Gabriel Roberts

Truth is Beauty

Category: Writing

Driving up to the Land

We met upstairs at the old apartment building-turned-art-gallery where we rented office space. It had high ceilings and wood trim around all the doorways, with etched-glass windows above each door, creaky wood floors throughout, and a piano in the grand front room that overlooked the town’s main drag below.

Chris was playing piano when Ryan arrived and we waited for him to finish his song, or to finish his need to play some piano. He played “It’s All Understood” by Jack Johnson and the big chords echoed throughout the hall. Ryan and I sat across from each other on a couch and chair in the sitting room, smiling about Chris on the piano and rolling a spliff. The girls were occupied together with something and so it was suddenly just us three guys and we were going up to the land. I was somewhat anxious to leave, as the night was getting on, but made an effort to quiet myself and wait and after a few more trips through the chord progression Chris was done and standing tall and ready to go.

I drove the Subaru out of town and put some music on, and on the short ride down the highway we lit up the spliff and then I turned off onto the dirt road that climbed up to the land. We hadn’t been up in a few days, and not together in a long time. We said something about the girls and laughed and the Subaru climbed and I tried to avoid the rocks in the road. It was quite muddy, and when we got to the steepest stretch I didn’t give it enough gas to get up, and feeling the car start to slip, I put it in reverse to back down the hill to stop on the flat spot. I was stressed about the car and especially the mud, having smelled the engine always after making the drive up, and, despite having owned the car for two years and driven it across the country, unsure about the little car and how it was doing. All the way back down the hill I stopped the car and Chris opened his door and got out and yelled “Holy shit Gabe!!”, and Ryan got out of the back seat and exclaimed “OH HO!! MAN!!” and I yelled “What?!?” and Chris said “You almost backed off the edge!”. “Your back wheel is hanging over the edge!” said Ryan. My heart was pounding and I pressed the brake as far to the floor as it would go and pulled the handbrake as Ryan and Chris walked around and laughed. “Yeah your whole back right wheel is off the edge!” said Chris, and they both laughed.

I wanted to get out and Chris told me to put the car in gear and I dumbly said “what gear?” and he said “any gear, so that we don’t roll off the cliff”, and reached inside from the passenger window and pushed the stick into first. I said something about the smell coming from the engine, convinced in my spliff-blasted brain that there was something terribly wrong with the car, and I popped the hood and Chris peered inside and I slowly got out of the car and walked around to see the wheel hanging over the edge of the road and the darkness below of the drop we’d nearly taken.

“Oh God” I said, and walked around to the front, feeling sick and already swearing that I’d never again drive stoned, and Chris determined that everything looked okay under the hood and Ryan put down the hood prop rod and was fumbling looking for its seat in front of the engine, and I could see he was struggling with it but after being in charge of driving and getting us nearly killed, I’d lost all assertiveness and numbly stood and watched until he asked “could you come help me with this?”, and then walked up and put the prop in its half-broken little plastic clip and closed the hood. Chris offered to drive and I immediately agreed and asked “how confident are you that you can drive the car out of this?”, and he said “about 99%”, and got in and Ryan and I came around back and got purchase as best we could over the edge of the road, our chests up by the back bumper, and Chris revved the engine higher than I’d ever heard it go, and we pushed on the bumper and then Chris dropped the clutch and the Subaru jumped forward and scooted away up the road. Ryan and I climbed over the edge back to the road and walked up as Chris stopped the car and then gradually reversed back to us. We decided to leave the car there at the base of the hill and Ryan and I walked back a bit to find a good spot to park and we walked from there, carrying a few snacks and sweaters up the muddy hill and onward in the night all the way up to the land.

They were both in good spirits but I still felt sick inside and thought about how I almost got us all killed and I said “I’m sorry guys” and they said don’t worry about it and Chris said “hey at least you stopped when you did!”. We walked three-across up the hill and they made more jokes and already the whole thing was something funny that had happened to the three of us. It was never something that I had done: it was something that happened and we were all in it together. When we reached the big blue and yellow bus we said hi to the little meowing black cat and bedded down straight away and slept through the night, and in the morning we walked back down the hill in the mist, Chris wearing an old wool jacket that he had once loaned to Ryan but who never wore it. The jacket later passed to me and I still have it today.

Happy 2017

It’s 2017 and here we are. Obliged to take the next step into tomorrow, and make some resolutions! Who’s got ‘em?!?!? The number one resolution of 2017, as it turns out, is “To Be A Better Person”, which barely beat out “losing weight”, I think. Or going to the gym.

That’s a step forward! That, that; that, my friends, is worth celebrating.

I gave many hugs to strangers tonight and wished them a Happy 2017. I’ve never experienced the fullness of celebrating the new year like I did tonight. Dudes, mostly, but some chicks too. Everybody was FEELING IT. Seriously, bro. Feeling it. Convinced that 2017 will be the best year yet, partially because they say it can’t be as bad as 2016. But secretly they know that 2016 was pretty great in it’s own right.

I’m feeling it. Big stuff, yo. “Big Stuff”, as Larry David said it, gesturing to the engine of the Toyota Camry he was trying to sell. He had no idea what was under the hood…

In Search of Painting

I want to see paintings made unselfconsciously. Paintings painted by artists who had some ideal of perfection for which they strived, and who were not considering politics or ideology. There was Michelangelo and Rembrandt, then Van Gogh and Matisse and Derain. But what then? What about now? Who is painting seriously today?

Most of what I see is flat, dark, vulgar, and vapid. It has no content in and of itself: it requires the accompanying essay for appreciation. It explores politics in some vague and abstract manner. It touches on soundbyte themes like feminism or culture or man’s destruction of nature, but does nothing for these causes besides allusions: what does referencing feminism do for feminism? And what does a painting referencing feminism do for me on my wall, besides give me a script for the 30-second conversation I can have with my houseguest who wants to admire my new piece of art? Of what use are these pictures?

Great paintings have intrinsic value. They are magic. They hang on a wall and in exchange for your attention they provide spiritual manna: they feed your soul. Looking at a great painting is a positive, enriching, and worthwhile experience. Your mind can take a rest from interpretation. You look at a great painting for the same reason you smell a flower: you are drawn to it, it captivates you, offers itself to you and unfolds over time.

While some still paint flowers, landscapes, and figures, this is no longer considered valid as true art, and as such very few true artists can be found here. There are hobbyists happily depicting pretty flowers and sunsets, selling their paintings for $250, satisfying themselves when they get that nice little bit of yellow in the center of the flower, or the blue shadow of the tree or a particularly juicy stroke of paint, and especially when they apply their signature in the bottom corner. These pictures are equally shallow as the conceptual or political nonsense mentioned above: you and your houseguest can have a 30-second conversation about flowers or birds or San Francisco. You will never really look at this picture, because after the first glance it is dead: it has offered up all that it has, and from now on is nothing more than an object on your wall. There is no magic.

The artist today, if she pursues education, will be taught to deconstruct all ideas of art, to follow the endless downward spirals of her panicked mind, searching for something new, something dark and twisted and convoluted, and will only be allowed to stop and be patted on the back when she has created something thoroughly confusing or completely empty. Only then will she be allowed to teach at the college level.

Alternately, he may decide to forgo education and instead paint what he likes to paint. Unfortunately, he will be forced to get a job and in a few years will stop painting entirely, or he will be forced to make something marketable and become a whore to the whims of a tasteless society that will only respect the paintings they cannot understand and cannot afford, and will only purchase paintings of their backyard or their pet or a rooster, because they collect rooster things.

The painter with good intentions, who is not interested in expressing political views through art, finds no one to push her towards greatness. Nobody will tell her honestly what they think about her work. The critics and professors won’t even look at her paintings, and everybody else will say “great job” and “good for you” no matter how good or bad her work. She will paint the same thing for thirty years, in the same style, and die having done nothing for art, nothing for her patrons, and nothing for her own huge and infinite soul.

The serious painter walks a lonely road. He is mocked by great museums hung with complete nonsense auctioned at absurd prices, or patronized by cramped gift shops that will hang his paintings on over-full and poorly-lit walls behind cases of jewelry and glass figurines.

This morning, in search of painting, I do a web search for “painting blog”, and get as the top result the blog of New American Painting, and accompanied by a painting of a strange green landscape, the following “review” (please feel free to skip ahead):

There is constant irregular conflict behind the eyes—flash! electronic fusillades jumping viciously into the breach! burning, burning chemical warfare! psychological warfare, of the most personal and literal kind!—whether the brutal bedfellows Mercury and Mars, tussling for dominance and fucking to fuck you, or the constant recce and rendering benign of the dangerous and volatile thoughts accrued from the moment one awakes and slips into Society, or the punching of mirrors, or the delicate handling of nitroglycerin emotions, or the silencing of vicious tongues, or the bolstering of saintly patience, or the valiantly held redoubt, behind which happiness flies beautifully, vulnerably, the tattered and torn through—victim of a thousand missiles, from a thousand enemies, from a thousand directions—standard which, if all goes to plan (hah!) serves as both signal and spur … but few battles of the brain are more foundational, and therefore more potentially devastating, than the Soviet Spy style, low and slow, inevitable conflict between reminiscence and reality, the fungibility of memory a rose-colored radiation, seeping into every sulci, every incident, a terribly malleable foundation—Memory!—for us to build ourselves upon, leaving us all Houses on the Sand

What?

So perhaps I must write more about painting on my own blog. I can post images of my work and talk about my process. I can post images of paintings I love and talk about why I love them. If you have an artist or a painting that you would like to discuss, please contact me at gaberobertsart@gmail.com. I cannot promise any amount or frequency of content, only honesty and dedication to the magic of great painting.

I’ll leave you with a wonderful painting by Andre Derain:

derain-lestaque

I’m in Cochabamba

cochabamba

Cochabamba. I’m one week in to a three-month artist residency at the volunteer organization Sustainable Bolivia. How I’d ever have found this place on my own I have no idea.  Ever since spending a year in Barcelona and learning some Spanish, South America has been on my mind as the next destination.  As it turns out, I’m not as much of a world traveler as perhaps I thought I would be.  It’s been 8 years since Barcelona and aside from a brief trip to New Zealand, I haven’t ventured out of USA/Canada.

I’m in the “figuring things out” stretch of time here in Cochabamba.  One week in and I have figured out how to walk the city without getting run over, where to buy fruits and vegetables, and how to safely cook and eat without getting sick.  Everybody keeps telling me that I’m going to get sick at some point, but I refuse to believe it.

I can’t really believe that I’m here.  It seemed such a leap.  Bolivia?  I’d believe it when I was there.  It started to feel real when I got to Lima, Peru, and departing the airport, riding through the busy streets, I took in the bustle, the bright colors, the thick air, the sounds.  A whole world of life existing here of which I had no idea.

Briefly I wondered what I was doing here.  So clearly different: run-down, polluted, dangerous even. I’d launched myself into it as if on a lark: “Oh sure!  I’m going to Bolivia”.  Did I really take the time to consider what this entailed?  Was I ready to live in a 3rd-world country?  Since when am I a bold and adventuresome traveler?

I considered the effort I’d put in to get down here, considered the fact that I was already here, and I decided I’d better give it a go.

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McDonald’s “We Need to Talk” Ad: More Nonsense for a Dumber America

I’ve written before about a McDonald’s ad that makes America dumber.  Here we go again…

There’s a new McDonald’s ad that shows a young man receiving a text that reads “We need to talk”.  A montage follows of close-up shots of a woman—presumably the sender of the text—saying “We need to talk” in different tones; one tone implying that she’s breaking up with him, another implying that she’s pregnant, etc.

Then, over a shot of the young man looking puzzled upon reading the text, large words read “Avoid misunderstood texts.  Meet in person”.

The happy couple are then shown eating McDonald’s and talking and laughing.

The idea of meeting in person and not dealing with sensitive issues over text message is all well and good, but the ad sets up this dichotomy—meeting in person vs. texting—and fails to represent it in the actual advertisement.

The texting that is shown is a woman sending the text “we need to talk”.  We are supposed to believe that this is an easily-misunderstood text message, and an example of why we should meet in person.  Curiously, no matter what the young man might read into this text, he is merely speculating over what she’s going to say when they meet in person. In other words, her text says “let’s meet in person”.

While initially—thanks perhaps to his fears and insecurities—the young man may have the wrong idea of what she’s going to say, this is a text message that, fundamentally, cannot be misunderstood.  There is no way to read such a message and come away with any understanding besides the following: she wants to have a conversation, and NOT through text messages.

Misunderstanding the text message “We need to talk” would require reading it and thinking something like “She wants me to eat more citrus fruit”; in other words, you would have to be a complete idiot. Here is a much better example of misunderstood text messages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naleynXS7yo

Somebody had the idea of selling McDonald’s as a great way to have a casual face-to-face meeting, akin to “grabbing a cup of coffee”.  They liked this idea of a low-pressure, easy-breezy meeting and paired it perfectly with some inexpensive chicken and fish sandwiches. They got a good-looking pair of vaguely international-looking actors and a really nice shot of them eating sandwiches and smiling.  Unfortunately, they didn’t stop there.

McDonald’s decided to take it a step further and tap into the popular “return to roots” sentiment that’s in the air these days: “Darn technology! Darn Facebook and text messages!  People texting while driving! People can’t even have a face-to-face conversation any more! RAWWR!”.  People LOVE this idea because it gives them something to feel united about.  “Returning to our roots” and taking our faces out of our cellphones for a moment is a cause as shining and perfect and vague as “The Children”.  Verizon is all over it: http://creativity-online.com/work/verizon-home/44593

So, once they had successfully tied their sandwiches to “returning to our roots”, all McDonald’s was left with was depicting a relatable pitfall of technology—specifically, what happens when you don’t meet in person and instead try to sort out sensitive issues over text message.

Well, shoot, nobody could quite think of an example of this, so they just went with “we need to talk”, because, obviously, this can mean lots of different things. Nobody noticed—or cared—that this is, in fact, an example of a text message used to arrange a face-to-face conversation.

In their effort to represent concept A versus concept B, they couldn’t find a good example of concept A, so they decided to use an example of concept B instead, and present it as an example of concept A.

“On to production!”, they said.

It seems to me that the machine that creates McDonald’s ads is so complex, so insanely enabled with funding, that they’ve long-since left behind a time when an actual person sat down and pitched an actual idea to actual people who listened and had actual conversations about the idea.  Perhaps the entire production is now coordinated via text messages.

Who cares? You might ask.  It’s just a McDonald’s ad!  What difference does it make?  A big difference, I say: the difference between sense and nonsense.  When something as completely nonsensical as this is presented without a hint of irony or awareness—and broadcasted on such a massive scale as a McDonald’s ad—everybody who sees it gets a little bit dumber.  Especially the children!

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