tango marketers to ensure quality is to emphasize product extensions. These are things that the coordinator can control and make consistent. Things like presentation and style can soften the effect of bad dances. Here, the location of the milonga is paramount. A location that comes with panache can set the event up for success. Food and drink, lighting, and table arrangement are all product extensions, but there is something else. Many times, the consumers of Tango products are consumers of visual art. Combining the two provides additional value to the consumer and benefits both the artist and the milonga.

Having an art show at the Tango event can enhance the event in several ways. Promoters can take advantage of the emotional impact of the artwork by including it in marketing materials for the event. The display of Tango artwork at the event contributes to the style, atmosphere and presentation of the event. Programs such as silent auctions, art lotteries, drawings, and meet-the-artist events add excitement to the event. The core Tango products must be pre-sold. I always encourage event planners to select any of my original, copyright-protected images for use in their promotion. My Tango artwork has been used commercially to promote dance academies and clubs, yerba mate, and even weddings. Certainly, the work can be used to promote and sell the milonga, as well as other tango related events and services. If I’m showing work at the milonga, then it should be used to promote the event in social media, websites, or posters and flyers.

Many milongas give space to vendors, and like vendors, artwork requires some space. However, artwork is unique. With the proper display, the artwork can transform the event, adding style and atmosphere that increases consumer satisfaction. This is, in effect, selling the “sizzle” with the “steak”. Furthermore, the artwork is not a commodity, like for instance, shoes. The work can only be acquired through select galleries and agents, the artist studio, or- the hosting milonga. Therefore, with the addition of the art show, comes the addition of the collectors, fans, and art appreciators, groups of people that boost attendance of the host milonga. I’m told by event planners that when I show art at a milonga, there is an increase in attendance.

Some milongas are combined with Tango classes and other programs. Massage therapy, book signing, DJ classes, and lectures (on the history of Tango) are examples of adjunct programs that add value to the milonga. Silent auctions, where individuals bid on artwork, can add engagement and interest to the milonga, especially when the DJ makes announcements that build suspense and promote the event. Drawings or lotteries, where individuals purchase tickets that give them a chance to win original work, also create drama at the event. A “meet-the-artist” event, where I can explain the artwork and answers questions, can be added to the line-up of classes that are offered at the milonga.

In conclusion, the milonga and the art show complement each other. They share the same customer base and can be combined to benefit all, the artist, the milonga and the Tango consumer. The correct mix can have a powerful impact on the success of the event by influencing presentation and ambience. The artwork is an inherent marketing and promotion tool for the milonga coordinators and art related events can provide additional programming for the event schedule. If you have a milonga and want to add an art show, then give me a shout: templespt@gmail.com

Sian ka'an

ImageThe name is fitting. In Mayan, Sian ka'an means “origin of the sky,” and in this place, where there is a unique interplay of sky, water, and jungle, no other label would do. I could describe it as breathtaking or I could call it spectacular, but there are no words to adequately describe a place like Sian ka'an. It must be experienced. Located along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico, Sian ka'an is a biosphere reserve that, in 1987, was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A World Heritage site is a place that is significant to all of humanity and is protected for all generations. Other examples of World Heritage Sites are the Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania and the Colosseum, in Rome, Italy. Interestingly, cultural phenomenon, like Argentine Tango, is also on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. UNESCO states that for a place to warrant designation as a World Heritage Site, it must "contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance." Sian ka'an, at least the part I saw, is the epitome.Image The part I saw was, in reality, very little. Since I was in Tulum, conveniently located right next door to Sian ka'an, I could have seen more of the biosphere reserve, but there were issues. Issues such as: I didn’t know it was there, and even if you are aware of the place, driving a rental car into the area, as I discovered, is not the best option.

Tourism is booming on the Mayan Riviera. If you go, then you will be directed to many attractions. Some Mexicans might even tell you that there are tours of the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, but ironically, Senior Frog is more robustly promoted. I think that, if you have a national treasure comparable to Egyptian pyramids, you might be tempted to give a little more than just a nod in that direction, but curiously, the Mexicans don’t. And who can blame them; why spoil a paradise with throngs of tourists? However, once I discovered the reserve, I wanted to visit. From my location, there was one access point, a road- which came with some notoriety. I don’t know if it had an official name, but I heard many locals calling it terraceria fea, or in English, the road from hell (that’s my interpretation).Image

The 40 km dirt road from the park entrance to the fishing village, Punta Allen, is said to take about 1 hour, but this can vary depending on weather conditions and the vehicle you are driving. If the situation is less than ideal, then it could take all day. The locals recommend visiting the reserve with a tour guide or renting a jeep. However, by the time I discovered Sian ka'an, I was running out of time and money, so I decided to drive my economy class rental car into the reserve and assess the condition of the road.Image

In spots, the road has rocks jutting up from the sand. I had to thread the vehicle through a maze of deep craters, and acceleration was impossible.  Park rangers at the entrance to the park had told me that Mexico was repairing the road and that it would be ok to drive in, at least as far as the bridge, but I saw little evidence of improvements. I took their advice and didn’t venture beyond that landmark. I stopped just short of the bridge, at the Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an (CESiaK) ranch, which is an outpost run by an environmental organization dedication to education and conservation. Their 15 acre ranch occupies an abandoned resort on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean ocean, and from their terrace, you can marvel at the spectacular panorama. From that vantage point you can observe a thin cape, covered with dense jungle, reaching out into the water toward Punta Allen. Like other areas in Sian Ka’an, it is the tip of a barrier reef network that runs up the Central American coast. Those points that emerge from the sea, have developed remarkable habitats. Image

The place pulsates with life. Above the jungle canopy I saw a cloud of butterflies, I read that there are 318 species in the park. There are many birds, including pink flamingos and toucans. Other exotic and rare creatures abound. In the trees you’ll find spider monkeys and Jaguars, and in the water: crocodiles and sea turtles. The area is dotted with cenotes, or cavernous sinkholes, many that are fed by underground rivers that turn them into crystal clear pools. Where the jungle gives way to the Caribbean, you’ll find miles of deserted beach. Then, there are the lost civilizations. Image

There are 23 archeological sites in Sian Ka’an, some are only partially excavated.  They are the remnants of Mayan civilization and date back thousands of years. The Mayan engineers and architects built roads and temples all over Sian Ka’an and although the jungle has strangled them for eons, they remain. It’s still possible to see artwork on many of the structures; stone reliefs depict patterns and figures. The Maya are known to have been great muralists and their structures must have been saturated in color. It’s tempting to speculate about what Sian Ka’an must have looked like during the peak of the Mayan empire. You can imagine the colorful palaces and temples rising out of the jungle where they are beset by forces-of-nature that few places on earth can summon.  It must have been striking. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine how the Mayans named the place Sian Ka’an. If you go there, then you will understand- it’s the birthplace of the sky.  Image

Sold at the Mint Museum!

Libre W. Hudson Temples Débora Arango Mint Museum This work didn’t stick around long. It was purchased as the display went up, my signature was still drying! Later, I had the opportunity of viewing some of the buyer’s other acquisitions and was honored to have my painting included in such a fine body of artwork. Knowing that my work is relevant to institutions and connoisseurs, it’s validating, and not only to me, but to those who have kindly supported my artistic endeavors by purchasing artwork. This artwork was commissioned by ArtSí, Charlotte’s Latino arts community initiative. It was created for the organization’s 10-year anniversary, Con A de Arte (A is for art) an event hosted by the Mint Museum in uptown Charlotte. As an invited artist, I was charged with the task of creating an artistic response to the Museum’s exhibition, Sociales: Débora Arango Arrives Today. I titled the painting “Libre” because it is about the liberation of ideas. The Colombian artist, Débora Arango, lived in a time and place where her only available mode of self-expression was art, and even her art was rejected by her community. This is because, at that time, in Envigado, Colombia, women were dominated. They were repressed by men, the state, and the church. Women could not vote and they were not allowed to drive vehicles. Arango highlighted her realities in her paintings. Frequently, she painted grotesque depictions of prostitutes and female inmates, or she created allegorical devices using animals to represent government and men. Predictably, Colombia did not embrace her. However, Arango’s ideas, through her artwork, were liberated. Today, Débora Arango’s message has been heard around the world, proving that art is one of the most powerful tools of communication. In my painting, “Libre,” I borrow some of Arango’s devices and I create some of my own. In the painting, you see a woman. Representing victims, she is being assailed. On one side, a beast from the shadows covers her mouth, and on the other, she is groped by a man in uniform. The woman is, however, undaunted, and releases a swarm of colorful butterflies. I chose butterflies to represent Arango’s artwork, not because her brush strokes are beautiful like a butterfly but rather because her artistic achievement resembles the butterfly. Her genius is in appropriating art to expose the injustices of her homeland. Her paintings are imbued with her revelations. Through art, she stimulates dialogue about the issues that she cares about, and her art was a catalyst for change. Her victory, then, was freedom of expression and freedom of expression is like the butterfly. Thus, in my painting, a stream of butterflies light-up the grim scene. Like Arango’s message to the world, they are set free.

A visit by the Maestra of Argentine Tango, Susana Miller

Susana Miller and the Artist The Maestra of Argentine Tango, Susana Miller, came by my art studio; she wanted one of my tango artworks for her home in Buenos Aires. She had kind words for my work and made some interesting comments. One that stood-out to me was when the Maestra said that although many artists are inspired to paint Tango, she can detect a difference between Tango painted by an artist that dances versus Tango painted by an artist that simply observes. Since I dance, I took that as a compliment. Susana Miller selected a reproduction of the work, An Embrace. You can find it here, on my website, if you scroll down: http://templesart.com/charcoal.html

Oscar Casas in Augusta Georgia

Milonguero, Oscar Casas,The artist, W. Hudson Temples with Oscar Casas and Ana Miguel. took home one of my reproductions. He generously praised the work and gave me permission to quote him:“ I like your paintings because they capture the authenticity of the dance. They capture the dynamic of the Tango and the spirit of the orchestra.” Oscar Casas

Holiday Home Tour: a Snapshot of Charlotte's Taste in Art

The Jones's display of Romare Bearden works. Ok, so I attended the 35th annual Holiday Home Tour in uptown, Charlotte. Although some folks, such as my wife, take delight in this type of activity, I find it, somehow, unsettling going through the homes of strangers; I went for the artwork. As an artist, I like to see if people are investing in art, what kind of art, and how they display it. What follows are my thoughts regarding the experience.

B. Miller's work.

The tour is a project of the non-profit organization, Friends of Fourth Ward, and ostensibly generates some money for other projects in that historic neighborhood. Fourth Ward is filled with Victorian style homes that date back to the 1800’s. Due to its romantic character, it’s always been one of my favorite Charlotte neighborhoods. It’s nestled at the foot of the Charlotte cityscape and at night the city lights seem to rain down on the place like stars. Walking through the neighborhood, we passed colorful, Queen Anne style residences with wrap-around porches, gables, towers and balconies. Some homes feature slate shingle roofs. Some homes are on the National Historic Register. This year’s tour also included some Uptown residences in brand new towers.

the paintings of the Greene residence.

Sculptural glass works by Dale Chihuly.

I didn’t look at the neighborhood demographics; I didn’t study the medium incomes or anything like that. Prior to the tour, I simply inferred that the community was affluent. I assumed that the homeowners were educated, that they had a minimum level of wealth and that they would be consumers of art. I was right, at least about the art consumer part. (It is likely that I am right about the incomes as well; I’m guessing that some of the kitchen renovations were six figure affairs.) All the homes had art collections, but there appeared to be two different patterns regarding the role of art in the homes. In some homes, art played a central role in the environment, whereas in others, artwork had a more supporting character.

Art of the Hildebrand Residence.

I don’t know if it is incidental or something else, but it seemed that the more modern dwellings had more powerful pieces of artwork, pieces that dominated the space. In many of the older homes, the space was dominated by furnishings. I observed that even when a homeowner of a historic property had a taste for contemporary art, the artwork was overshadowed by bookshelves, chandeliers, pianos, and clusters of furniture. Indeed, the emphasis in the older homes was on the furniture and the architectural details. In these places the volunteer tour guides rattled off facts about the chimneys, balustrades, and tile work or they talked about the furnishings: how old they were, where they were from. Rarely, however, did they mention the art, which filled the leftover space on the walls. In these homes I observed small pieces of art, mostly traditional oils and watercolors. They were nice, but they did not compete with the rest of the domicile. IMAG2294IMAG2305 Some of the homes seemed a bit newer. Perhaps they had been modified to accommodate the modern taste for open spaces. Then again, some houses may not be original to their lots. Regardless, here in these more modern interiors, the furniture acquiesced while art commanded. I saw an entire wall dedicated to a single original work, which was appropriately lit. Some rooms were even organized around works of art rather than flat screens. As I toured the more modern residences, there appeared to be more emphasis placed on the works of art. This phenomenon seemed to peak at the Trademark Condominiums, but I guess that’s not fair since that is the home of B. Miller, an impressive artist. The Miller residence was a highlight for me because the artist’s studio was located there. Surrounded by glass walls on two sides, I envied all the natural light. The Miller’s place was like a gallery. Not only did she display her paintings and sculptures, but she also had works from other artists including a collection of Chihuly sculptural glass. Another unit, in this luxury condo, had a large display of Romare Beardens and a Wilmington, NC, artist named Claude Howell. In this unit the “stuff” was minimal and the art was the center piece of the room. In general, I observed appetites for contemporary art, and particularly abstract expressionism. I witnessed some fiber art. I saw some sculpture, but not much. The portrait art was sparse, and I did not see one nude- not even in the bathrooms. Overall, I’d have to say the majority of artwork was quality. If it didn’t ask much of me as a viewer, then at least it made me feel good. (I’m not, of course, including Bearden’s work in that final statement, but then again, he’s rather fashionable now.)IMAG2291IMAG2293 I concluded the 35th annual Holiday Home Tour with a stop at the Charlotte City Club, which is, they say, the Southeast's premier private dining club. It’s not like I have a membership or anything like that. It’s just that, for some odd reason, the club is on the home tour. Regardless, it was quite nice to drop in, taste some of the club wines, lounge in some handsome dining rooms, and reflect on the interiors of the Fourth Ward homes.IMAG2303IMAG2292IMAG2318IMAG2289 IMAG2299

Odalisque: Insights To My Last Solo Exhibition.

Everyone relates to the human body, especially artists. Artists have used the form as a source of inspiration since the beginning of time.  Willendorf ‘s Venus was carved out of limestone 25,000 years ago, an indication that early artists were just as fascinated with the nude as their successors. Indeed, masters of western art such as Titian, Goya, and Ruben have canonized the nude’s status in modern culture. The reach of the nude, however, extends beyond painting. The Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, designs structures that are inspired by the grace and beauty of the human body. His skyscraper in Malmo, Sweden, The Turning Torso, endowed with human kinetics, seems to twist as if to look across the harbor. Furthermore, many product designers borrow organic forms that aspire to attract buyers. Indeed, to the careful observer, the nude is ubiquitous.

A recent trip to America’s art capital, New York City, confirmed that the nude, and admittedly all manner of figurative works, were thriving. It was during to this trip, where I toured galleries and attended the world’s largest art fair, Art Expo, that I felt inspired to pursue this classical theme.

Returning to Charlotte, I began work on what would, eventually, become the show, Odalisque. Typically, my process of creating art involves investigation and practice, usually in the form of sketches and observation. I worked with live models and internet models.  Additionally, my work involves a research component. For example, when producing figure studies, I read how other artists approach the subject and review significant works in the field. This method of approach helps me to determine a sense of direction. In this case, I returned to the works of Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, Jean-Léon Gérome, Léon Benouville, and Eugene Delacroix. Yes, clearly I found myself attracted to the work of the Orientalists.

Orientalism is a curious subgenre of the Romantic Movement that spanned the 18th and 19th centuries. It was fueled by French and British perspectives of the Middle East.   Evidently, the West had a penchant for all things eastern, which they considered exotic. It’s important to note that when the West referred to the East, they, in fact, could be referring to everything not considered to be England and France. Frequently the term, Orient, was used to describe areas in North Africa and parts of Eastern Europe.

Some artists, like Gérome, traveled to the Orient to paint and gather reference material. However at the time, the subject matter was so popular, that other artists, like Ingres, just invented Middle Eastern scenes in their studios. With such practices widespread, it became difficult to determine what works were authentic representations of the Orient. In fact, authenticity may not have been the objective. Some experts suggest that Orientalism gave the sexually repressed societies of Western Europe an outlet to express their fantasies and that in doing so, they created a fictitious world of violent, dominating men, and seductive, nude women, all cast in a setting of vivid, desert colors.

It’s little surprise then, that the term, Orientalism, has taken a negative connotation. Columbia University professor, Edward Said, criticized the movement in his publication titled, “Orientalism,” suggesting that the period was stereotyping and racist. Yet a recent article published by Forbes.com stated that Oriental themed art was making a strong comeback, ironically in the Middle East. In March, 2009, Sotheby’s conducted their first Orientalist sale in Qatar and Forbes interviewed an Egyptian collector, Shafik Gabr, whose collection is estimated at $40 million. Gabr stated that he was attracted to the photorealism that characterized much of his collection. Clearly, many paintings from the period possess the stunning realism that emanated from the Neoclassical period, but that was not an element that I was interested in emphasizing for my show, Odalisque.

Rather than accent the figure’s relationship to the viewer’s everyday visual experience, I attempted to convey a mood through the use of subtle oils washes applied to toned charcoal drawings. Here, the emphasis is on an atmosphere of lassitude and sensuality. My approach is expressionistic and speculative.  Each painting is thin and delicate, imbued with an allusive character and an ephemeral nature. The lounging odalisques and dancing jins are contextualized in a decadent and exotic realm using convenient devices such as hookah pipes, veils, palms, or subtle reference to Ottoman design. All are nude. Most of the titles of the works relate to Orientalism. Some derive from Oriental literature, some are biblical, and others come from parodies or folk tales. All the paintings were created on a luxurious, handmade, paper, imported from India, and are unframed so that you may observe the entire sheet.

The human body, it turns out, is a great vehicle for telling a story and artists have used it for generations. From cave dwellers to the modern masters, many artists have employed the nude to influence our sense of reality.  Just as old stories can be made new again by creative perspectives, this show, Odalisque, represents one artist’s spin on a very old tale. Through this experience, the hope is that you will reexamine the art nude and how it can influence your sense of the exotic. The masters of the 19th Century certainly did this. If Orientalism has a lesson, then it is that the realities of exoticism can really only be experienced through an artist. If you search for it elsewhere, then you may find that it never actually existed at all.

W. Hudson Temples

W. Hudson Temples

Beyond Tango: Journey from Buenos Aires to Jujuy Part 1: Departing the capital

Purmamarca For me, Argentina has always meant Buenos Aires, or specifically, the Capital Federal. The crowded streets, the corner cafes, and of course, the Tango have brought me back to this city again and again. Given this, why would I leave the milongas behind and embark to the hinterland?  The answer is to develop a deeper understanding of the country . Anyone can appreciate a café, or the diverse cultural and artistic offering of a world class city, but looking beyond requires more work - and resources. I am married to an Argentina native, and thus through marriage, half my family is Argentinean. Consequently, I have unique resources that allow me to access the richness of the country in ways that may not be available to others. Realizing this, it was goodbye bandoneon, hello charango.

Even in Argentina, Jujuy is remote and inaccessible. I’m told that the expensive local flights are a barrier for many Argentineans who would like to experience the province. That leaves driving as the mode of transportation, but the time it take s to cross the approximately 1500 km from Buenos Aires to Jujuy can vary with the road conditions. At best, you’re looking at a couple of days and I was looking at more because I planned several stops along the way. Another consideration is gas, which is more expensive than in the U.S.. It’s worth pointing out that, petrol becomes more expensive as you move away from the Capital Federal. We paid between $5 and $8 pesos per liter. Here in the U.S., would be similar to paying around $4 to $7 dollars per gallon. Thus, after considering the expense, the location, and travel time, it’s safe to say that Jujuy is a destination for relatively affluent Argentineans and no one else.  We departed Buenos Aires on Saturday, July 7th and traveled northwest, parallel to the Rio Paraná, on Route 9 to Argentina’s 3rd largest city, Rosario.

Monumento de la Bandera

Here, we stayed only long enough to visit the Monumento de la Bandera. Flanked by Lola Mora sculptures, the monument is a megalith that is built on top of the grave of Manuel Belgrano, creator of the national flag.

Rosario, Argentina

In the interest of time, we continued on, to the province of Córdoba,  and to the Capital city by the same name, Córdoba.  Córdoba is Argentina’s second largest city and is known for its fine universities, but since I didn’t come to hear a lecture, we moved on towards Tucumán.  Shortly before we crossed the border to Catamarca province, we had our first encounter with Argentina’s salt flats.

From a distance, it appears that you are approaching a lake, and in fact, you are. The salt flat is an evaporated lake; it is a vast bed of Halite created by desiccation. The effect is other worldly. To experience it, we drove across the flat until we were surrounded by absolute nothingness, and then we got out of our vehicle and walked on the bone-like surface of the flat. It is as if you are walking on a mummy; the surface was dry and crusty and had a pattern of ridges. The sun reflected off the salt crystals and nearly blinded me, even though I had sun glasses.  It occurred to me, because I had failed to bring a hat or sun screen, that my pale, gringo skin was in danger of roasting. Therefore, we stayed only long enough to make the de rigueur photo illusions, the ones where it appears that you are holding tiny people in your hand. I know it’s pedestrian, but some things you just have to do.

Salt Flats in Argentina

From the salt flats, we headed north toward Tucumán. Tucumán is the smallest province in Argentina and the capital city is called San Miguel De Tucumán. Incidentally, we entered the capital on the one day of the year that is celebrated like no other, the 9th of July. This is the date, in 1816, that national hero, Manuel Belgrano, at the Congress of Tucumán, declared Argentina’s independence from the Spanish Empire. It is the Philadelphia of Argentina. The emancipation occurred at the Casa de Tucumán, and is celebrated all over the country but most vigorously in San Miguel De Tucumán. So, it was carnival when we arrived. The streets were packed with people, trash littered the sidewalks, and it was completely chaotic. Despite this, I connected with the place immediately. The city, which is approximately the size of my home, Charlotte, North Carolina, and considered to be Argentina’s fifth largest metropolitan area, sits at the foot of a huge mountain range. These mountains are hard to ignore as they tower over the western side of the city with some peaks reaching over 5000 meters. We would cross them in our car on the way to the valley of Tafi. However, first we would  explore San Miguel. San Miguel has many elements that I deem desirable for very “livable” cities. Some of those elements are, wide plazas and narrow streets, big parks and interesting architecture, art galleries and theater, and of course, schools and academies. San Miguel features all of these and more. They even have some pedestrian-only streets; no cars allowed. San Miguel is a college town that boasts several renowned universities, The National University of Tucumán, The national Technological University, and the Saint Thomas Aquinas University of the North.  It’s worth noting that the world famous singer, Mercedes Sosa, is from San Miguel De Tucumán.

There are other things I like about San Miguel De Tucumán. For example, I found the weather very agreeable. It was winter when we arrived, but it was not cold. In fact, during the day it was warm and dry, while at night it cooled down, but it was never uncomfortable. I’m told that in the summer, it is a different story. The standard is severe heat and humidity. Summer is also the monsoon season and it rains a lot. That may be true, but it seems that for half the year the weather is quite pleasant.

The Government House

San Miguel De Tucumán also has great food, but you have to know what to order. Trying to eat as if I was still in Buenos Aires was a mistake. Regional is the way to go. For instance, at one restaurant, my wife’s uncle ordered fish. Yes, the Salí river flows nearby, but he learned the hard lesson of why the region is not

known for seafood. Likewise, I had to redefine my idea of asado, replacing the lomo and morcilla with chivito and later, lama. Sadly, one of my favorite Argentine indulgences, helado, or ice cream, was inferior to my favorites back in the Capital Federal. San Miguel De Tucumán has some other culinary offerings including a stew called Locro, which has corn and, as far as I can tell, everything else they could find in it.

However, regarding Tucumano  food, the run-away winner is the empanada. I was told ahead-of-time that San Miguel De Tucumán had Argentina’s best empanada s and that is no joke. They are the best I have ever tasted. I had the beef empanada, the caprese empanada, the choclo empanda, and the mondongo empanada- they were all delicious. It is possible that it is not the filling that make these stuffed pies so good but the dough, or more specifically, how they cook the things. Empanadas are sometimes fried, but in San Miguel,  they are baked in bread ovens.

Bread ovens are ubiquitous in Northern Argentina, but ironically they are not employed for the purpose of bread making. Argentineans typically serve a processed, and quite dreadful, baggett with meals. But here, in Tucumán they bake an exquisite empanada with their ovens. The pastry is sumptuous with a smooth feel and a golden color that has just a

bit of char on the crest. Yum.   It occurred to me, that it would be a fascinating experience to move to San Miguel De Tucumán for one year and make it a sort of base camp for exploration of the entire region. Not only Salta, Catamarca, and Santiago Del Estero, but beyond.  Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru are all accessible from Tucumán. Perhaps that is a bit ambitious, but still, the idea endures. Ok, so I mentioned the huge mountain range that dominates the western horizon of San Miguel De Tucumán. These are actually the foothills of the Andes, but the term foothills is misleading as they are quite a bit bigger than hills, and in fact, very imposing mountains. The name of these mountain was never clear to me. I have read that they are referred to as the Sierra de Aconquija or las cumbres Calchaquíest , although on my map, the cumbres Calchaquíest appear to be located slightly North.

The locals did not seem to know the names or, for that matter, care. When asked for the name of the massive mountains that cast a shadow over his home, one Tucumano  simply replied, “ mountains”. Later, as we crossed the mountains, I found a local and posed the same question. This lifelong mountain dweller explained to me that mountains were referred to as the Tucumán Mountains, but I couldn’t find an official reference to mountains by that name. I guess it’s not that important; I know folks in Charlotte that don’t know the names for landmarks that surround their homes. The important point is

that the mountains were big and crossing them was rather exciting because the road was narrow, winding and steep. There was no shoulder or guardrail to provide you with a secure feeling.  The scenery was beautiful however, and as we entered Tafi de Valle it became spectacular. Tafi de Valle is an

area nestled in the mountains in such a way that it could inspire a painting masterpiece. Since I didn’t have time to paint it, I attempted to photograph the place but was disappointed because I couldn’t come close to capturing the atmosphere . The place is vast, surrounded by mountains and the center piece is a large man-made lake, or what Argentineans refer to as a dique. It is called Angostura.

The valley makes an excellent retreat for Tucamanos that live in San Miguel. There are small villages on either side of the lake; one has developed as a tourist destination with shops and restaurants while the other has a more local feel. El Mollar, the more native village, is the location of the Parque de los Menhires, a field of, what could be described as, ancient phallic  symbols. Large stones, each carved with patterns and designs, have been set out across a slope overlooking the lake. They were created by the pre-Columbian Indian people that inhabited the area and worshiped the sun. If you are expecting something on the scale of the Moai, the Easter Island Statues, then you’ll be dissatisfied.

The maximum height of these monoliths is about 5 meters and they are about 1 meter wide. Still, archeologists believe that the place was once considered to be the most sacred of sites. From Tafi de Valle, we headed to into wine country, Cafayate. Cafayate is located in the province of Salta, in the Valles Calchaquíes. Surrounded by mountains and bodegas,  the colonial-style village is a popular tourist destination. Cafayate is probably the cleanest town that I’ve ever visited in Argentina. Furthermore, the weather was very agreeable, sunny and warm, without any humidity; it was perfect for dinning outside and most restaurants had sidewalk seating. We tasted several wines and tried to compare them to the wines of Mendoza, which are a staple in my home. My wife and I

agreed that, in general, the regional whites trumped the area’s reds, and in fact, Torrontés is the region’s most prevalent variety.  Wine is so ubiquitous in Cafayate that when we visited the heladería, we found that the ice cream came in different wine flavors! We stayed one night in Cafayate and then departed for the capital city of Salta, which is also called Salta. The route from Cafayate to Salta is through the Quebrada De Cafayate, a desert canyon with incredible rock formations and amazing views. The road winds through this dramatic landscape  and is peppered with markers that indicate points of interests. Argentinians have very creative names for locations. For example, we saw a tremendous rock formation known as the Titanic, ostensibly because it was the shape of a ship with one end sinking.

We also paid a visit to El  Anfiteatro , the Amphitheatre, and La Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat.

All of these areas were magnificent and though I took photos, I was chagrined that I was unable to capture the awesome character of the locations.

After experiencing Cafayate, I had very high expectations for the Capital, Salta. I had naively developed the idea that Salta must be a large version of Cafayate. I guess that’s like thinking New York to be a big version of Lake Placid. Well, I learned otherwise. Salta is a large modern town. It reminded me of towns in the U.S. with its wide thoroughfares, strip malls, and suburbs. Although it did have a historical section with the usual plaza, cathedral, and cabildo, this area had been blended with some very contemporary structures.

There were a couple of interesting things that I discovered in Salta. One was the cable car. I have never seen a cable car in Argentina before, and in fact, I’m not accustomed to them in the U.S. either. However, here, in Salta, was a cable car. I don’t know if it’s the retro-appeal or the disaster potential ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/jul/02/jonhenley), but I find that there is something very cool about cable cars. Though we didn’t have time to ride it, I’m told that it travels to the top of a large hill on the east side of the city and on clear nights,

provides impressive views of the city lights. The other thing that I learned was that the American actor and Tango dancer, Robert Duvall, met his Saltena  wife, here, walking through the streets of Salta. That, I thought, was an interesting bit of trivia.  From Salta we journeyed to Jujuy, and that will be another post.

.

.

Art Expo New York City 2012

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY_A4qkBW10]Art Expo 2012Ok, so this year I decided to go to the Art Expo in New York City. I have been thinking about it for a few years because many art professionals, whom I respect, have been telling me that it’s a worthwhile experience. The idea was to get a feel for what types of works are succeeding in the market, perhaps get some business cards and do some networking. I accomplished all those objectives. The show calls itself the world’s largest fine art trade show. After reading a few reviews that described the art work as very high caliber, I had equally high expectations. I won’t say that the show met my expectations entirely, but I wasn’t disappointed either. Works on canvas dominated the show and the preferred medium seemed to be oil, or mixed. Figurative work prevailed, and many portfolios were indeed impressive. I was particularly attracted to the paintings of Anna Razumovskaya, Kal Gajoum, Liu Wen Quan and Jürgen Görg. The Galerie Roccia also displayed some interesting work. I went to one lecture by Gallery Director, Andy McAfee, who spoke about the business of hosting successful art shows. Mr. McAfee is from the fine state of North Carolina, where I also reside. More specifically, he hails from The Art Shop in Greensboro, North Carolina. I felt he delivered useful information. Here is my interpretation. It seemed that Mr. McAfee is somewhat of an illusionist; he creates an environment that impacts people’s perceptions, usually in a way that leads to sales. His business is based partly on this environment and partly on information, the art is almost incidental. The information that McAfee collects is about his clients. During his talk, he presented a form that customers are required to complete. After that, ostensibly, he knows what he needs to know about them. He clearly stated that he never lets the buyer leave with the art; he always delivers. In the client’s home, he hangs the artwork and collects more information about the buyer. Mr. McAfee described some of his clients as life-long-clients and presented his strategies as a method to achieve this. However, I think more than strategies, McAfee was presenting a glimpse into a craft.

From the sketchbook: Back Sacada

The back-sacada is one of those striking figures that create drama in the Argentine Tango.  When I witness it, I get that feeling of serendipity that occurs when I see a lightning bolt and I realize my eyes were right where they needed to be. The skillful tanguero executes it with smooth precision, invading his follower’s space like a surgeon. It seems effortless, but if you have ever attempted it, then you know better. Image

empanada party

I used to say that I wanted to move to Argentina. I don’t need to say that anymore because, ostensibly, Argentina moved to me. My wife, of course, is Argentinean, and every week our home is filled with our Argentinean friends who have ideas such as an empanada

party or malbec tasting.

Going to the market in Charlotte

I’ve noticed these little farmer’s markets popping up around town and at first I was very excited. What’s not to like about a farmer’s market? There is fresh, local produce everywhere and sometimes baked goods. Frequently, they attract artists, musicians and street performers and thus are a great addition to communities. However, I’ve found myself avoiding these places because the goods are too expensive.  Recently I saw one vendor selling a ciabatta bread for $12.00, seriously! The produce, as well, seems a little high compared to the super markets, which is curious since they presumably don’t bear the costs of transporting goods around the world.

I  like  the idea of walking or biking to the market. In the time I’ve spent in New York, Buenos Aires, or even smaller communities, I’ve always enjoyed walking to the market or finding clusters of vendors that  facilitate the shopping process. This is not typical of Charlotte. Granted, many Charlotte neighborhoods have a Harris Teeter or Food Lion and it can be convenient to shop in a big box, or category killer as they like to say, but these establishments rarely have everything you need, and thus I find myself driving across town to another category killer.  Sometimes I prefer the smaller boutique-style experience, especially when there is a sole proprietor or artisan around who is actually invested and cares about the business.

Image

Pedestrians

I have come to appreciate essence of the pedestrian and lament that it is not a perspective shared by this town, Charlotte. It can be a rich experience to walk through a community especially when the place is designed with plazas and promenades that support the peripatetic.  Unfortunately, this can be difficult in place like Charlotte where the urban sprawl and corresponding automobile dominates. In Charlotte, Pedestrians put their lives at risk. Here is a recent article from the Charlotte observer that supports my statements:  http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/01/11/2916789/pedestrian-hit-at-stonewall-college.html I have met a woman who lives on one side of South Boulevard and patronizes businesses on the other side. She told me she drives the short distance in her car for fear of crossing that street on foot. Her automobile is a suite of armor that she wears to safely traverse a distance that she would probably, otherwise, walk or bicycle.  I believe traveling around in this way isolates people from their habitat, limits the experience of their city, and denies them the sensation of blood flushing their muscles. Yes, there is some evidence that Charlotte is improving for the pedestrian, but this town still has a ways to go in terms of locomotion.

The Artist Habitat: Does Charlotte satisfy?

When I think of the best places for artists to live, Charlotte, North Carolina, does not immediately come to mind. Perhaps that’s because of my art education, which programmed me to regard Paris and New York as the standard, or maybe I’m deluded with romantic notions about artists hanging-out in interesting enclaves that exist beyond the Charlotte pale. Despite my preconceptions, the evidence seems to suggest that Charlotte has become more inspired. For example, with its strip of museums, theaters and galleries, South Tryon Street has become the new Culture Campus. On North Tryon we have the new Carolina Dance Theater and The McColl Center, which claims to be the leading center for the advancement of creativity. Now, we even have a nascent music scene on Seaboard Street. And, of course, we have the Tango scene. However, returning to my delusions for a moment, I would like to suggest a few modifications to the Charlotte culture that would appeal to my artist sensibilities, and my next series of post will address this.