Summer Tunes: Heavy Water Factory, “Painfield”

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The humid heat of summer has finally settled in and has us thinking of classic summer songs. First up: Heavy Water Factory.

Not many bands can capture a specific mood or aesthetic and ride it out successfully over a career. Not many bands can do it unintentionally, either. Heavy Water Factory made the heavy, humid heat of a classic Mid-Atlantic summer palpable and managed to do it time and again, consistently bringing the heat over the course of a two-album-plus catalog in the mid-90’s. While it surely wasn’t their intent, their songs feel like summer.

Heavy Water Factory was brought to my attention in the summer of 1996 by a college roommate who boasted of this “new” talent from Michigan (the songs were written two years prior to the record gaining true promotional traction). Their debut, Fluid & Meat was a curious collection of songs – definitely not we expected from the electro-industrial scene of the time – with a slow, heavy atmosphere clouding the body of work. The songs were there but not there. There was a nuance and texture and delicacy to the tracks unlike what were looking for at the time. I came away from my first listen totally zapped of energy and found it surprising that the soundtrack totally meshed with the view outside my window: bright sun, blazing pavement, few people.

“Painfield” is a prime example. The mid-tempo track slowly plods along, building steam at a snail’s pace and mustering just enough energy to hold a groove. Just when you think it’s on the verge of something substantial – a big chorus or massive breakdown – it consistently recoils back to the same easy groove, seemingly succumbing to the weight of the sweltering heat. It’s like they’re gassed out, happy to simply coast along for the remainder of the track and not move too much.

The atmosphere conjured up by Heavy Water Factory is hazy and hot, lazy and lethargic, sultry and sort of sexy. They offer the perfect soundtrack to those blistering summer days you just hope to survive – riding out the day and waiting out the sun for the cover of darkness when you can crawl out into the night in search of something more substantial.

Further Listening: “Shreck Bild”, “Vampire”

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Prints: Stop! Look! Listen!

Flutter

At some point in recent years the image of this hazard sign popped into my head and I had to recreate it. There was some allure to taking a simple, banal caution message and recreating it with my own hands. Would the impact and meaning be drained from it once isolated and out of context? Maybe. Sort of. But this wasn’t the time for such questions. The task was just something that needed to be done.

I was obsessed with road signs as a kid. The graphic forms and bold colors. The deceptive scale. The simplicity. The immediacy. The minimalism. As Frank Stella once said of his hard-edged, geometric paintings, “What you see is what you see.” Well, I saw what I saw in those signs – and it was awesome. It’s no wonder I was soon obsessed with pop art, posters, packaging, signage and typography. They’re all clean, simple, designed things.

I was so obsessed that my dad and I salvaged an arrow sign (seen in this photograph) from a knocked-down post when I was in elementary school. We were driving along and saw the sign – still attached to the post – strewn off to the side of the road peeking out from a thicket of tall grass. To see it languishing there, out of reach, was just too much. We went back that evening with some tools – under the cover of darkness – released it from the post and took it home. Dad did the heavy lifting. I stood lookout. I was so excited. I couldn’t believe that the thing was sitting in our living room. I stared at it all evening.    

I was so very obsessed that my mom made scale replicas of my favorite road signs with poster board and permanent marker. She faithfully recreated the precise circles and arcs of the No U Turn sign by tracing the perimeter of a mixing bowl. She was a trooper. I just sat back and art directed to assure that the details were totally, completely accurate. We amassed quite the collection. As props they made bike riding a treat for me and a nuisance for everyone else – all needed to obey the posted signage.

I’m glad I kept this sign. It brightened my days back in the suburbs of Philadelphia and it brightens my days in our workshop here in Georgia.

So here, again, is Untitled. Pure and simple. Perfect.

Mom, Dad, PennDOT – this one’s for you.

Prints: Test Dept.

Natural

Up and running slowly but surely this fine 2017 season. I kicked things off, oiled things up and dusted of the cobwebs (from the elbows, that is) with a little test run of an old favorite.

In case you wanted know, here are a few things I learned printing that day:

  1. Printing with art stretched on wooden frames is really frustrating. After washing the ink out of the frame a few times, the wood begins to bow and warp making it quite difficult to get a clean, even pull of the squeegee. And this is a treated frame, too. Maybe it’s just old. Aluminum frames are much better in this regard – and much lighter, too.
  2. Printing with copper (a mixture of gold and red and perhaps something else) thickens and gunks up your screen rather quickly. A bit of humidity certainly doesn’t help the situation. But I was surprised at how quickly said situation deteriorated.

This season is shaping up to be a little more unusual – pleasantly and surprisingly so – than seasons past. I’m rolling with it and I think the body of work will reflect this embrace of the fluidity.

More to come.

 

Things We Like: “Baby (Cradle)”

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On a recent art excursion to Washington, D.C. we came upon this Gustav Klimt painting at the National Gallery of Art. Ensconced in the recently refurbished East Wing, Baby (Cradle) of 1917/1918, beckoned from the wall in a tussle of haphazard exuberance. I thought I was over Klimt, but this one totally hit me right between the eyes.

Say what you will of the dorm-room-poster kitsch or cliché romanticism of works like The Kiss, but lately I’ve enjoyed Klimt—the intricate patterns, the sublime colors, the gold, the drama—it’s all hitting the spot right about now. Seeing Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II at MoMA last year might have softened me up a bit. Beauty is underrated. Looking at a picture and enjoying it purely for the aesthetics is something I’m comfortable with at this very moment.

Baby (Cradle) offers a lot to look at. The complex marriage of dense pigment and ornament in the foreground piled onto the languid washes of color in the background brings the subject squarely into focus. Well, sort of. First you must navigate the swirling tatters of colors and marks that command your attention and toss your eyes aimlessly about.

A white piece of cloth offers a welcome respite and cuts a trail right up through the center of the mountain of material. But it’s not really a mountain at all and the top is not the top. You’re looking back into space and at the vanishing point there’s a baby’s head and hand peeking out from beneath the dizzying pattern work.

In that moment, time stands still. It’s as if, for a second, matter translates to sound and the chaotic din radiating from below is instantly sucked out of the room. All that’s left is peace, quiet and tranquility.

Compare the crisp, pale representation of the subject’s face to the haphazard array of elements draped amid the composition. The swaths of fabric look to have been painted at a feverish pace and smashed flat into the canvas while the face appears to have been created with a delicate touch that raises the baby up and away from the surface.

Baby (Cradle) is a study in contrasts and—like all great art—offers something new every time you look. It was painted in Klimt’s last year of life and appears light and open unlike much of his earlier work. It’s tempting to think that he was on his way to another breakthrough as evidenced by Portrait Of Amalie Zuckerkandl painted (and left unfinished) around the same time in 1917.

Amid the countless masterpieces we encountered on this trip, Klimt’s baby offered a solid finish.