A compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Extreme Craft has MOVED! Click here to visit us at our new digs on Typepad.. Remember, you can always bookmark us directly at www.extremecraft.com.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Baby Toupee is Here to Stay!

Baby Toupee
Originally uploaded by Extreme Craft.
The democrats and republicans in Washington are sparring over the intellegence report that was released yesterday that concludes the war in Iraq has increased terrorist threats rather than decreasing them. Our president pulled his usual trick and put his hands over his ear and started yelling "blah blahblahblah ican'thearyou", calling the notion "naive".

You know what? I'm still proud to live in a country that can produce anything as amazing as THE BABY TOUPEE. Somehow, seeing a well-coiffed baby swaggering confidently into the future is reassuring to me. Suri Cruise is firmly on the baby toupee train (obviously!), so what's your problem?

LINK via boingboing

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Devil is in the Details

Fallen Angels
Originally uploaded by Extreme Craft.
Kansas City is one crafty-ass place! On Thursday, I got to spend quality time drooling over the Nelson-Atkins' collections of European decorative art, including one of the biggest collections of English ceramics that I have seen. It goes without saying that their Asian collection is amazing, but I was unprepared for how much great European stuff they had.

My favorite piece, pictured here, is an 8" ivory carving from Italy of some badass Angels chucking a bunch of devils out of heaven. The figures all interlock in three dimensions, forming a sort of open spong patterns made of the "little devils". I must have spent 20 minutes marvelling at the detail, as well as the wicked imagination of the artist. The next time you're wandering around the Nelson-Atkins, keep a sharp eye, because this one is tiny, and easy to miss.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Neural Fibers

Sometimes it seems like the whole world has been knitted. When I'm bouncing around the internet, I often feel like that scene from the film version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the characters suddenly find themselves (and their surroundings) knitted. A wedding has been knitted, so has a coral bed, and cactus garden. Practically the entire human body has been knitted, notably hearts, embryos, and the entire digestive system. I can envision a dystopian knitted future where outlaws with reverse knitting needles create simulated "un-knit" objects as we used to know them.

Until that time, we can watch this Blade Runner scenario unfold bit by bit, taking notice when things like the Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art. The MOSAFBA is the brainchild (sorry, couldn't help myself) of William Harbaugh, a rogue economics professor at the University of Oregon. The museum's collection currently features three quilts with functional images from PET and fMRI scanning, a knitted brain, and two fabric pieces interpreting single neuron recording. Are you a maker of scientifically accurate fabric brain art? Make like the goddamned Bee Girl in that Blind Melon video, and get together with your own kind by emailing Mr. Harbaugh.

Link thanks, Clifton!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Agrifolk Follow-Up

Originally uploaded by Extreme Craft.
I just got an email from Jonathon Keats, conceptual artist and art farmer about the Agrifolk project. He provided these statistics:

In all, eighty-one drawings were culled over a three-day period. An impressive forty-seven of the fifty trees produced at least one artwork, the exceptions being W, GG, and II. The most prolific were A and V, which each produced four works, though only one drawing by each will be included in the Soho Myriad exhibition. In fact, while seven artists produced three images, no artist will have more than two pictures in the show. (The thirty selected drawings showcase the work of twenty-two artists.) Deserving special mention are G, M, R, and HH, which will each have the distinction of exhibiting the twoworks that they created, and PP, J, Q, and SS, which will be represented in the show by two of their three works.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hotrod Casket

Hotrod Casket
Originally uploaded by Extreme Craft.
This is a photo of James D. Calabrese's "hotrod" casket, complete with exhaust, a license plate, and cheesy flaming Chevy decal. Couldn't somebody spring for some decent pinstriping? Still, you've got to give it up to a brother who knows how to go out in style. Photo by Leonard Ortiz of the Orange County Register.


Last month, Extreme Craft promised you an insider's look at a BRAND NEW art movement. That day has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. I had the pleasure of receiving a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the creation of the AGRIFOLK ART movement on Sunday in Cumming, Georgia. Agrifolk Art is the brainchild of conceptual artist Jonathon Keats (who is well known for such projects as copyrighting his mind and trying to create God in a test tube). While at a residency in Maine, Keats began thinking about the swaying trees outside of his windows, eventually bringing a small tree inside his studio to further study it. It turned out that bringing the tree inside wasn't very effective (or healthy for the tree), but Jonathon kept thinking about the trees, and eventually contacted Andrew Dietz, an Atlanta-based art writer and entrepreneur. Dietz' most recent book, The Last Folk Hero, delved into issues of exploitation and authenticity in the Folk Art world, which meshed nicely with the project that Keats was hatching in his (trademarked) brain.

Keats and Dietz were not farmers, but with a bit of searching on the internet, found a tree farm in Cumming, which is about 30 miles North of Atlanta. Their new artists would be uncorrupted by art world machinations: 50 Leland Cypress trees, chosen for their resilience and flexibility. Last Saturday, Keats and Dietz put the artists to work, first labeling them individually, then setting up 50 easels and pads. The artists were provided with a variety of artistic implements such as pencils, oil pastels, and vine charcoal. By the time we visited, they had been working for nearly 36 hours without a break. The trees produced their art without a single complaint, fueled by periodic waterings and doses of Miracle-Gro.

Mr. Keats is confident that the quality of this artwork will be evident to all. "This isn't just about artistic integrity," he says. "Non-sentience is often looked down upon by our culture, obsessed with SAT scores and IQ tests. Yet plants negotiate complex ecosystems that biologists struggle to comprehend. Their art is a byproduct of the intelligence, and the creativity, of their interaction with the environment."

Asked if this has made him rethink his own art, Mr. Keats grows pensive. "My projects often depend on complex processes such as radiotelescopy and genetic engineering. I'd have saved myself a lot of work had I known that the basic ingredients of artistic originality were water and sunlight."

Naturally, I had a lot of questions about Agrifolk, ranging from curiosity about their process to the vagaries of the Agrifolk art market. My hosts were accomodating, going as far as to demonstrate their scrupulous process for "culling" the finished artwork. Keats, dressed in his best gentleman farmer three-piece suit, roamed the tree farm with a clipboard, observing the progress that each artist had made. When it was determined that a piece was finished, the writing instrument was gently picked up, and the pad of paper removed from the easel. On his clipboard, Keats jotted down the artist's identification, along with other relevant information, and carried the piece back to the picnic table they were using. The piece was then stamped for authenticity, verified by Jonathon, and stored with the rest.

I asked Jonathon how he knew when the drawings were complete. He answered that an ideal completed drawing was based on the range of gesture expressed by the tree. When he felt that the tree had fully expressed the gesture that they were communicating, the drawing was finished. Endless scribbling of the same gesture was seen as overkill. Dietz and Keats were unsentimental about their charges, conscious of the degree to which they were exploiting them versus the level of reward given to them. They harbored no illusions about redemption that the trees could face through their art--particularly talented trees weren't going to be relocated to a pasture somewhere; the trees are all destined for Atlanta living rooms during the next holiday season. Keats did express the thought, however, that they were providing these trees with a death sentence hanging over them with an opportunity to express themselves before they themselves are "culled" and covered in tinsel and garlands.

I also asked about the "target market" for this artwork. Folk art is a highly stratified world, with the bottom rung occupied by work sold in hardware stores, back yards, and flea markets. Selling to this audience generally requires a homespun, folksy approach, preferably with a degree of humor. My friend Nick suggested the artworks be called "PINE-tings", which would be a great way to get the fleamarketeers on board. Keats and Dietz are firing their shot across the bow of the gallery world, aiming directly at high-end collectors. Collectors of folk art value the "story" of the artist above almost all else. If an artist is illiterate and lives at the bottom of a well, their work is pure gold. If they are handicapped and also make angels? That's a money train that's just never going to stop. Keats and Dietz are providing all of the essential components of folk art: a great story and indisputable authenticity.

All of this comes down to the artwork. Is it worth a damn? Would you hang it above your couch? I would have to answer with a qualified "yes". Dietz and Keats could have given their artists brushes and bright colors, which would make for art every bit as compelling as something a Thai elephant could produce. Instead, they provided the trees with pencils, oil pastels, and vine charcoal, allowing them to express a more subtle range of work. Most of the work is produced with a soft pencil, showing a range of gesture and markmaking. White space is highly valued, with the trees intensively working small portions of the paper. This is not work to hang above your couch--the work that I observed was very subtle, providing an opportunity for contemplation.

Your chance to get in on the ground floor of Agrifolk is coming up. Can you say that you have a matchbook or coaster from the Cabaret Voltaire? Do you have one of Warhol's first Campbell's Soup paintings? Probably not. Soho Myriad Gallery in Atlanta will exhibit the finest works October 14th and 15th. They will also be screening a documentary about the project by director Edwin Moore. Keats and Dietz will be on hand to meet the public, but unfortunately for us, the trees will be happily biding their time at their farm in Cumming. I wonder if I might be able to put my favorite tree artist in my living room this Christmas. Remember. You heard it on Extreme Craft first.

LINK to my Agrifolk Flickr set

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Kansas City, Here I Come!

This Thursday, September 21st, I will be delivering a lecture at the Kansas City Art Institute as part of their "It's Only Natural" visiting artist series. I'll be showing some slides of my own work and lecturing about my codependent relationship with Craft. I'll also be playing show'n'tell, going through some rapid-fire slides representing some of the greatest artists that have appeared on Extreme Craft. I promise you, it will not be dull. Put down that barbecued rib, and get your ass down to Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus. 7pm sharp. You would never guess from the site, but I love to talk. If you'd like the Extreme Craft Roadshow to visit your town or campus, drop me a line. Thanks to Matt Takach, who designed this swell poster!


After the Ball

I'm one of those dorks who slowly opens gifts, carefully peeling the tape off and saving the wrapping paper. I do this in part because I love surprises, and it's fun for me to prolong the suspense of opening a package. Some people do this because they are cheap bastards who save wrapping paper for another day, but I can't remember the last time I actually saved the paper for later. Mainly, I'm carefull with the paper because I realize that nothing is as sad as the wadded up remains of a party--crumpled wrapping paper, stretched-out ribbons, swept-up confetti mingling with dust bunnies, and the last few slices of horrible white cake with too much frosting that live in the office break room until some kind soul has mercy on it and puts it to rest.

I have a feeling that Miami-based artist Frances Trombly feels my sorrow as well. Trombly ratchets up the melancholy of abandoned party favors with her lovingly crafted sculptures. Her installations are filled with spent decorations (like the congratulations banner above) that are painstakingly created using knitting, hand-weaving, cross stitch, and more. When shown in a spare, white gallery, the human-scale objects appear to be even more alone. Upon closer inspection, the objects cast off their pathetic auras, revealing themselves to be crafted luxury items. Check out her (warning--annoying Flash) website, which is chock-a-block with examples of her work. Get your party started!

LINK thanks, Clifton