Monday, February 28, 2011

Soviet poster art by Russian avant garde idealogs gains curator status

Moscow, 1985. 

The bricks and mortar in the Kremlin's wall burying the body and 11-month reign of Soviet premier Konstantin Chernenko (1911 - 1985) remained deeply damp, the grout freshly manicured.

I was flexing my Russian a second time in the Motherland (first was 1976) as I explored the schizoid Soviet state during a power vacuum, touring art museums, meeting and talking with Russians, learning as much as I could in three weeks from Uzbekistan to Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

Chernenko, the last of the hard-line Bolshevik leaders, aged and infirm, had died 13 days before.  His predecessor, Yuri Andropov, dropped dead after 15 months as Soviet leader, following Leonid Brezhnev's demise in 1982.

Russians plodded on as they had for decades of Communist rule by a propaganda-hungry oligarchy Karl Marx called "the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Chernenko was a blink of the eye in Russian history.

But 20 million Russian dead during WW II and the sacrifices of a bleeding and permanently scarred nation bore constant visual reminder along the streets of Moscow as Russians celebrated 40 years of victory over the Nazis.

The streets were ablaze with posters and banners.

Heroic Red Army soldiers, cast in red, black and white--faces carved in fierce resolve--soldiers rushing into battle and onto victory in 1945, like so many posters from 1919 to the USSR's implosion in 1989, propogandizing and propping up the ruling class, the Communist Party, since avant garde artists became party aparachiks.

Other artists who fell from state-approved favour fled or went underground or vanished or ended up in state mental asylums to be rehabilitated or were sent to Siberia, their collective and confiscated works, it's rumoured, still crated and stored in the dank and dark caverns below the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

In any Moscow bookstore you would see the heavy but talented hand of state illustrators manipulating your mind through emotive palettes of worker-heroes.

One genre, however, demonized religion and castigated Christ as an evil cartoon, as the usurper of the people.

Some would argue it's art, others malicious and demented propoganda.

Then, you could buy a packet of 10 different, colour, collector-sized hate-relgion posters for 60 kopeks, less than one US dollar.

The state encouraged your purchase and subsidized it.

Now, however, these posters are the stuff of collectors, galleries, curators and exhibitions.
Two curators in Connecticut believe these posters and cartoons tell the story of how dictatorships need enemies and friends, the black and the white of the propoganda palette of persuasion.

Photograph of Soviet poster by Stefan van Drake.

Closing 20 March, "Views and Re-views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons" continues at the William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut.

The Benton's website describes this show's significance: "More than an opportunity to condemn extremism of a bygone era, Views and Re-Views invites viewers to contemplate the works with a mind to past and current political climates in which rigid ideologies are formulated and disseminated."

Featured Soviet-era artists include: Dimitri Moor, Valentina Kulagina, Gustav Klutsis and Viktor Deni, collectively known as the Kukrynitsky.

The exhibition's curators: Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University and Brown professor emeritus Abbott Gleason of the Watson Institute for International Studies.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will be in peace." Jimmy Hendrix.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

ArtTraveler videos may be seen on YouTube.
Competa valley, Andalusia, Spain Photo by Liz Paris.

Catch up with Dutch walkers Rob & Joost on their Via de la Plata blog with narrative (in Dutch) and many photos recording their 1,000-km. pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela.

Thinking about taking an Andalusian walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workship in our sunny mountains? see: and

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Emerging Russian artists gain solid foothold in Spain's revitalized market

Rembrandt: Dimtri Gutov's inspiration
An inspired work by Gutov

Russian gallerists may still be celebrating, wobbly with vodka, thrilled their initial pessimism about ARCO Madrid (ended 20 Feb.) shapeshifted into bouyant sales and surging interest by Spanish collectors in the "honoured" eight VIP-invited galleries and their artists.

As an art traveler in Russia (1976 and 1985), I sensed the sullen if not Dostovesky dark side of the Russian soul, a unique pessimism gene, born from a tortured history of wars and profund suffering, poverty and Big Brother rule, yet one that perpetually rebounds with brilliance and artistic vitality.

ARCO implanted optimism in the Russians, and they're talking about it.

Russian gallerists told "Voice of Russia" (VOR) last week they're thrilled and surprised at the robust sales and VIP treatment Madrid and ARCO lavished on their stables of artists, who steadily gain market traction.

Just before leaving for Madrid, the Russians professed doom and gloom in characteristic fashion, aided and abetted by the Crash of 2008.

How wrong they were and how delighted they must be.

Take Marina Alexeyeva, for example, whose sales to European collectors prompted rumours the Marina Gisich Gallery in St. Petersburg, which represents her, may have captured the gold in sales.

The Gisch gallery, however, shares the podium with Moscow's Marat Gelman Gallery.

Its co-owner, Yulia Gelman, said hers brought the largest number of artists to Madrid.

In spite of her previous pessimism, Marat Gelman artists did extremely well, she added.

Could this be the reincarnation of a more positive Russian soul?

This optimism should continue, especially for the next 12 months between Spain and Russia.

On 25 Feb., the two countries inaugurated "Russian-Spanish Cultural Year."
About 700 mainly cultural events are in the works.

ARCO served as the project's catalyst, catapulting Russia's emerging contemporary artists into the spotlight.

It was respect and an elevated profile for the Russians, a sense of honour, Irina Gorlova of the State Russian Centre of Modern Art, told VOR, which impressed her most about ARCO Madrid.

Gorlova and her entourage of 20 staged a multi-media show, offering 150,000 ARCO attendees a big-screen virtual tour of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and its branches in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Kaliningrad.

She said this promoted much interest in Russia and Russian art.

Among ebullient Russian artists, whose souls vigorous sales uplifted: Dimitri Gutov, who creates iron structures after Rembrandt drawing, whose work is pictured above.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will be in peace." Jimmy Hendrix.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

You may be seeing a few two-minute ArtTraveler vidoes inserted in my posts just to spice things up; you can see others on YouTube.

Competa valley from Villa Chile, photo by Liz Paris

Join Dutch walkers Rob & Joost on their 1,000-km. pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata). They've got a great art and architectutral photo library going on their blog.

Seeking a walking tour or week-long sculpture or mosaic workshop taught by a maestro in our beautiful mountains? see: and

Saturday, February 26, 2011

When does a child's perception of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa become your own?

Mona Lisa by unknown Spanish child; A-3, acrylic on paper.

A few months ago, while walking past our small library in Canillas de Albaida, Andalusia, I saw children's art exhibited. 

I walked in.

Children were reading, a librarian-teacher, smiling and monitoring, greeted me.

"Are these for sale?" I asked. She nodded.

I assessed the group show of A3-size drawings and paintings, about 20 of them.

But one, for reasons that still perplex me, stood out. I wanted it. 

Some child had taken acrylics to paper and created his or her intimate vision of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Why did I like it? What made me part with three Euros?

Was it because of a luminous, simple palette of1956 Dodge blue and Dutch World Cup Football orange, replicating my undergraduate college's school colours (Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota)?

Perhaps it was a flashback to my hippy days when I worked and played in Darmstadt, Germany (c. 1967-68) with now well-known German international artist, Uwe Poth, who lives and works in the Netherlands? 

He designed and we jointly painted my 1959 VW bug the same vivid colours. We provided a slow-moving but hugely vivid statement in the far right lane of the Autobahn from Frankfrut to Copenhagen.

Or, could it be the larger left eye balancing the puffy right lip with the polished rose-blossomed cheeks, that certain bright optimism children often express?

I don't know. I've previously opined: "Art is a state of mind and perception is meaning." 

Yes, that's original, I think. At least, I did not knowlingly poach it. 

A UK professor of bioengineering at the University of Leicester asks the same question but puts it in scientific context: What processes in our brain lead us to appreciate a piece of art?

Enquiring minds need to know and a £30,000 grant will help Prof. Rodrigo Quian Quirogo, bioengineer, and Dr. Sandra Dudley, expert in visual culture and the senses at Leicester's School of Museum Studies, explore answers in a study that will produce an exhibition of arts-science works this fall ("Arts & Science"), according to a news release.

Artist Mariano Molina will create canvases reflecting principles of visual perception from the study.

This journey into the murky matter of visual perception continues the work of the pair in their previous undertaking: "Perception and wellbeing: a cross-disciplinary approach to experiencing art in the museum." 

What do you think about the Spanish child's "Mona Lisa?" Like it? Why or why not? 

Please comment or write me privately: stefanvandrake@gmail. com. (We'll conduct our own anecdotal study and I promise to report back findings. If you don't want your name mentioned, say so, or if you want the entire message off-record, please indicate. Muchos gracias!)

Rock on and practice peace and love.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy hendrix.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

Competa Valley from Villa Chile, photo by Liz Paris

ArtTraveler videos may be viewed on YouTube. Follow the final days of the 1,000-km. Via de la Plata (Way of St. John) pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela by Dutch walkers Rob and Joost.

Interested in a week-long mosaics or sculpture workshop in a beautiful studio perched atop a hill in our Andalusian mountains? Or a walking holiday? See: and


Friday, February 25, 2011

Latin American artists take flight from Madrid to New York's Armory Show

Hot on the trail of soaring sales, Latin American artists who scored well at ARCO Madrid last week, take flight to New York state's most celebrated fine arts fair, the Armory Show, which runs 3 - 6 March, showcasing 274 galleries.

It opens on Piers 92 and 94 on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River in two warehouses.

Among them, 21 galleries and their stable of hungry and talented Latino artists, energizing  Armory's "Focus: Latin America," another first, a separate space for these galleries, the same move ARCO Madrid made,

You can feel the Latin American art market heating up.

In other Latin American art happenings:

Tamano, 500 x 321 cm. Jose Alberto Marchi

 La Escuela del Escandalo, solo show by Jose Alberto Marchi: 26 Feb. - 30 April. The Latin American Masters Gallery in Santa Monica, Ca., hosts paintings and a sound installation.

Painter Adelina Moya & sculptor Jesus Moroles continue featured at Sam Houston State University (Houston, Tx.) during a week-long "Festival Inspiracion," the university's first Latin American Arts Festival, ending Saturday, 26 Feb. Dr. Sergio Ruiz created the event.

Kinetic artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: ends 4 July. Venezuelan magic light artist Carlos Cruz-Diez reportedly delights museum goers with his kinetic illusions, colour without form, he calls them.

Dr. Mari Carmen Ramerez, Puerto Rican art historian and Wortham Curator of Latin American Art, also Director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, Houston, lectured at the Inter-American Development Bank in New York on 24 Feb.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

 "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy Hendrix.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube, and look in on the travails and trails of Dutch walkers Rob and Joost on day 45 of their 1000-km. pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Photo by Liz Paris, Competa, Andalusia

And if you're interested in art traveling to our mountains in Andalusia for a week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop, or walking holiday, see: and

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Should faceless social network curators censor online fine art?

It must have come as a shock to Spanish ballpoint pen and oil painter and maestro Juan Francisco Casas from Jaen, Andalusia.
A Juan Francisco Casas painting: 369 x 373 cm.

As well to the New York Academy of Art.

Big Brothers in the "cloud" appear to be dumbing down and sanitizing online art, playing gate keeper, curating and censoring what Facebook and YouTube consider morally unacceptable.

Think nudes and sexual or erotic content.

Casas, whose ballpoint-penned portraits often command low five-figure prices, woke up one morning this month to find the documentary about him on YouTube gone.

Images of nudes from the academy's website also disappeared, thanks to Facebook's morality police (think Libya, Saudi Arabia and Dubai).

Casas and the New York Academy protested.

The two social networking sites caved in and restored images and video, FB admitting it makes mistakes.

At least that's a start. But beware of fine arts' Big Brother in the cloud.

In other happenings affecting Spanish artists:

Miami's Festival of Flamenco Song, 23 - 26 Feb. Keeping the Spanish-gypsy music genre traditional is critical, according to orangizer and dancer Celia Fonta, director of the Siempre Flamenco Company.

The sixth annual festival this year opens at the Carnival Studio Theatre inside the Ziff Ballet Opera House, a more intimate venue.

Guest artists include: Paco Fonta, Jose Andres Cortes, Gabriel Pies Plomo, Macarena de Jerez and Luis Vargas, an octogenarian singer from New York.

As part of the fiesta, the National Spanish Dance Company will perform at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

When UK painter and illustrator John Barrett opened his "Lorca: A Dream of Life" exhibition in Competa, Spain in August 2009, Barrett staged a multi-sensory happening with his more than 150 images interpreting Federico Garcia Lorca's poems from 1919 - 1929, featuring a flemenco dancer's expression of a Lorca poem.

Here's the ArtTraveler flamenco video.

Picasso's struggling years in Paris (1900 - 1907) featured in Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum through 29 May shows a collection of 70 Picasso works from this period before he became a well-known avantgarde painter.

Borrowed from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum in New York, these works represent Picasso's stuggling artist years in Paris.

Marilyn McCully curates the show. Free Sunday lectures about Picasso at the Van Gogh come as part of the package.

Spanish sculptor joins Pope to install statue at Vatican. Marco Augusto Duenas, who carved the marble statue of Saint Maron (5th C. Syrian saint), helped Pope Bennedict on 22 Feb. unveil and dedicate his work, which occupies the last vacant nave in St. Peter's.

Statue of St. Maron by Marco Auguso Duenas
Rock on and practice peace and love. 

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy Hendrix

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube.

Follow the final days of Dutch walkers Rob and Joost as they pilgramage 1,000 kilometres from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Considering week-long sculpture or mosaic workshops in our Andalusian mountains or walking holidays, see: and

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

21c Museum in Kentucky (USA) on 26 Feb. opens "Cuba Now" retrospective

North America's first fine arts museum showcasing only 21st Century fine art, aptly named 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, (21c Museum) on 26 Feb. opens a group retrospective of more than 80 Cuban works in Louisville, Ky., some from artists banned in Cuba.

When I think of Kentucky, I envison vast manicured green fields with race horses milling about, the red-neck and conservative folk in their small close-knit towns or Lexington's immense graveyard of American Civil War dead.

That's a decade ago for me, traveling through this beautiful state.

How times have changed.

Now, when I think of Kentucky, I think of Cage the Elephant, a quasi-punk rock group of guys from Kentucky, who last year issued their first release of the same name and with whom I partied in Amsterdam two years ago.

21c Museum opened in 2006, (a 9,000 square-feet venue); "Cuba Now" runs through July.

Paintings, sculpture and photographs, a few on loan from the artists, others drawn from museums and private collections, will showcase these artists: Jose Toirac, Angel Delgado, Douglas Perez, Los Carpinteros, Juan Roberto Diago, Yoan Capote and Tania Buguera.
A work by Cuban artist Angel Delgado.

21c Museum director William Morrow said he hoped this exhibition would widen Cuban contemporary art perspective.

In another Cuban exhibition--"Cuba on My Mind"--opens 12 March  in Naples, Fl. and runs through July at the von Liebig.

The von Liebig Art Center features more than 30 works by Cuban artists living in the U.S. and in Cuba.

After von Liebig's director, Jack O'Brien, undertook an arts crawl in Cuba last summer. He visited artists in their studios and later dispatched invitations for this show.

Third-generation painter Eduardo Miguel Abela Torras from Old Havana will be at the inaugural reception along with Eduardo Roca Salazar, aka Choco.
Ecosystem by Douglas Perez.

Jose Andres Matos Alonso, a Cuban writer and intellectual, will participate.

Dr. Carol Damian, curator for the Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University,  co-curated the exhibition.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy Hendrix

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube; follow the rigorous trails of Dutch walkers Joost and Rob on day 43 of their 1,000-kilometre pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Considering a walking holiday in our sunny Andalusian mountains or a week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop, please see: and

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Collectors & institutional buyers buttress optimism at Madrid's ARCO

Fewer galleries but better sales.

That may sum up how some Spanish gallerists view Iberia's largest fine arts festival, ARCO, which ended 20 Feb. in Madrid.

Gallerist Rafael Ortiz of Galeria Rafael Ortiz in Seville, told Europa Press today that he and others like him were "satisfied" with this year's feria, which hosted 197 galleries from 21 countries.

According to Art News, 29 percent of these were Spanish, 71 percent foreign.

Although exhibited, Antonio Lopez's "Madrid desdeTorres Blancas," which sold for 2.74 million Euros at Christies in 2008, was not on offer, window dressing and a compelling attraction at the Marlborough Gallery.
Madrid desde Torres Blancas by Antonio Lopez

Collectors who joined institutional buyers who fueled hot sales at Sotheby's in London recently, no doubt were among the150 VIP ARCO collectors.

Madrid cultural advisor, Carlos Urroz, who took over as ARCO director last spring, has re-energized the international fine arts fair's scope and focus.

For the first time, it staged two regional art exhibition centers for emerging Russian and Latin American galleries and their respective artists.

ARCO may seek to regain some key collectors of Latin American art that Miami Beach's Art Basel may have poached.

Yet, despite optimism and brisk public traffic, prices falling into the satisfaction zone, are reported at between 25,000 and 55,000 Euros.

The exception apears to be Marlborough Gallery, its spokesperson disclosing it had its best year at ARCO since 2008.

Marlborough sold to European collectors a Manolo Valdes painting for 368,000 Euros and another by R.B. Kitaj for 197,500 Euros.

Many fewer North American galleries showed this year while ARCO said Spanish galleries increased participation.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

You can see ArtTraveler videos on YouTube or follow Dutch walkers Rob and Joost on their 1,000-kilometre pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Considering a walking holiday in our mountains of Andalusia?

Or a week-long mosaic or sculpture workshop, please see: and These are good and most talented and trustworthy people.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

Monday, February 21, 2011

44 years later, "Che" image Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick wants royalties for familes of Guevara and Alberto Korda

Che Guevara by Jim Fitzpatrick
No more Mr. Nice Guy, says Irish artist and illustrator Jim Fitzpatrick.

Content to allow public domain use for 44 years, Fitzpatrick, age 65, himself a revolutionary of sorts and who met Ernesto "Che" Guevara, now wants copyright protection and royalties.

But not for himself.

He reports he is fed up with crass commercializing of his iconic image of the Cuban revolutionary hero with lucrative "royalties" dispersing into other people's pockets with each passing Che-embossed cup of coffee or T-shirt.

Fitzpatrick instead wants Che's relatives and those of Castro's former photographer, Alberto Korda, who in 1960 took the photo from which the artist conceived his poster, to each family netting half of any future royalties.

By now, he has filed his application to register the copyright and later this year, he plans to visit Guevara's and Korda's relatives in Cuba and transfer its ownership to the two families.

Two of Che's daughters applaud the move, not only for potential revenues, but because Che's family wants to control who and how the image is used.

There's another Guevara taking on poster notariety.

Che's activist DNA continues in his granddaughter, Lydia Guevara, age 26, who has joined a PETA poster campaign (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). 

She's pictured wearing amunition belts holding carrots instead of bullets, according to Digital Journal.

It's part of PETA's South American animal rights campaign.
Lydia Guevara posing for PETA poster

Rock on and practice peace and love.

ArtTraveler videos are on YouTube. 

Look in on Dutch walkers Rob and Joost on day 41as they near conclusion of their 1,000 kilometer pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

If you're thinking about a walking holiday this spring in our mountains or week-long workshops in mosaics or sculpture, see: and

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

ArtTravler reflects on 3 years in Libya: Why Gadaffi will fight to bloody end

This is a one-off as the Brits say.

I have these uncontrollable episodes of manic political endeavor, as though I am vicariously there in Tripoli, on the ground, in the great Green Square where armies from Italy, Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States paraded as victor, as occupiers, the Tripoli, where only a couple hundred metres from my villa, Gen. Rommel had his underground bunker, his Afrika Korps HQ.

Our "house boy," Mohammad, a very young old man with resiliance and love and loyalty, told me about General Rommel.

Mohammad, you see, was the famous Nazi general's personal vallet. He was with Rommel throughout the entire North African campaign.

Mohammed was also my friend.

He told me about Rommel's underground bunker, his headquarters, and how Rommel would take mess not with himself or officers but enlisted men, taking his turn in line like the rest.

Mohammed, I could see, loved this man as many did.

A word of caution: Yes, Mohammed cleaned, cooked, did things about the house and lived on premises during the week, but we, as employee and family of an American international oil company--Occidental Petroleum Corp., Bakersfield, CA--were told it was expected we would support a "house boy" like Mohammed and his family.

Perhaps a form of capitalist, paternalist, trickle-down economics, a kind of depraved socialism? We accepted this as we had no choice (it came as a surprise), but our relationship with Mohammed was rich and rewarding.

As colonial as it seems and in fact was, Mohammed and I developed a very close relationship.

He was a fine man, a loyal gentleman, devoted to his family, who largely lived in poverty in Tripoli's jebble on the edge of the great Sahara, which consumes most of Libya.

Gadaffi launches Stalinist purges and executions

I lived with my family in Tripoli, Libya from 1977 - 1980 when Gadaffi actively sponsored international terrorism, funded Libyan-based terrorist training camps, ordered old men to don army uniforms, take up arms and flew them to Uganda to die as mercenaries for other dictators.

He purged and executed hundreds after Stalinist public trials, the only thing going on Libyan TV at the time.

What I am about to tell you is true.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the arts spine of my blog but I know of no other way of sharing this information in a timely manner as Libya boils over.

There are at least two reasons why Gadaffi's military dictatorship will prevail as he continues to machine gun his own citizens, nothing new, incidentally.

He's paranoid, a speed freak (amphetamines) and delusional.

He has taken precauations as any parnoid would.

A very close friend of mine in Libya worked for a German tel-com company and exclusively for the Libyan military.

He designed secure communications broadcast studios in an underground bunker for Gadaffi should radio and TV stations above ground fall to the masses or some imaginery foe.

Another very good friend of mine, half Libyan, half Palestinian, Ibrahim, with whom I worked, also was a close friend with Gadaffi's No. 2 in the Revolutionary Command Council, Maj.Abdul Salam Jalud.

Here's the story: At a party in Tripoli attended by Australian women and others working to install irrigation systems, Ibrahim and the major became intoxicated.

According to Ibrahim, No. 2 loved his booze and Australian women and thus he was heavily into irrigation projects.

So, Jalud says to Ibrahim: "Hey, I'm really worried about Muamar (No. 1)." Ibrahim, of course, says what we all do: "Why?"

This is the zinger.

Jalud, obviously drunk, says Gadaffi has been taking amphetaimines for many months, is up when most people sleep, down when most people are up, and like a nomad, sleeps only one night in a certain location, palace or tent, always paranoid and in constant fear for his life.

From bloodless 1968 coup to bloody Benghazi

Then I begin to connect the dots. Things change quickly in Tripoli.

When I first arrived alone to sort out a new life in a third world country for my wife and two children, we used to joke about Gadaffi in the office.

No big deal.

Some expats recalled with a certain glow of cultural fusion how Gadaffi, shortly after his bloodless 1968 military coup, on Christmas eve, would randomly drive through Tripoli and stop at expat homes in his VW bug, knock at the door, introduce himself and spend a few minutes with Christians, very welcoming, very friendly.

This I can only say is legend, not fact, but fun to consider, nonetheless, given Gadaffi's current temperament.

With paranoia, came a beefed up secret police.

I had seen the KGB up close and almost personal in Moscow in 1976.

When I saw buses of navy blue uniformed KGB in Tripoli, saw from my office window Soviet ships off-loading the bits and bobs to build a nuclear plant 25 kms down the road and experienced Russian widely spoken in the suk, I began to again connect the dots.

KGB and East German secret police overhauled Gadaffi's internal security apparatus and it worked.

You could feel the political clampdown.

Muslim clerics clashed with Gadaffi and lost, big time.

For nearly a decade, Gadaffi's pan-Arab socialist state financed restoration of Tripoli's oldest mosque, positioned prominently at one end of the city's vast square bordering the old castle and suk (think round-about in front of Buckingham palace-size times two).

It had been completed a week and rumour was (word of mouth was the only pipeline or phones for those few who had them, mostly expats) that Muamar and the head cleric engaged in some power wrestling.

As I drove to work the next morning (it had stood proud and fully restored when I left  work the evening before), it was a medium-size pile of rubble.

And on the corner of every street I saw Gadaffi's red-capped special, uniformed secret police, armed but strangely enough, not dangerous....then.

Gadaffi never trusted his troops for good reason and did not issue them bullets.

The great paranoid leader had the mosque bombed, imploded in the early morning hours and within 24 hours, all evidence of of it had vanished.

No more Gadaffi jokes

No more Gadaffi jokes.

I knew the Libyan paralegal in my office worked for military intelligence and one of my fellow lawyers, also Libyan, another member of the secret police, monitored everything.

He later climbed the ladder of loyalty, becoming Lilbya's political attache in Moscow.

(He spoke fluent Russian when I first met him and firmly declined speaking to me in Russian, although at the time, I was nearly fluent.)

By now Gadaffi was on a roll.

He started to purge his own ranks, especially after his inner circle (army officers) five times tried to kill him by various means, bombs or bullets, while I lived there.

Gadaffi's personal jet's chief mechanic/engineer was a good 'ol boy from Tennesee. I sold him my fridge when leaving the country.

He flew with Gadaffi when the great leader was airborne and recalled a recent flight to Germany where Gadaffi received medical care for a bullet wound to the shoulder.

(The Coen brothers couldn't have cast a more ludicrous character in such a role. I asked why he just doesn't, you know, make sure the plane has a technical fault, a major one in flight. "He requires me to fly with him everywhere.")

Obviously, an amphetamine abuser would succumb at this juncture to a healthy degree of paranoia.

Everything I learned about Stalin's purges flushed to the surface.

The Soviets taught Gadaffi well.

Public trials and executions followed.

One of my better professional friends, a Libyan Vice President at OxyLibya, Inc. (wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum) where I worked as senior attorney, was arrested, tortured and executed, a fine man. I played hearts with him and others most every extended lunch hour (we were on Libyan time).

For what?

He was an influencial member of one of seven very rich families in Tripolitania. If Gadaffi wanted you out of the way, you either escaped or you vanished or were murdered.

And if you escaped, Gadaffi, while I was there, hired hit squads to kill his Libyan foes who fled to Rome and eleswhere. No political exile was safe.

Gadaffi's underground communications bunker

I earlier mentioned Gadaffi's underground tel-com bunker.

As you may know, he's already terminated the Internet in his country.

And deep inside this Tripoli bunker there is a fully equiped TV and radio studio.

With a mere flick of a switch, thanks to my good mate, the great paranoid leader can become the only vision and voice in Libya, regardless of whoever controls above-ground communications centers. 

Regardless of outcome, Gadaffi gets the last word?

There's another reason Gadaffi may remain in power, regardless of the death toll.

Libyans currently enjoy a per-capita income of about 8,800 Euros a year, second only to Saudi's 12,700 Euros.

The more you have to lose, the less you are willing to sacrifice.

The pro-Gadaffi demonstrators you see are all paid help.

My parents worried allot during the 444-day Iran hostage crisis, since Gadaffi, in a fit and fury and show of support for Iran, decided to burn down the US consulate and three very fine, black Plymouth Furys.

I stood about 100 metres away with the rest of the crowd watching black smoke billow into the sky. (Our staff fled for their lives to the British Embassy, whch welcomed them with single malt Scotch.)

Gadaffi's infamous for his "rent a demonstrations" or "rent a crowds," as we ex-pats called them.

It would be a national holiday like "Italian Evacuation Day," the day Gadaffi kicked Italians out of the country, and a rent a crowd or two would appear strategically before news cameras.

All paid help, more trickle-down, bought loyalty.

These Libyans made allot of spare change since there were public evacuation holidays for Americans (Wheelus Air Force Base circa 1971), Palestinians (depending on whether the great leader liked them at the time) and perhaps others.

Egyptian Evacuation Day was proclaimed while I lived in Tripoli, since Libya and Egypt engaged in a brief and bloody border war. 

Today, TV news tells us more than 200 Libyans died in Benghazi.

Spilling Libyan blood never proved difficult for Gadaffi.

My tel-com specialist mate just happened to drive into an army base outside of Tripoli (he had top clearance) to fix tank communications, when he saw three men with automatic weapons spraying death as they mowed down 12 Libyan Army officers lined up against a wall, allegedly disloyal.

Besides, consider this: Benghazi is another region, another tribe. There's no love lost between Benghazi and Tripoli. Is there a tribal element in the equation of where most of the blood will flow?

Gadaffi pays his people off and well; each of his body guards (all women) has a luxurious villa and all the perks; his key military officers get booze, drugs, women.

He is not an Islamic fundamentalist.

He is a secular, power-hungry pan-Arab socialist and a demented military dictator whose mind has been blown by drugs.

(This drug abuse was confirmed to me by a Minnesota U.S. Senator, then chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to whom I spoke personally about this shortly after I was safely out of Libya in 1980; he checked it out and said I got it right. You can assume we have agents on the ground there.)

I saw Gadaffi's heir apparent, one of his seven sons, appear briefly on Spansh TV tonite. He looked very worried.

This may be the end of Daddy dearest's dynasty.

But allot more people must first die.

Might makes right for Gadaffi, who earned his university degree in the UK.

He understands Machiavelli quite well and remains a shrewd, paranoid and unpredictable dictator.

Only those closest to him will kill him and his sons, and this could happen. It's been attempted many times before.

Rock on and practice peace and love.  

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Jimmy Hendrix

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)


Mexican folk art life-size "alebrijes" invade Missouri government center

Alebriges by Felipe Linares

14 Feb. Creve Coeur, Missouri.

Two life-size Filipe Linares paper mache alebrijes hang out of reach in Creve Coeur's government center's lobby, greeting, warming and scaring citizens of this American heartland city of 17,000.

On loan from the Laumeier Sculpture Park for a year, the pair of whimsical creatures--each weighing 20 pounds--may appear out of place in a city 88% white with a 2% Hispanic poplulation (2000 US Census). 

Not so, according to online reports.

Originally conceived by Pedro Linares (1906 - 1992), these highly collected and valued paper mache sculptures sprang to life after Pedro saw dragons, beasts, winged fish on legs, devils and skeleton figures traversing his dreams.

He gave birth to alebrijes, inaugurating a separate genre of Mexican folk art, taking root in the 1930's.

Pedro's son, Filipe, born in 1937, worked as an artist in residence at the Museum of Mankind, London in1992.

The Latin American art surge in Missouri may be no accident. 

I sense the artistic imprint of Dr. Julian Zugazgoitia, recently appointed director/CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, about 250 miles from Creve Coeur.

Born in Mexico, educated at the Sorbonne Paris IV with a doctorate in philosophy, concentrating on aesthetics and modernism in the arts, Zugazoitia, who looks like an Oxford academic, dons a whimsical grin, hinting he too may have encountered these fanciful and brightly coloured fantasmas (ghosts) from Mexico's rich indigenous past.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

You can see ArtTraveler videos on YouTube and follow the trails of Dutch walkers Rob and Joost as they pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Enjoy a walking holiday in our Andalusian mountains, near Competa, as well as week-long scupture and mosaic workshops. See: and

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

ArtTraveler hits the wall (with paint): Are painters afraid of a blank canvas?

"Perfect Storm," Stefan van Drake 2006, tempera on ancient Moorish masonry.

"The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerises some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. 

"Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of 'you can't' once and for all."
Vincent van Gogh, October 1884 in a letter to his brother Theo.

The wind howled and whistled through many gaps and holes in my doors and windows of the ancient partial ruin I called home in Corumbela, near Canillas de Albaida, 650 feet above sea level in the mountains..

It nestled up against what was once the village mosque, still intact but a Catholilc church since Isabella and Ferdinand's Reconquista liberated it by force in 1488.

Water dripped from the leaking roof into a concept art collection of about 10 pots and bowls strategically positioned on the floor.

(The more time I spend at Tate Modern, the more I think the pinging of rain drops into cheap metal bowls, each resounding with a different tone and pitch, could have been installed there.)

"Child at Play," arcylic concrete walk, Stefan van Drake.
Earlier that day in Competa at a small hole-in-the-wall store of very cheap bits and bobs, I found about 30 small jars of blue, green and red (plus a few yellow and black) tempera paint, perhaps discarded from last year's first grade art class.

I knew I had to have them. And cheap: all for 5 Euros.

I didn't know how I would employ them, but somehow I knew there was a final destination stirring within my subcionscious.

The answer came later that day.

The February storm pelted the earth mercifully to quench the thirst of a land wanton with sun, immersed in drought. I felt relieved. I like rain in measured amounts but harbour little desire to live in Scotland.

There's something soothing, emotionally cleansing and tranquil about a heavy rainfall, especially against a metal roof.

Outside my casita there's a 1,200-year-old Moorish wall, thick, deeply wind-worn and mortally wounded, part of Corumbela's ancient rampart, complete with holes through which to fire arrows at your foes.

It was a tortured and textured bright white surface, one resiliently reflective of another magic age (711 - 1492).

Suddenly, it occurred to me. The wall. The white blank wall in my tiny garden overlooking the valley semed to call me: Paint me, paint me, what are you afraid of?

Well, something like that.

I changed to my swimming suit, bare feet, grabbed a large brush and my jars of tempera and enjoined battle at the wall for my perfect creative storm.

Many of us share happenings like this when it just seemed the right thing to do at the time even if you had no clue how it would all turn out.
All above photos by Stefan van Drake.

After seeing Tate Modern in London a couple times last year, my mural, a "Perfect Storm," reminded me of the cannon shooting hefty round globs of red plastic goo against an untextured whtie Tate Modern wall, for fun and for effect and for profit.
My inner child took control.

I manically splatted tempera on the ancient wall and watched rain melt the colors.

With my brush I dibbled  and dabbled and swished and swashed away, breaking one colour into another, concentrating my blues with reds for purples--one area after another, non-stop until I ran out of paint.

Took about an hour.

Was this happening a part of what van Gogh called "artistic neurosis?"

When I lacked ability tp buy canvas, as I did then, empty and available spaces lured me into confrontational behavior with them and later, my landlords, who had no clue about my proclivities.

Regardless of result, process loomed more important than product.

After the wall makeover, I stared at my concrete walkway to the garden. It seemed empty, pale white and wanting.

Next day I was busy splashing acrylics and messing about. Today, I named this questionable work of art: "Child's Play."

That is the artist's bottom line? Child's play. Having fun. Isn't that at the core of what we need and want?  Some of us are better at it than others and have great managers, wealthy patrons, enterprising agents and gallerists or institutional buyers as well as astute PR people.

Then there's most of us.

But all of us must be having fun.

Van Gogh's work ethic never waned nor his hunger for growth or improvement or his lust for colour.

He believed in himself.

In1888, he wrote brother Theo:

"The day will come, however, when people will see they (his paintings) are worth more than the price of the paint and my living expenses, very meagre on the whole, which we put into them."

Rock on and practice peace and love.

P.S. None of my four murals, one outside, three inside, survived landlords' wrath and repainting.

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube. Follow trails and travails of Dutch walkers Joost and Rob on their pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Consider an art traveler week-long workshop in the mountains of Andalusia at a mosaic or sculpture workshop or a walking holiday. See:

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chilean urban artist Cekis on fire: ArtTraveler digests happenings affecting Latin American artists

Cekis mural in East Harlem, NYC

Urban street and grafitti artists like Chile's Cekis transform barrios and streets into free galleries of protest and pure visual delight. Cekis lives in Brooklyn, NYC.

A few weeks ago Madrid shopkeepers invited 130 well-known international street/grafitti artists to take a weekend and on Sunday 6 Feb., give their barrio a facelift,  transforming it into an open, walking and visually vocal gallery.

It appears a growing trend in Madrid, which reminds me so much of San Francisco or Amsterdam because of its contagious artistic energy.

Fine street and grafitti artists may have produced a tipping point so their art and movement will exponentially grow the more the world decays, the more the need for sanity in the streets cries out.

The more we need colour, design, words, visual content, art of all kinds to uplift our spirits in times of trouble.

And in tranquil times, too.

Focus Latin America at ARCO, Madrid opens 18 Feb. (to public): Brazilian free-lance artist Luisa Duarte, associate curator at Museo Tarrayo, Mexico City, Daniela Perez, and Julieta Gonzalez, associate curator of Latin American Art at Tate Modern, London, co-curate "Focus Latin America."

Duarte screened and then invited 13 Latin American galleries to participate in  ARCO's inaugural opportunity specially designed for emerging Latino artists.

"Focus Russia," a similar ARCO project new this year, offers collectors an opportunity to see works from rising Russian artists.

Latin American gallery becomes "La Cueca," Chile's dance of loss and passion: Opening 18 Feb. at Solar Gallery in East Hampton, NY; there are 7 performances over 18 -19 and 25 - 26 Feb.

Solar gallery's space, a 10-year-old flexible fixture, offers Latin American artists and performers new opportunities. Take "La Cueca," a Chilean folk dance produced by Solar Gallery ally,The Box Productions.
Representative of Luis Camnitzer's work.

"In the Beginning Was the Word," solo Luis Camnitzer show in New York: 2 Feb. - 29 May. German-born Uruguayan conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer continues his first New York solo exhibition.

Language permeates his works: printmaking, drawing, installation and photography. Organized by Daros Latinamerica, Zurich, the show is curated by Katrin Steffen and Hans-Michael Herzog.

Camnitzer married South American artist Lilana Porter. The pair joined with Jose Guillermo Castillo, founding the New York Graphics Workshop in Manhattan.

Cuban painter and engraver Luis Miguel Valdes opened a solo show at the Fayad Jamis Gallery of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City 16 Feb., which runs to the end of March.
Luis Migue Valdes
"Aguacero" by Sebastian

Mexican sculptor Sebastian's Aguacero hopes to bridge cultural/political divides.  El Paso, Texas welcomes installation of "Aguacer," one of Sebastian's towering works for which the city paid Sebastian $300,000; total cost of project is $500,000. Dedication to be set when weather improves, reports the El Paso Times.

The crossing between El Paso and Mexico, called Paso del Norte, previously looked like a "prison entrance," the newspaper quoted El Paso Mayor Joe Wardy as saying.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

ArtTraveler videos are on YouTube. Check out the growing photo gallery of Dutch walkers Rob and Joost on their 1,000-km. pilgramage (Via de la Plata), day 38, from Seville to Santiago de Compostelo.

And if you might like a walking holiday in Andalusia's mountains or a week-long mosaics or sculpture workshop, see:

Principals Joost (walker) and wife Moira (artist/art professor) speak Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).