Welcome to my new weblog! I plan on writing about some subjects I have been working on for some time, and also to feature some talks I have given over the last eight years. I hope you will enjoy my contributions and I will begin with my favorite piece of writing about my friend Brad Hayes’ art book, But I Did (2010).
Brad Hayes: Master of the Mechanic Arts
You are about to open a very special kind of book when reading Brad Hayes’ But I Did. Hayes and his artistic creations are as old as the days when farmers, mechanics, and other working class craft people (yes, women were quite as able as their husbands in the field and especially in the arts of quilting and weaving) were valued for their specific and somewhat esoteric knowledge about the physical world. Working class people were highly valued members of their society because of their superior skill and knowledge in important avocations like the building arts, the making of hand-crafted goods, or their intuition about the mystical cycles of the seasons that would bring food to the tables of fellow citizens. Since the 1850s, the knowledge gained from doing things has been transferred from the mechanic to the manager, but the self-expression of the craft person still persists today as a way to wed craft knowledge and social labor as the artist embraces the world outside so that they would share it with others. We see expressions of the mechanic arts all around us in customized cars and motorcycles, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles, and the thousands of self-contracted, home improvements that have transformed mass-produced houses into workingman’s paradises. The message is clear: Do it on your own terms and make it your own.
In the same way, Brad Hayes’ work and life is a reflection of this tradition in the mechanic arts filtered through four hundred or so years of working class traditions, particularly the Philadelphia Mechanics that animated the politics, economy, and craft production of that city in the 1800s. But Brad’s vision has been distilled pure through the underground, or punk rock, music scene and the skateboarding subculture that is very much still intact and flourishing in the face of commercialization. An avid skateboarder, master concrete finisher and ramp/skate park hand, and punk rock aficionado who plays the drums, Brad’s vision of artistic creation is non-elitist and democratic. He moves forward to create art rather than being limited by professional art schooling, by doing rather than studying. His creations in But I Did follow a long line of artists that bucked conventional and commercialized trappings like Jello Biafra and Ian MacKaye in the music scene; Craig Stecyk, Mark Gonzales, and Ed Templeton in the skateboard underground; and the lineage in modern art that runs from New York’s Ashcan School, to 1960s Pop Art, and also recent work in postmodern art that finds personal meaning in the common objects of everyday life. Hayes is a true organic intellectual in the best tradition of the word: well-read, always learning new things, and expressing his new knowledge in the world through his DIY ethic. His work captures the northern Oklahoma region where he was born, but intuitively evokes the color and form of the Dutch artistic movement known as De Stijl during the 1920s. Brad’s work also has links to the Russian Constructivists who embraced the mechanic arts in the early years of the Russian Revolution, infamously captured by architect Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third Communist International that is one of the great tributes to worker knowledge. Brad Hayes wants to inspire others to have art in their lives by just doing it, to make it a feature of everyday life. Rather than being held on a pedestal, art is common and within everyone’s reach according to Hayes. With his non-conformist attitude, Brad Hayes is like a modern day William Morris with a skateboard and cement trowel. And now Hayes wants you to get to work doing some creative stuff, so go do it!
March 24, 2010