Bess & The Bird
The Bird knows all, sees all. The minions of The Bird are perched everywhere, scribbling notes, observing all social interactions in the PHX as potential fodder for the next column. Of course, it all flows through my massive bird-brain, and no boob is left unscathed by the tenacious mental talons of this Feathered Bastard. Last night, at Rachel Bess' 3rd Friday opening at Modified Arts, she was overheard kvetching about a spate of e-mails we've exchanged concerning the knocking she got in The Bird's most recent column re: her dull Dr. Sketchy franchise. So I figured it's best to let everyone here in P-town take a peek and experience for themselves the unapologetic lameness Bess advocates. It's quite illuminating, especially her diss of such great artists as Francis Bacon. Also ads some insight on why Bess' work is generally, ahem, "good for Phoenix." I like her, but she exhibits an extremely pedestrian imagination, both in her paintings and in her correspondence. At the end of the day, she's just not very interesting, and her art, as you can see on her website, reflects this.
Bess confesses to some confusion about how The Bird works, so let me explain this to those who've never read an items column before, don't know the difference between W.R. Hearst and a flag pole, and think Walter Winchell was the guy who started the donut chain. The Bird column is reported by myself and other journalists here at the NT, though if someone else does an item for me, I usually add to the reporting, check the facts, then write through it in my inimitable Bird style. The column is written in the third person, with the foul fowl acting as a literary device. Does anyone really think a bird is writing the column? This isn't a difficult concept for most non-Bessians to grok. The byline, "From the beak of The Bird, to the ear of Stephen Lemons," is fanciful shorthand for how the column is produced.
Lilia Menconi did the reporting on "Art School Confidential," and was chosen for the assignment because she's the New Times' art chick. She did a bang-up job, and gave me a more detailed report than I expected. Bess cannot assail the facts. She just doesn't like my style or the words I use.
I've met Rachel many times, and have seen her art on several occasions. In person, she's not the most expressive individual in the world, which is why I made the now-infamous "Zoolander" crack. Check out the painting "Jewels of the Rocks" on Bess' site. Looks like a self-portrait, and you might notice she's, uh, frowning. Maybe "Wednesday Addams" would've been a better reference than "Zoolander."
Anyway, enjoy! Hopefully this will encourage Dr. Sketchy's organizers to add some Tabasco to that art taco. You know, like, cut off an ear or something. Hey, don't look at me that way! It could happen...
>>> "Rachel Bess"
I'm confused about the Dr. Sketchy's article. I know Stephen and he's never even attended any of our events so it's a little concerning reading his supposed first person account. I'm not sure if that was some kind of tongue in cheek way of saying that the event isn't for pervs, or just a straight up trashing of the event, but attacking the model personally and making fun of her cup size was nothing short of completely out of line and rude. Amy was holding difficult poses with lots of costuming and everyone else seemed to think she did a fantastic job of holding them. And the bit about me looking like zoolander, what does that even mean? Am I supposed to be cute and smiley while I'm concentrating on drawing a model? I realize that the NT makes it their job to write a lot of "spicy" articles, because that's what people expect, and if you came to our event and truly thought it was awful then that's totally your right to write that. But it makes me sad to read such low blows about our model who went to such great lengths to set herself apart from regular life drawing models, and since you were the one that was actually there I'm curious if that article had your stamp of approval on it. Thanks, Rachel Bess.
Thursday - November 16, 2006 4:00 PM, Stephen.Lemons@newtimes.com To: Rachel Bess
Got your letter. The Bird is an items column, with three or four items per week. Usually I report one or two of the items, and two others here report the rest. I was thinking of reporting Dr. Sketchy myself, but as Lilia has taken life drawing classes before and is pretty expert on the art scene, I let her do it. The reporting was hers, the opinions are mine. And I stand behind both.
Down to the brass tacks of the opinions you don't like. Well, first off, by comparison to what the Crabapple website promises, your event is lame, banal in the extreme. Why is this important? Because, at least in theory, you're offering an alternative to art-school life drawing classes. Allow me to quote the main Dr. Sketchy site:
"Founded in 2005 by artists Molly Crabapple and A.V. Phibes, Dr. Sketchy's asked a simple question. Why can't drawing naked people be sexy?"
What you provided was a less-than-sexy model in an atmosphere that was stiffer and more boring than a college life-drawing class. At an actual life-drawing class, the models may not be attractive, but then that's not the point in college. Here, you attempt some blend of the "burlesque" and a life-drawing class. The fact that you fail miserably should be of more concern to you than how the item was reported. If you read accounts on Crabapple's site, people drink, engage in wacky contests, and the models tend to be hot. No one drinks at your event, the model was homely, and you seem incapable of mustering enthusiasm even for the drawing, shrugging, "Well, I guess it's time to do the drawing." People don't socialize and have a good time there, and it really begs the question of why even bother.
A little truth in advertising is what I'm suggesting. Even Steph is quoted as saying that the PHX Dr. Sketchy is boring and that nothing exciting ever happens there. So what do you expect? Come on, you know the reporting was accurate. And even if you don't like my choice of words, I suspect you may secretly agree with them. You'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to...
Stephen Lemons 602-229-8426
Thursday - November 16, 2006 10:52 PM, "Rachel Bess"
Stephen- I'm not attempting to enter into some bitter argument over the piece, as I'm well aware that ultimately it's your column and you can say whatever the heck you want, I'm just afraid that you missed the point.
You are correct, we claim and are offering an alternative to standard life drawing classes. What separates us from them, is that our models are chosen because they are interesting. Frequently, when we have our burlesque-style models, interesting does take the form of sexy. Past models have included Burlesque headliner Lolita Haze, Scandalesque performer Pyra Sutra, and fetish model Diabolica Robotica and we have a Suicide Girl lined up for January (I have enclosed jpgs so you can judge for yourself). The burlesque girls do essentially a stop motion version of their act, and it is something that I think most would consider sexy. As for Amy Austin, (who was modeling for our Halloween event) when she was applying all the fake peeling skin, blacking out her teeth, making her eyes look sunken in etc, I don't think she was aiming for a Hustler sort of look, but she was quite theatric, wonderful to draw and did an amazing job. If you personally find her unattractive in general (I assume that you know her, or at least what she looks like when she's not made up like someone back from the dead), that's just something we'll have to agree to disagree about, as most everyone I know thinks she's gorgeous even though she doesn't have giant fake tits.
As for the lack of liquor, well there's nothing we can do about AZ laws, and we've never made any claim to have any booze nor contests, though the participants seem to be pretty pleased at the "lame-ass" FREE raffle, when they go home with anything from a $12 pencil set to a $60 table-top easel. And many people do gather next door at Bikini afterwards for a little post-drawing libation and it can be quite the social event, which I am proud to say Dr. Sketchy's itself is not. It's not supposed to be about drinking and gabbing it up with folks, it's about drawing interesting models. Which brings me to my last point, me. I, and any of the other folks that help put this together, am extremely happy to be there. At the same time we know that the event is about enabling people to draw models that are out of the ordinary, not about us, so it seems a little foolish for me to run around the room cheering or cracking jokes or whatever you/Lilia wished me to be doing. People could be spending that time doing what they'came to do, draw. And we've met on many occasions, so I think you've proabably been around me enough to judge that I'm generally a very pleasant person and I do smile quite a bit more than once a decade. Thanks for your time. Rachel.
Thursday - November 16, 2006 11:57 PM, Stephen.Lemons@newtimes.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
I hear what you're saying, Rachel. But compare what you're doing to accounts of what's going on in other cities. As for the lack of booze, are you saying that if people BYOB'd, that would be verboten? (I know full nudity without the booze would be OK, according to Steph.) You mean that if someone brought in a flask, and you locked the door behind the crowd, there would be police officers waiting to pounce? I find that hard to believe. Christ, go to modified on ANY night of the week. Where do you think all of those empty beer cans in the parking lot come from? If you're afraid of getting caught, just be discreet about it. Or do it in someone's house.
FYI, we had limited space, so I was not able to use the quotes from participants on how your model was 1) unprofessional; 2) couldn't hold a pose; 3) couldn't regain a pose after a break. I mean, if it's all about the sketching, and not about the fun, then shouldn't these be legitimate issues for you? One guy we were going to quote mentioned he's had the same problem on other nights, as he's been to them all! Or so he said.
I think lack of imagination is a big problem in this town. People think WAY too small. When it comes to something like your Dr. Sketchy, yes, it should be a little less severe. Or maybe you should call it "Rachel Bess' Boring Ass Art School" and leave that "anti-art" pretense out of it. What the hell is the matter with you artists anyway? Don't you know how to take a fucking risk? What's the point of being an artist if you're going to do EXACTLY the same lame, boring shit they do in art school?
Oh, I forgot, Amy Austin dressed up for Halloween! Wow, you crazy artists...Sounds like a regular demi-monde you've got going on over there. Sheesh. Rachel, have you ever read a biography of an artist? Go get one of Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele, Picasso, you name it. Try kicking it up a notch, for Chrissakes. Kick yourself in the pants, and make it better. Or don't. It's up to you. I say all this as someone who likes you. I'm trying to challenge you. Unless this was just an off night. But based on what Steph told Lilia, this was par for the course.
>>> "Rachel Bess"
If someone wants to bring a "thirstbuster" to our event, I'm not going to stop them, but due to the numerous tickets other galleries/venues have gotten for liquor, I'm not about to say, "Hey, bring a flask!" If people really want to drink, they can figure out how to do it discreetly.
We have considered doing some separate gritty house-party style events with a different model in every room, djs, liquor and who knows what else. If you know of anyone with a house that's fit to accomodate something like that, and they're willing, please let me know. We certainly don't have anything against full-nudity, it just didn't happen last time. But I would pose the question to you, would full-frontal and booze really make this a more risky event? I suggest to you that it wouldn't. These days I can see nudity anywhere I want, I can drink any time I want. If that was what we were after I would invite some buddies over, hire an escort, down some shots and go to town. We're providing an alternative event for people who love life drawing. We're trying to steer clear of people who show up so they can give themselves something to think about when they return home to a lonely bed. As for Steph saying it was boring, her comment was taken out of context, Lilia was digging around about pervs and Steph said it would be boring for them. We do welcome suggestions from every participant at all of our events, so if you wanted to come out to the event and see for yourself what it was about, we would certainly welcome your thoughts.
As for being inspired by ingenious artists of history- the ones you mentioned had lives full of turmoil brought on by perversity, pederasty, constant philandering and/or dealing with homosexuality. They make a for a juicy read and great art, but I wouldn't want to start an event inspired by that.
Although I do feel that many of your printed comments were meant to be cruel for the purpose of riling up readers rather than an actual critique of the event, I do appreciate you trying to light a fire under me in your own special way. I still feel strongly that it's important to actually attend an event to write such an opinionated piece about it. As I said before, you would certainly be welcome to attend an event, draw, and then make suggestions on how to make it even better.
At this point I want to spend my energy making great paintings and doing my best to help put on an interesting life drawing event. So I welcome a response but beyond that I think we'll just have to agree to disagree. Thanks again for your time, Rachel.
Friday - November 17, 2006 12:47 PM, Stephen.Lemons@newtimes.com To: Rachel Bess
I don't think Steph's comments were taken out of context. She's acknowledged saying the same thing to others here. As for the edginess factor, that's something this whole Dr. Sketchy shtick is aiming to serve up. As far as I can tell, you haven't pulled it off yet. But when you think you're getting close, I'd be happy to swing on by and write something up about it. In person this time. Of course, I don't draw, so I'd prolly sit there reading the paper. Lilia does draw, which made her a perfect reporter for this event, added to the fact she's our main art writer. Her description was spot-on. Your objection seems to be that my language is too colorful. The accuracy of the piece, however, is unassailable.
I'm not interested in seeing that fella Strange nekkid on any level, so I'll hold out for the Suicide Gal. Unless YOU decide to model for Dr. Sketchy at some point, in which case, I'll be sure to make a bee-line. Provided you bare all, and I can sneak in a flask of Wild Turkey, natch.
This quote from you is a little troublesome:
"As for being inspired by ingenious artists of history- the ones you mentioned had lives full of turmoil brought on by perversity, pederasty, constant philandering and/or dealing with homosexuality. They make a for a juicy read and great art, but I wouldn't want to start an event inspired by that."
Why the heck not? Sounds like just what Phoenix needs. You might even produce some "great art" while you're at it...Heaven forbid, eh?
Thanks much for the letters. I do appreciate you, Rachel, and I do like reading your letters far more than your fiance's (hubby's?). You and Matt are together, right? Or maybe I'm mistaken.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.