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Art = Absurdity = Provocation = Contemplation = Wisdom = Love

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The Elissa Washuta Interview

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Elissa washuta

Caleb Powell: You cite Maggie Nelson’s, book, The Argonauts, as influential. How so?

Elissa Washuta: There’s a passage where Nelson reflects on Alice Munro’s short story “Wild Swans.” Nelson writes, “Munro lays it all out: how the force of one’s adolescent curiosity and incipient lust often must war with the need to protect oneself from disgusting and wicked violators, how pleasure can coexist with awful degradation without meaning the degradation was justified or a species of wish fulfillment; how it feels to be both accomplice and victim; and how such ambivalence can live on in an adult sexual life.”

Besides admiring her prose, I really identify because I was trying to show that my first experience was complicated. After I was raped I continued seeing the perpetrator. I was terrified and repulsed, and I constructed a story as a response to rape. There wasn’t pleasure, but there was self-delusion that created a deep ambivalence…continue



Written by Caleb Powell

May 9, 2016 at 1:26 pm

U.S. Premiere at Hugo House: I Think You’re Totally Wrong

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Even If You Hate Writing, You’re Going to Love James Franco and David Shields’s I Think You’re Totally Wrong” – Charles Mudede, The Stranger

(From Hugo House site)
Film premiere at Hugo House – Buy tickets:  $8.92 w/fees, $7 at door

Hugo House will hold three screenings of James Franco’s film adaptation of David Shields’s and Caleb Powell’s book, I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The screenings will begin at 7 p.m. and be followed by a Q&A session with Shields and Powell.

Screening Dates:

  • Saturday, May 30, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 31, 7 p.m.
  • Monday, June 1, 7 p.m.

The Hugo House screening will serve as the U.S. premiere of I Think You’re Totally Wrong, which had its international debut at the DOXA Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada earlier this month.

The book I Think You’re Totally Wrong was published by Knopf in January 2015; in the Boston Globe, Saul Austerlitz called it “outrageously entertaining . . . a warm, funny, and charming book that questions not only what it means to live for art but what it means to live.” It’s the heavily edited transcript of an extended conversation between Shields and Powell, recorded during a weekend retreat in the woods. Powell, formerly Shields’s student at the University of Washington, chose raising his family over a writing career. Shields, meanwhile, is a prolific author and a professor of creative writing. (trailer here)

Written by Caleb Powell

May 28, 2015 at 8:02 am

The Shirts of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell vs. Jackson Pollock

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血洗净城 - Blood Washes the Capital

血洗京城 – Blood Washes the Capital (鄧 =Deng Xiaoping)

“WHAT makes an artist great? Brilliant composition, no doubt. Superb draughtsmanship, certainly. Originality of subject or of concept, sometimes. But surely true greatness means that the creator of a painting has brought a certain je ne sais quoi to the work as well.”The Economist

In the tradition of Chimpanzee or not Chimpanzee, I’ve assembled  Jackson Pollocks. Certainly no child, chimp, or artist could replicate them? Or could they? Pollock’s defenders often claim that his works cannot be replicated. And to the naked eye this may be so, but what about the discerning critic, specifically, the art collector willing to pay millions of dollars to own an original. Well, turns out Pollock can be copied to the extent that even the “experts” can be fooled.

Yankee Pot Roast:  If Jackson Pollock Wrote Poetry.

The Economist: “(The) art market pretends that great artists are inimitable, and that this inimitability justifies the often absurd prices their work commands. Most famous artists are good: that is not in question. But as forgers like van Meegeren and Pei-Shen Qian, the painter who turned out Ms Rosales’s Rothkos and Pollocks, show, they are very imitable indeed…Expensive pictures are primarily what economists call positional goods—things that are valuable largely because other people can’t have them…Ms Rosales’s career is thus a searing social commentary on a business which purports to celebrate humanity’s highest culture but in which names are more important than aesthetics and experts cannot tell the difference between an original and a fake. Unusual, authentic, full of meaning—her life itself is surely art, even if the paintings were not.”

Go ahead! Click and pick your Pollocks. To finish this mini-jeremiad on abstract work, I offer an abstract conclusion:  Pollocks may be more valuable or interesting than the T-shirts of Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, but the T-shirts have gone much further on less.




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Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox said at The Huffington Post: “The preoccupation with transition surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we’re targets of violence.”

When Sarrasine, Honoré de Balzac’s anti-hero who falls in love with the castrato Zimbanella, discovers “she” is a “he,” he postally freaks in a 19th Century way. This hatred still exists, due to the dehumanizing of the other. But just as rights have evolved as gays come out of the closet, trans rights are undergoing a similar process. When a friend introduced me to a tran artist, I wanted to ask her questions that people like myself, ignorant yet curious, might have.


Caleb Powell: What attracted you to become a woman?

Andie DeRoux: Ever since I was young I knew was different. I identified with girls, in being around them.

Did you date women?

I did. I grew up in a very conservative family, so I had to bury myself to survive and so when I finally went to college I was able to explore. My sophomore year I met a friend, a woman, and she was interested in me, well, I got involved with a gentleman who was friends with my friend, we all got together, and it felt very natural. I never thought of myself as bisexual. I thought of myself as more try-sexual. Namely, I’ll try anything once, and if it feels good and I like it, then I’ll do it (laughs).

Trysexual. I’ve never heard that. So you consider yourself bisexual?

Yeah. And I never had been attracted to the idea of having more than one partner, but here I was seeing this girl, and she was seeing this other guy, and we would all three get together. It felt natural to fall asleep together, and wake up together, and that was awesome. That happened for about a year.

Was this the first time men were involved?

That was it.

How old were you?

Twenty, maybe. I only knew of one other transsexual, and didn’t connect. I never thought transitioning or living the way I am inside was possible. I met my soon to be wife, she’d dated boys and girls, was bisexual. It didn’t bother her that I cross-dressed.

How long did the marriage last?

Seven years until we started the divorce proceedings. I said, “It’s not working anymore.” And she said, “I know.” We both knew. So we decided take care of it. Namely, getting a divorce.

From this point what made you become who you are. Namely, trans…what? You’re not quite transsexual, are you?

I am transsexual. Pre-op.

What does that mean?

Since 2002 I’d been taking herbal supplements. It’s bad for your liver. My spouse didn’t know. In 2008 I had this therapist, and I asked her, “How much therapy do I need?” You need a certain amount before a therapist or psychiatrist can write a letter to a primary care physician to receive hormone replacement therapy – HRT. It’s a legal requirement. You need to be living as the gender you are. I was living as a woman. When I went out with my wife, people thought we were lesbians, although she’s more heterosexual than lesbian.

And at this time you’re almost a hermaphrodite.

No. I’m a pre-transition transgender person. Often, when we traveled I would dress up as a woman, and that would put us in uncomfortable situations (laughs). My wife asked me in public once, “Can’t you turn it off?” And I said, “No. I can’t.” At this point my parents know nothing. Well, sometimes I wear nail polish and I have pink hair. And they don’t like that.

So about your parts.

(Laughs) You’re fascinated by that, aren’t you?

I am. Okay, so you’re going to have them all removed. Only partly?

The side effects of HRT mean your genitals shrink. Atrophy.

What percent? Ninety percent? Fifty percent?

I would say seventy-five percent.

So four inches would go to one. Eight inches to two.

Uh huh. That’s about right. I’m going to get rid of my testicles. The procedure’s called an orchiectomy. That’s going to be in the next few months.

Are you going to eventually get rid of your penis?

I call it my clit now, because it’s so small. And I’m a female. But no, I don’t think so. That surgery is too invasive.

Right. Have you ever been in a bar and flirted with someone as a woman and the man thinks you’re actually a woman?

Great question. I would say twenty-five or thirty percent of people that I run into, strangers, on a day-to-day basis, know. If I’m in a bar and someone starts talking to me, I’m not going to say, “Hey, I’m a transsexual.” If they ask, or if it looks like it might go further, then I’ll tell. It’s partially for safety, because people, especially men, well, it messes with their own sexuality.

It’s happened to me.

Namely? You thought you were with a woman and that wasn’t the case?


That’s deceptive. What happened?

When I found out, let’s just say I felt deflated.

(Laughs) That’s understandable. I’ve had sex with girls, see, who are transsexual. They’ve had vaginoplasty, and you would honestly never know. There’s a woman I know, transsexual post-op, and she dates men and doesn’t tell them. She was dating a chiropractor, suspicious, and he started feeling her hips and ribs.

And what? She had an extra rib?

No, that’s a myth, men and women both have twelve. But he could tell from the bone structure. He got upset, of course. Because he felt deceived, and they had been dating for a while. Being deceived is the part people get upset about. And that she was born with male genitalia. But more about being deceived.

How much of this emerges in your art?

A lot. When I got out of school I created hermaphroditic warrior women paintings, and after school I went more abstract. And I’m also into photography. There’s a huge overlap with photography, porn, and eroticism, within visual art.

It sounds like you’re very happy no longer to be in the past.

You refer to my past life, as a boy or a man, but that’s not how I look at myself. I never felt like I was male. I did wish, every night in bed, that I would wake up with a different body that matched me inside. I imagined dying and being re-born with a girl’s body. I am unique and have this perspective on life because of who I am, and what I’ve experienced. Now I realize it is a gift that I have lived as I have.

Written by Caleb Powell

March 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

James Franco Options I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel by David Shields and Caleb Powell

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PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE ANNOUNCES:  December 4, 2013 – James Franco to direct I Think You’re Totally Wrong, based on the book written by David Shields and Caleb Powell. (Movie Finished – James Franco directs I Think You’re Totally Wrong)

I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel: A debate, nearly to the death, about life and art. Caleb Powell always wanted to become an artist, but he overcommitted to life (he’s a stay-at-home dad to three young girls), whereas his former professor David Shields always wanted to become a human being, but he has overcommitted to art.

Film rights – NYT bestselling author of Reality Hunger David Shields and Caleb Powell’s I THINK YOU’RE TOTALLY WRONG: A QUARREL, a debate about life and art, enacting an impassioned and ongoing “quarrel” between the two actors: Powell always wanted to become an artist, but he overcommitted to life (he’s a stay-at-home dad to three young girls), whereas Shields always wanted to become a human being, but he has overcommitted to art, optioned to James Franco for his production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, with Franco directing, and Shields and Powell adapting and playing themselves, by Charlotte Gusay at The Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency.”

Written by Caleb Powell

December 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Art, Life

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Tom Wolfe Sticks Piet Mondrian’s Stick Art

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“All profoundly original work looks ugly at first.” – Clement Greenberg

“All ugly work looks ugly at first.” – Anonymous

“Frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” – Tom Wolfe

The surrounding lines and colored quadrangles are “works” by Piet Mondrian. They speak.

“The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in modern art … is merely romantic fiction….The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened.” – Tom Wolfe

Observe the descent or rise of art from Modernists to Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art to Op Art to Minimalism. Take Neo-Plasticism, originating 100 years ago, Mondrian, and the De Stijl art movement. Then Pollock, Rothko, Frankenthaler et al, competent but not good enough, they explored other directions. Their ilk repeats versions of the same with “individual” flourishes, moving art, supposedly, as the elite collect and promote. The debate is whether this advances society. Tom Wolfe , to paraphrase from The Painted Word, noted that 400 art critics suffice to create enough steam for an artist to become absolutely rich, but for the literary artist, no matter how beautiful the written word, without mass appreciation there is little hope for financial success.

“But nobody is visually naïve any longer. We are cluttered with images, and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the divine.”― Dominique De Menil, The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine

Written by Caleb Powell

March 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Bruegel the Elder vs. Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell

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Tower of Babel

Brief Bio Part II – More Boring Stuff: (From Brief Bio I) While in New York my father, in the Navy Reserves, was called to active duty and sent to Taiwan and then Saigon. My mother, at the time, was a grad student at Columbia and writing her dissertation with perhaps six months of work to attain her Ph.D. She chose to postpone her degree and join my father in a decision that can be seen as a metaphor for much of her work. She never finished her dissertation.  My mother stayed in Taiwan, where she taught Mandarin at the Taipei International School.


Competition: But how does having an “EBD” (Everything but dissertation) become a metaphor? Because my mother lacks the gene that drives successful artists to create until completion. In previous posts my mother has taken on Paul Doran, Helen Frankenthaler, and Clyfford Still, and her technique has handily defeated them. However, beating those three replicates an adult winning a tennis tournament against 8-year-olds. To paint better than Pollock or Rothko or Motherwell eludes the point. Their whole shtick depends on the shock value of not aspiring to the heights of technique. When it comes to abstract expressionism and similar disciplines, mental energy focuses on conceptual ambiguities that escape the interest of many, and thus comparing Beatrice Powell to them is, as I like to hammer redundantly and self-indulgently, comparing Apples to Orangutans. (Apples and orange are both round sweet fruit, they are similar, so why not compare apes to apes and fruit to fruit and find a new cliché?) I do not respond to Pollock & company, but I realize that many people do, thus the exorbitant pricetags of their work. And this pisses me off.

Anyway, I diverge and die…gress. I’m trying to pay homage to the greatest painters. How would my mother fair against, say, Pieter Bruegel the Elder?


Bruegel suffered to paint. His life was his art, it was not a hobby, a part time whim or fancy; art consumed him 100% of the time. He kept painting, seeking an illusive redemption. There is no romanticizing or exaggeration, in the 45 years or so that he lived, and by the less than 50 canvasses that remain of his work from the 16th Century, he became, without hyperbole, a master.

My mother, ah, my mother. Look at her two paintings sandwiched between the Bruegels. The “Half-Castle” illustrates her unfinished “finished” painting. “Caricatures” is a hoot, but the white spaces remain. These watercolors show how she often loses the fire and hunger mid-painting.  My mother has not suffered to paint. She is happy. This can lead to complacency and, dare I say, laziness. She has had moments of dedication and hunger and study, especially in her youth, but as with her Ph.D., art was never that important too her. She chose family and happiness, and I love her for that. Who could blame her? I admire her talent, and yet, the artist in me wonders where she would be if she had been consumed more by art.

Dulle Griet