Monday, December 17, 2012

I’m Cantankerous, My Body Odor Smells Like Lemons, And I’m Tired Of Sam Jackson Yelling At Me!


My Experience With The Master Cleanse
All the single ladies should master cleanse!
Much has been written about the Master Cleanse. Google it and roughly 3,950,000 results come up. Health food gurus, nutritionists, and celebrities like Beyonce have raved about the health benefits. Friend of friends of friends have talked about how much weight they have lost or how their skin looked amazing afterwards. I don’t need to loose weight and my skin is supple, like a newborn baby. Ok, maybe supple isn’t the correct word, but I do have good skin and I take care of myself. So why would I want to partake in this cleanse?

For starters, I have been eating like a beast lately. Even after a good solid meal, I would continue to eat and eat and eat. Then of course I would go into a food coma, take a nap, wake up, and feel bloated, which turned me into an unproductive asshole for the rest of the day. So I decided it was time to clean house, and periodically I like to challenge myself, just to see if I can do something; like when I ran the half marathon in SF back in 2010 with no training. My mother gave me a weird look and said,” Why do you need to detox? You eat healthy.” My father asked if it was something you digest or if it was an enema, I told him it was the former. Both of them think I’m a little off, but that’s fine, I’m an artist so they’re used to it by now. 

Here is the recipe:
10oz of filtered water
Fresh squeezed lemon juice, ½ lemon per serving
1/10 tablespoon of organic cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of organic grade B maple syrup
Six times per day for ten days.

Optional ingredients include laxative tea and no iodized sea salt.

Yup, that’s it. For the next ten days this is my diet. Either it will be incredibly beneficial, or one of the dumbest things I have ever done. 

Day 1:
The flavor of the concoction isn’t as bad as my taste buds imagined it would. After every deep tissue massage, I drink at least a gallon of water mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice to flush out the lactic acid that was trapped in my muscles. The thought of consuming massive amount of lemons is something I think I can handle, although I’m not sure how I will feel day number five, but for now I think I can handle it. There have been a few rumbles in my stomach during the course of the day, but aside from that I feel normal and my energy level is good.

Day 2:
After having gone to sleep at 11:30pm, I wake up around 7:30am, very confused. Number 1: As most of you know I’m a night owl. I’m a, “I do my best work late at night, rarely ever wake up before 1pm,” kind of guy. So waking up at the same time birds do is just weird for me. Number 2: My dreams were more vivid and strange than normal. Sadly I can’t recall them, but I do know that somehow George Washington and goat were involved.


First president and friend to goats. Not that way you perv!
Normally I would either eat an egg or make some oatmeal, drink some water, make some coffee, run errands, then come home, paint, eat some lunch, then get back to painting until dinner time. But as my stomach growls and contours I snap back to my plan, shake the cobwebs out of my head, make myself a drink, and get to work.

About 7:46 am I start to have severe, severe, cravings for the above mentioned egg, and oatmeal, and coffee, mixed in with a burger with fries, and a tuna fish sandwich, and brussel sprouts etc. It’s like I have turned into a pregnant woman! 

So to vent, I shoot a text to my friend Jesse Vasquez that says,
"This is bullshit, I’m about chew my arm off!” Jesse has done the master cleanse before and raved about it, so when he mentioned he might do it again and that we should partner up, I agreed. So we exchange a few texts than at 9:33am he shoots back, “Yeah, your body doesn’t know what to think, Hang in there pal!” So I do just that, make another drink and do some more painting.
At 9:43 am, Jesse breaks my heart with this series of text messages:
JV: Holiday Party! NOOOOOOOOO
Me: I know we picked a horrible time
10:28 am
JV: Shit. Do we need to reschedule?
Me: Tough Call
12:04pm
JV: I’ll let you know what happens at this party
12:23pm
JV: Let’s shoot for January (included is a picture of what looks like a cup of soup, a chicken breast, spinach, mandarin oranges, and slice of bread)
Me: You go straight to hell sir!
12:49pm 
JV: Ok I’m back on it now 

So unless Jesse gets back on the Master Cleanse horse this week, it’s just me. And I can’t blame him; I probably would have caved too. And granted, picking the holidays, when so many parties are happening with so much yummy food around, is a HORRIBLE time to start the master cleanse. But I started it, so I’m going to finish it; and what would I do with all this lemons anyway? However, if I’m this hungry, and it’s only day two, I’m not sure I can make eight more days! 

Day 3:
I painted until 4am and awoke my usual time of about 12pm, just as hungry as the day before. But I have to return a book to a friend so I don’t have time to dwell on my hunger. And Jesse is off the cleanse, so I’m alone in this unknown wilderness of detoxification. It’s a quick shower and quick drink mix and I’m off to have my will power tested; we’re meeting at a café that’s joined with a noodle shop! 

It was a really tough meeting to get through because I feel like my sensors have been enlarged by the lack of food in my stomach. EVERYTHING IN THE CAFÉ LOOKS AND SMELLS INCREDIBLE! During the course of the meet up, I was of focused on the great company and conversation, but the aroma of the coffee, the steam rising from the stainless steel soup containers, the smell of the chocolate chip cookies that bring back wonderful childhood memories, all of it was making me salivate to the point of almost drooling. 

I wasn’t feeling nauseous, but I felt like my brain was vibrating and being surrounded by so much food was only amplifying that vibration. I tried to imagine what it would feel like if a bee was somehow trapped in my head, bouncing off the inside of my skull, the buzzing of its wings making every synapse and neuron overload. Basically my brain was telling me, rather yelling at me, “EEEEAAAAATTTTTT SOMETHING!” But I knew this would happen, so I can’t really give in. 

I was however beginning to loose faith in the “cleansing power” of this recipe. The last solid meal I had and solid bowel movement I had was early Monday morning. I had expected that once the food stayed out and the master cleanse came in, I would be constantly visiting the toilet. Urinating yes, but the “other” not so much.
That was until about 5:30pm today.

I’ve had more impressive bowel movements before, some that were so monumental I had to call a friend about it, but this one, for not having any solid food in almost 72 hours was remarkable. I actually said out loud, “ I can’t believe that was inside me.” It’s estimated that the average America has about 10 pounds of undigested food and fecal matter lodged in their digestive system, which prevents the body from properly absorbing nutrients from food and prevents one from losing weight. Not that I need to loose weight, but the less fecal matter I have just lounging around in my colon the better.

Day 4: 
A.N.I. D.A.F. aka All Night I Dream About Food!
Call it a by-product of living in America, but as far as I can remember, I can’t recall ever having such vivid dreams where all I wanted to do was eat. Even when I was in Chicago on food stamps, twenty pounds lighter than I am now, I don’t ever recollect dreaming about being hungry. Now as soon as sleep overtakes me, food is front and center. It’s not the desire of food that’s torture, or the fact that I’m only eating subconsciously, but the master cleanse has diet has now tunneled into my dreams! 

Whenever I’m about to take that first bite of my mother’s lasagna, or feel the crunch of cooked asparagus in my mouth, or taste the deep, smoky, sweet flavor of Ethiopian coffee my dad has just poured, the master cleanse muscles its’ way in and says, “ Hey what the fuck are you doing? You’re not even half way motherfucker! Don’t you quite on me!” 

And for some reason in my dreams, the voice of the master cleanse sound like Sam Jackson. 

Imagine you’re surrounded by sweets, like you’ve been transferred to a real life William Cotton painting. You’re about to indulge you’re sweet tooth, after all you’ve been good, this is only a dream…


Will Cotton, PASTORAL, 2009, oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches

Then Sam Jackson shows up!

Not ordinary, everyday, just going to Costco to buy bulks goods before he appears on Jay Leno Sam Jackson. I’m talking about the black suit, white shirt, chrome polished .45, weird afro/jerry curl combination thing going on, “Do not even think about fucking with me “ look in his eye, Ezekiel 25:17 execution scene from Pulp Fiction Sam Jackson! 

Exactly. 

Say what again! So what one more goddamn time!
“Hey, what the fuck? I will kick your Ed Norton, Hugh Grant looking’ ass all over this cotton candy world if you take even ONE bite of that mother-fuckin' cheesecake!”
Thankfully, outside of my dreams, it’s been far less traumatic. A networking event I attended today with luscious food and booze was rough, but I made it. I’m almost over the hump, so the tough road is more or less behind me.

Day 5:
Having conversations with people over the phone, as well as in person, has become difficult for me. I find that I’m tripping over my words more than usual, even this blog entry had to be edited three separate times because of horrendous spelling errors and sentences that didn’t make sense. You know you’re not operating on all cylinders when you can stump spell check! But I feel physically fine and the painting I’m working has kept me focused. Here are progress shots by the way:



Almost there...







The new direction of leaving the tattoos behind, incorporating collage, and getting more painterly feels good. Two other paintings like this are on the assembly line, ready to go, so stay tuned for a future blog entry about that!



Day 6: 
“It’s so harmful to starve your body like that. You’re already skinny, what are you trying to cleanse for?” A woman who is a registered nurse told this to me. It took me a few seconds to process what she said because we were in a club and the music was at ear shattering volume. Then she spilled her drink on my leg, grabbed some napkins and tried to wipe it up herself. And I let her because she was totally my type: long curly black hair, dark eyes, killer smile, curvy in all the right areas, and olive brown skinny. A total babe. So much so, she could have been the mayor of Babesville*. 


*She's actually the Mayor of Babesville. 
We made some small talk, I made some jokes, she laughed, touched me unnecessarily, and I thought it was going well. Then she used the old,” I’m going to use the bathroom,” escape route line that women use when they are no longer interested in talking to you. For a second I thought, “Cool, I’ll just chill here, try not to go deaf while DJ Douche-Bag, or whatever his name is plays, some shitty house music. Upon her return, maybe we’ll pick up where we left off… perhaps there will be some more leg touching and some hot make out action in the future!”

Nope. Perhaps she wasn’t flirting with me at all and I had just misread the situation. Once I realized I had been dismissed, and the fact that I hate yelling just to have a conversation with someone, I knew it was time to leave. I made a quick phone call outside, came back in, said my goodbye to the birthday girl, told the hot nurse it was nice to meet her and instantly knew I made the right decision to leave because she didn’t even look at me when I shook her hand and told her goodbye! 

Cunt. 

“Whoooaaaaa Jeff! Take it easy,” you might be thinking. And you’re right. I’m just venting, I’m just letting off steam, some ladies will like me, and some won’t. I don’t view women as cunts. I know you’re reading this mom and I’m sorry for using the “c word”. But this lack of nutrients has made me really irritable and I’ve been like this all day!

mmmmmmmmmmmmm cookies!
Before I arrived at the club I hit a few art events friends were having, and these events, of course had food. The first venue had among other things, chocolate chips cookies, which as I stated above, I LOOOOOOVVVEEEEE! Near the end of the table next to the cookies was a cute little girl, maybe six years old who was enjoying EVERY-SINGLE-BITE of her cookie. 

 “Mommy, mommy this cookie is amazing!” 

Jesus Christ kid, do you have to rub it in?

Even though there were plenty of cookies left on the plate, I wanted to give her a body check like they do in hockey games, snatch the cookie from her tiny hands, and smoke it like crack cocaine!


All that cookie goodness gets in your system faster if you smoke it!


Do you see what this master cleanse is doing to me people? I’m contemplating smoking a chocolate chip cookie! I think in order to survive this ordeal I have to isolate myself until it’s all over.

Day 7:
This is it, I can’t take another three days of this torture; I don’t care what the perceived health benefits are. I’m cantankerous, my body odor smells like lemons, my joints hurt, I can’t think straight, I’m tired of Sam Jackson yelling at me, and this roughly 600 calorie a day diet doesn’t give me enough energy to do anything. I’m tired when I shouldn’t be, and that to me is warning sign numero uno.
“Hooray, now you can eat!” Not so fast. 

I have to ease back into my regular eating habits, which means that solid foods are off the table for a few days. I have to start off with lots of water and orange juice, transition into soups, then fruits, maybe a salad, then pasta and so on. My old favorites like a Mountain Mikes large pizza with pepperoni, black olives, and mushrooms, will be off the menu until January. 

Post MC Wrap Up:
Having never attempted something like this before, seven out of ten days feels like an accomplishment. Do I feel any healthier? I’m not sure quite yet. Perhaps time will tell. My pants fit the same, I don’t look or feel any skinnier, and my skin looks about the same. But I do feel more upbeat and focused, like I’ve cleansed some of the poisonous thoughts and scenarios that have plagued me recently. I’m not sure I would recommend the master cleanse to anyone, but I’m glad I did it for as long as I did. I wish I was a stronger writer that could come up with a more profound, poetic way to end this post, but all I can think about is how much I want a carnitas burrito, with a small bottle of Tapatio, and an ice cold Negro Modelo.

Forget a huge party with overpriced drinks, I’m celebrating 2013 with a burrito!

Don't worry my sweet, we won't be apart much longer!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Basically, I'm A Mess


:(

I don't really have much to report, other than extreme anxiety, self-doubt, and with, a less than stellar attendance of a recent group show, extreme frustration about what I’m doing with my life. I have been at a dead end with my paintings for quite some time; the tattoo thing is over for me. Although I still find it an interesting source of inspiration, it's not working with what I want to say. If I keep going down this path of fetishizing the tattoo, I will have to become a tattoo artist. If I don't become full integrated into the tattoo world, I'm just a fan boy making fan boy art. 


Even though I love and respect the medium, it's not where I want to go. After a time, technical painting is just showing off, an exercise in "Look at what I can do with paint," sort of thing. And quite frankly, no one in the contemporary art world is going to take me seriously if all I am is a solid technical painter. 

So I have been trying to figure out what I'm supposed to with my work, how I'm supposed to express all the anger and fear I have; but it has been very difficult for me. I don't know how other artists feel, but I constantly compare myself to other artists my age, whether they are close friends like Rogelio Manzo, or Josh Fernandez, or artist I don't know personally know like Kehinde Wiley or Kristin Baker. I often feel like I should be more accomplished, that I should be smart like them, and more importantly, that I should have figured it out by now. In addition to that, and this is something I’m somewhat ashamed to admit because it's such a cliché, stupid reason to be doubtful of one's work and purpose, but a relationship I was involved in, ended in July.

"Really Musser… you’re upset over a girl? Dude it's almost Christmas, didn't you just say you broke up in July?" I know, again I feel stupid for admitting that, it’s something we all go through, but I wasn’t prepared for it at all, both falling for her and the relationship ending. And the holidays only make my loneliness worse. It's yet another year I don't have someone special to attend parties with, or bring to Christmas dinner at my parents house. The reality is, relationships work out or they don't. I know this. But it doesn't make it any easy to deal with. Combine that with my lack of artistic direction; it equals me being a goddamn mess! But recently Rogelio Manzo, look for his interview coming soon, told me “If there is something missing in your work, the only to find out what’s missing is to work through it. It’s in the work itself, you just have to find it.”

So that’s the plan kids. I don’t know where I’m quite going with the work, but I do know that in about 6-12 months that tattoo with be completely gone from my work. 

Any artist have doubts about their process and would care to share?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hot Mural Action In Davis Pt.2!!!

Now with more pictures!
My contribution to the mural is at an end and I would say the project is 90% done. Check back soon to see pictures of the project! Below is a breif mention of the mural project that appeared in the Davis Enterprise.


Nature And Art Come Together In DAC Summer Program
By Kim Orendor
Sunday July 15, 2012



Me getting my mural on
Art, like nature, often fills the viewer with wonder and awe.

There are grand scale creations like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Yosemite’s Half Dome, while other works can fit in your hand, like a Fabergé egg or blue starfish.
The Davis Art Center is bringing both worlds together through its summer Discovery Art program. The program — themed “Cross Pollination: sharing art, sharing ideas” — grew out of a survey made possible by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation and in partnership with the UC Davis Arboretum.
“We found out that people are looking not just for arts education but additionally for intergenerational things that families can do together,” Davis Art Center Executive Director Erie Vitiello said. “They like to be able to drop in with no schedule, and they like things free, especially with the economy.”
“Cross Pollination” hits all three points. The three-month program is a mix of scheduled and drop-in activities that are family-friendly and affordable.

The three main pieces — a mural, “Pocket Collections” and “Off The Grid” — are perfect for those who want to get involved at their own pace. 

The mural is being painted by several professional artists. However, they are taking “input from the community of a conceptual or physical nature,” according to Rachel Hartsough, DAC exhibit and program designer.

Scale shots
For “Pocket Collections,” community members are asked to bring in bits of nature they find — leaves, bark, stones, etc. — which will be placed in display jars in the Tsao Gallery at the Art Center, 1919 F St. Individuals who visit the display will then draw the various objects and their work will be posted in the gallery.

“It will highlight the wonder of the natural material,” Hartsough said. “By looking at them and drawing them, people will see them in a new light. Playing with them and examining them, being hands-on — especially for children — helps develop a relationship with the things around them.”

“Pocket Collections” will be a revolving exhibit throughout the summer as objects are brought in and drawings fill the space.

“Off The Grid” is an installation piece that will come together over the summer as various sections are finished. The Art Center acquired a “secret” photo that was blown up and then broken down into 132 sections. Each of those sections was put into a kit — which includes a photo section and canvas — that is available now on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We encourage everyone to recreate their section in any medium: oils, water colors, pastels, magazine collage, chalk, textiles,” Hartsough said. “We want them to be as creative as possible.”
As the grids are returned, they will be reassembled square-by-square in the Tsao Gallery.

“The Grid is really exciting to me,” said Vitiello, who knows what the original photo looks like but isn’t sharing. “As they put it up, we’ll get to see the final picture.”

In addition, events are scheduled throughout the summer. They include the DAC opening reception (July 13), an art/nature workshop (July 15), Bee Creative workshop (Aug. 10), family time with Bay Area storyteller Ane Carla Rovetta (Sept. 8), Painting with Mother Nature workshop (Sept. 9) and closing ceremonies (Sept. 14). 

“This is our pilot program,” Vitiello said. “So afterward, we will follow up with participants and find out what worked and what didn’t work. We’re hoping that every summer we can turn our gallery into a discovery space.” 

For more information, visit www.davisartcenter.org/discoveryart or “like” the Davis Art Center on Facebook. 

All the following pictures were taken by Tony Berger: doctor, gentleman, scholar, contributing artist, and all around good guy.

Decided to add some colored tiles.
Left panel looking tight

Me applying tiles with purple gloves.
Ton'y graf inspired "LOOK."
Installed at the Davis Art Center.
Install shot #2.
Install shot #3.
I'm cornered! Photo by David Morse.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sometimes, Cats Are Assholes...

Random?

Yes, but it's on my mind right now.

Dear Ungrateful Cat I'm taking care of:
I feed you
I change your litter box frequently
I give you treats
I let you get all snuggly and give you attention, even when I'm tired as fuck
You pooped in my shoe and I let that go



-sigh- What do you want?

The least you can do is appreciate how AWESOME I am at air guitar solos!

Cats these days, no respect!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Another Gallery Gone :(

Skinner Howard Set To Close At The End Of June!


Simon would agree with me.



Sadface. This is the email I received from the gallery.

June 5, 2012
Dear Art Patrons, Collectors, Family and Friends:

For the past 7 years we have been filling a 5000 square feet space with around 80 ART shows accommodating the art of approximately 200 artists…!  A lot of effort and work and we have done this with fervor and passion. It just what we do and what we like. However, the monthly pressure of maintaining a large space is something we can do without and we’re looking for different ways to show/sell art. It is not “business-as-usual” and we have to find a better way going forward .

We have decided to close the current gallery, take some time out, recharge, redirect, and find a business model that will work for both of us. It is a bitter-sweet decision, since the gallery space we created is one-of-a-kind and we will miss it a lot. We will miss you and wanted to thank you so much for your great support, patronage and being part of the Skinner Howard Contemporary Gallery.

We will maintain and keep our website www.skinnerhowardart.com current. 

We will still represent our artists.
We are still art brokers/dealers and will be available to be of service to you.

We have one more (last!) show in June, opening this Thursday with a preview from 5 - 7pm and then the Second Saturday reception. Hope you can stop by.

This is not Goodbye but “See you soon, we’ll be in touch!”

Best wishes to you,

With great appreciation,

Gwenna and Pamela


Skinner Howard Contemporary Art
723 S Street
Downtown Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 446-1786

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hot Mural Action In Davis!

Davis Art Center

This was originally posted on the Davis Enterprise Website on May 22, but I'm just reposting it here. 


Tony Berger sketches while Nadja Fitchhorn applies the first wash of paint to a mural that will be an improvisational work in progress, open for public observation at 764 Fifth St. in downtown Davis.
The mural is just one component of the Davis Art Center’s new interactive Discovery Art program.
Thank you Crystal Lee for the nice write up. Enjoy and stay tuned for mural updates! 

Collaborative mural project kicks off Art Center’s new program.
If you passed by the Roe Building at Fifth and G streets recently, you may have noticed something interesting — an experiment of sorts — happening on the other side of the big glass doors.

Four artists, of broadly different styles and tastes, have gathered together in the makeshift studio at 764 Fifth St. to start work on a collaborative, improvisational mural. Over the course of several weeks, the artists will create, playing off one another and using suggestions from you — our community members — as inspiration for their piece, which will be installed at the Davis Art Center at the end of June as part of our new Discovery Art program.

Your suggestions in the form of found objects, sketches, photographs, magazine cutouts, material swatches, phrases, concepts, words, colors — almost anything meaningful to you or that you find beautiful — will be incorporated in the mural, either as creative inspiration or literally placed onto the piece.

Here are some ways to get your mural ideas to the artists:
* Drop them off at the studio or at the Art Center, 1919 F St.;
* Post them to the Facebook page,www.facebook.com/davisartcenter.org;
* Email crystal@davisartcenter.org, with the subject line “Discovery Art Mural”;
* Mail them to the Davis Art Center, P.O. Box 4340, Davis, CA 95617;
* Meet the artists and watch them work on the mural in E Street Plaza during the Second Friday ArtAbout, from 5 to 7 p.m. June 8; or
* Peek through the windows of the studio at any time to see the progress. 

If an artist is present, don’t be afraid to enter the studio, talk and ask questions!


Artist Nadja Fitchhorn applies the first wash of paint to a mural that will be a collaborative, improvisational work in progress, open for public observation at 764 Fifth St.

They’ll pop in to work on the mural as their schedules permit, but there will be a calendar posted at the entrance for a few dates and times they plan to be there.

The mural project is just one component of the Discovery Art program, which opens July 13. In line with the theme “Cross-Pollination: Sharing Art, Sharing Ideas,” each component — including an oversized visual “puzzle” and jars of natural, everyday marvels — will evolve with participation from community members of all ages and generations engaging with the environment through art.

“Art is a really effective means of investigating or exploring something, whether it’s your natural environment, your community or your neighborhood,” says Discovery Art program designer Rachel Hartsough, who is one of the mural artists. “The process of sitting down and looking really closely at something is a way that we can learn about and understand the way that our environment works.

“We know this is important because the more people — and children, particularly — develop some level of relationship and intimacy with their surroundings, the more they will appreciate their environments and take care of them.”

Artists Nadja Fitchhorn and Jeff Musser bounce around ideas for the direction of a collaborative mural project.


Hartsough says she’s excited to see how the artists interpret mural suggestions and, also, how their different styles will blend together. She will be working with artists Tony Berger, an emergency physician and graffiti artist; Nadja Fitchhorn, an illustrator, art teacher and design major at UC Davis; and Jeff Musser, a realist painter who specializes in portraiture.

Discovery Art was developed through a grant from the James Irvine Foundation and in partnership with the UC Davis Arboretum, Peregrine School and the Center for Ecoliteracy. Additional support has been provided by The Paint Chip, Hedgerow Farms, Hibbert Lumber, and Roe & Rutheiser LLC.

Learn more and keep up with the latest news about Discovery Art at www.davisartcenter.org/discoveryart. — Crystal Lee is the publicity and development manager for the Davis Art Center. Her column is published monthly. All photos by Crystal Lee.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What's Better Than Boobs, Wine, and Art? +18

Answer: Nothing!

My art brings out the best in people. And by best I mean the need to take off your shirt and drunk wine!

A special thank you goes out to Tyson Murphy who purchased this print all the way from Canada and then emailed me these photos. 

I always enjoy seeing where & how my art lives once it leaves my hands, and when those pictures include shots of nipples, well, all the better.


No clever caption needed
All framed.
That's a mighty fine looking kitchen.
Don't you want to be cool like Tyson and acquire a print? 
Of course you do!

How you display the work is entirely up to you of course :)


Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Tale Of Art, Ethics, And Technology


West Collects Suspects Voting Fraud, Ends Online Competition

For those of you who haven’t heard of the West Collection of the West Prize, here is the long and the short of it:
“The foremost goal of the West Collection is to meet young artists who are creating challenging and inventive work and to present an experience of this new art to the public. Since the mid-90’s, the West family has loaned most of the collection to SEI Investments, which Al West founded in the late 60’s and runs today. Curator Paige West has actively grown the collection to extend beyond SEI, to include loans to museums and university galleries. A major goal in collecting has been to visit artists in the studio and to understand their reasons for making art. In presenting the artwork to the public, our goal is to impart an experience of the artist’s studio to the viewer through our installations and accessible traveling exhibitions.”

In a bold move, this year West Collects made the decision to develop an iPhone (iPod, iPad)-exclusive app for the public vote for its $25,000 prize. Get the most amount of public votes via the application, and you got yourself 25k!

Sounds cool and cutting edge right?

In theory it was a good idea, but often times with new technology, there are unforeseen glitches in the system, and as a result, the West Collects art competition was abruptly ended on March 16, 2012, with only 60 days of competition remaining. It was clear to anyone watching the competition, which began in December, that over the last two months either the app had been compromised, or the voting system itself was broken.

News that the app-based voting portion of the competition had been cancelled was a surprise to some, and to others a relief.

If you have not already read the West Collects statement, here it is:


The public voting portion of West Collects 2012 has been canceled.

Yes, we noticed something fishy going on, too. We spent months analyzing data and tweaking things on the backend. We finally came to the realization that the app and the competition had been compromised. We shut down the public voting portion of West Collects 2012 in fairness to all of the participating artists.

The $25,000 earmarked for the winner of the public vote will be folded into the larger West Collects 2012 acquisition budget. All of the artists participating in the public vote will still be considered for acquisition into the West Collection. The artists whose work is acquired through West Collects 2012 will be announced, as planned, on May 15th, 2012.

We launched the West Collects voting app in the spirit of promoting artists and their work. We saw it as an opportunity to try something new. We have learned from this experience and through feedback from many of you. We look forward to continuing to embrace new technologies, bettering the experience for everyone, and finding ways to introduce new audiences to great artists.

Here’s what happened.

As you know, West Collects made the decision to develop an iPhone (iPod, iPad)-exclusive app for the public vote for its $25,000 prize this year. A number of people initially voiced concerns about the exclusivity of the app and the questionably democratic nature of having to route the vote exclusively through Apple products. Others were having a tough time explaining to friends, family and fans that any supporting votes would have to be through the iPhone/iPad/iPod.

It was probably a complicated decision by West Collects, but really, who cares? They are buying $300,000 worth of art every year. How bad can that be, however they choose to experiment awarding the $25,000 prize? On the matter of the app, West Collects states:

We choose the iPhone [app] based on user statistics and the fact that visual and creative people tend towards Apple products. If this year's test goes well, next year there will be more choices for voting. Within the first four days of its release over 2,000 people have downloaded the app, so we are off to a good test-case scenario.

It is important to embrace new technologies, and the fact is that Apple makes some very good --and very relevant-- products. I'm sure many artists would agree. However, considering the subsequent developments in standings, and the apparent vulnerability of the process, I'm also sure that WC is revisiting the role of an app in their collecting process. This situation, too, should serve as an important example to other entities considering app-based voting schemes. Clearly improvements need to be made. For West Collects, or anyone considering app-based voting, one of the most important considerations is that these systems are very easy to manipulate, and they should not be relied upon for awarding prize money. I'll explain why.

Watchers of the competition will recall the extraordinarily rapid pace of *name of artist removed* which seemingly came from nowhere after weeks of absence in the competition. This image did not simply creep up t he ranks, mind you, but it displayed a veritable blitzkrieg to the number one position. Of course, this was to be expected at some point: many of the artists who submitted are absolute unknowns, and at some point in the competition it was inevitable that bigger names were sure to enter, like *name of artist removed*

Some people did absolutely everything they could think of to drum up press coverage, rattle the social media circles, and contact as many iPhone-owning friends with hopes of collecting as many early votes as possible, in anticipation of this situation. To me, it was simply astounding to witness such a rapid ascension, and at the same time find little past --or emergent press-- on that particular artist or entry. *name of artist removed*  entry was collecting somewhere around 80-90 votes every day at the peak of his rise. It was impressive!


To offer a comparison/example: during the few opening months of the competition, one could Google "West Collects" and the first result was Chromatic Typewriter by artist Tyree Callahan.


Callahan (sadly no longer in the competition) used the power of social media exposure and wholeheartedly credits Tumblr with a large part of the piece’s success. The photo of the typewriter was -reblogged over 10,000 times during the first month of competition. (Because of keywords in the blog, that post altered the Google algorithm to post the typewriter first when the term “West Collects” or “West Prize” was entered.) But those efforts did not translate into more than a dozen of votes a day at the peak of his own press blitz.Yet, votes kept piling on at an astounding rate for *name of artist removed*

Initially, I did chalk it up to *name of artist removed* prior establishment in the photography world (leading me to question whether or not this was truly a competition for 'emerging' artists, but that's another issue), but day after day of being outvoted by such huge margins, another competitor, Joseph Spangler, began the conversation about the rapid rise of *name of artist removed* mysterious doctor, and began to wonder: is it possible to game the system?

*name of artist removed*, Mr. Spangler and others, if you're reading this, in the absence of a smoking gun I have to give you all the benefit of doubt. Please accept my apologies in advance for advancing my suspicions, should they have no merit. And if they do have merit, well, I can’t speak on behalf of WC or other artists, but I will personally extend a very hearty fuck you to anyone who collected dishonest votes with the intention of winning the prize. Thanks for ruining what had been an otherwise exciting competition.**


It Pays To Discover
Mr. Spangler did some inquiring with West Collects in an attempt to discover if the votes were indeed legitimate. Mr. Spangler is tech savvy enough to understand the possibility that votes might be generated illicitly and that there might (if not should) be a way to find out if that was indeed going on. Not necessarily to accuse, mind you, but to discover. I hope I can safely assume that when WC states that “we spent months analyzing data and tweaking things on the backend” this action was initiated by Mr. Spangler’s concern.

As those months rolled by, *name of artist removed* entry kept amassing votes and became veritably unbeatable. There was no way anyone would catch up. This proved to be enormously frustrating for Mr. Spangler, who began his own investigation into whether or not the app could be compromised. The findings: Yes. There are indeed ways to get around an app’s ability to register a vote. Once they were discovered, Mr. Spangler forwarded the findings to WC, so that they would be aware of the possibility of the vote being compromised.

Mr. Spangler's research uncovered an app that can change the unique ID of any i-device. This app is available only to jailbroken devices, and available through an app store called, Cydia which specializes in apps for jailbroken iDevices. The app is called " UDID faker" Basically, it randomizes the phone's unique id number, which subsequently tricks any installed app into thinking it is on a new device. So when used with the West Collects app, the UDID Faker essentially tricked the West Collects app into thinking it was on another device, thus allowing an individual to collect an indefinite number of votes almost automatically. Mr. Spangler immediately forwarded this information to WC.

Now, I have to pause for a moment to provide a character study that should preface what happened next. Earlier in the competition, in a generous act of fairness, Mr. Spangler pulled a number of his paintings--all were in the top ten at the time--to make room for other artists in the top spots, a generous thing to do when he had $25,000 at stake and every possible advantage in keeping them listed. Other artists, too, can confirm Mr. Spangler's move and his subsequent email encouraging other multiple entrants who were clogging up the top 25 to do the same. (I don't think any of them did, but again, I can could stand to be corrected on that item.) Mr. Spangler strikes me as an honest man.

Enter: "Spangler's Gambit."

Faith (Copyright Joe Spangler)

To anyone watching the competition, one way to have described the vote during the waning days of February was to say that, sure enough, 'some shit is going down!' On the first of March, I took a peek at the "top dogs" page (which listed the top 25 vote-getters) for the first time in a couple of weeks) when I opened the app, I was awed to find that Mr. Spangler--who was also a very large margin behind *name of artist removed* the last I checked-- had suddenly jumped to the number one position by an order of a few thousand votes, with his painting! Incredible! 

Was he just profiled in Life Magazine? Or, better yet, perhaps some trade-specific magazine published by Apple? Not that I could find!

After watching *name of artist removed* piece continue to rocket forward, and with no evident outward action on the part of WC, Mr. Spangler bravely --and rather brazenly-- employed some curious, if not suspicious, means of collecting votes. I will stress again at this point that I have no proof of anyone employing those methods with the prize in mind, but surely anyone watching will agree that it seemed explicit in more than a few cases, for there were suddenly a handful of other artists who immediately ran up into the top positions. Most of us were no doubt left skeptical and wondering when the referee was going to step in. 

And here was Mr. Spangler's entry, garnishing what? several thousand votes in short order!

But $25,000 Is A LOT OF FUCKING MONEY...

This was all fine on one level: the experimental one. After all, there were no rules posted to forbid app-cracking, or collecting votes by alternate means or jail-broken devices. It is even possible WC had not considered the use/risk of jailbroken devices. I’m not a programmer, but can the next version of the app somehow query the phone and disallow votes on a jailbroken device? Perhaps. But there’s an equal probability that an app exists to thwart such a query. The trouble is, when you set out to develop an app specifically for creative people you have to expect the advent of "creative" strategies for winning. It is naive to think otherwise.

A warning to anyone: If you are considering an app-based vote, be sure to draft policies to discourage these situations. If there is money involved, and statutory authority, consider warning would-be cheaters that fraudulent activities will be prosecuted. Had those types of things been drafted in this case, I think otherwise honest people might have behaved differently and subsequently kept the contest a lot more interesting.

$25,000 is a lot of money, though, and it is definitely a fraud-triggering figure.Words alone may not be enough. That much money would buy a great many entrants an entire year to create and advance our art, in some cases (mine, for example) without the stress of having to hold down a shitty job that otherwise robs time from that Noble Pursuit. That example is a huge--I mean HUGE-- incentive for anyone to manipulate the numbers.

The app was a wonderful way for WC to embrace emerging technology. The lesson learned is that the same technology creates a disadvantage, if not by limiting a majority of the voting public, than worse: by being compromised via hacking/cracking or illegitimate methods. (For the record, I count among the latter the theoretical possibility of having a friend who works at an retail apple store load the app and vote on dozens of devices once a day for a specific artist/piece.) Of course, I inherently understand that participation in any competition is neither a guarantee of winning a prize or --much less-- of being noticed, so I'm not laying blame on the idea of the app: It is what it is. But in a competition, a measure of fairness is expected. That's the crux of the issue here.

Then again: WC, as an aside, please take note: The app and the current web design make it extraordinary cumbersome to browse the art and discover favorites. The app, I understand: you are working with a very small piece of real estate for images! The main website, however, should display a far greater number of thumbnails, both for ease of initial filtering, and to get a better sense of the sheer scope of this competition.

Had I entered the compeition this year, obviously it would have been great to win, but obviously there's no telling which way the aesthetic winds will blow in this, or any other public vote. That reality was exciting. And, especially considering the exclusivity of the app, in the future it would be interesting to watch the results from an Apple iDevice crowd versus those of non-apple users, as an experiment in ‘creative class’ aesthetics -vs- others. The app is a good way to have input from the 'creative class' to help to choose potential pieces for the collection -- to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak-- but it seems that until it can be more certainly fraud-proofed (and how can any e-vote accomplish that, really?), the app is a risky means of rewarding a $25,000 prize.

No one wants to see that kind of money awarded to a cheater.

On that note, I don’t think anyone can criticize West Collects for ending the experiment. It was the best outcome for the credibility of the competition at this point. I think "Spangler's Gambit" deserves some kudos, too. Thanks, Joseph, for the illumination. Whether or not this sort of thing was going on before is hardly the point. It is nice to know, with authority, that it can happen, and that it needs to be fixed for the future. You ought to get a prize for that.

Special thanks to Tyree Callahan and Joe Spangler for contributing to this blog post.

To check out the competition and view some killer art, visit West Collects.