Wednesday, April 3, 2013

ARTBLOX (continued)

This is the second installment of ARTBLOX I have made for the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery, in Salem (Oregon). There is no money involved and the people who buy them do so by buying a $10 token and dropping it into a reconfigured cigarette machine. I have had a lot of fun with this project and have pretty much taken it seriously as a way to make a social comment or a statement on art.

Mary Lou liked the first "Girls Who Smoke" ARTBLOX so much, I decided to make a second, but I switched out the back for another photo from the series by photographer Frieke Janssens of children smoking. I added a stoma to the girl on the front.

This one was designed as a statement on world population, which, truth be told,
came to me 
after thinking the dimensions of the block would lend themselves
to a visual of a can of sardines. 
The sides all have population factoids.

This one was actually inspired by a Lily Tomlin skit I saw her perform years ago.

This seemed like an obvious successor to the Art/Soup and features Andy Warhol's banana from the first Velvet Underground record and a photograph I took on W 11th Street, 
in Portland. I inadvertently positioned the photo upside down, but it is kind of hard 
to tell. If you happen to get it from the ARTBLOX machine, let me know and I'll 
replace it... or consider it a real collector's item, like that upside down biplane stamp. 

Botticelli is one of my favorite artists, and the Birth of Venus is one of my favorite 
of his paintings. This was actually a re-do, where I cut and reconfigured the painting up a little, to better conform to the dimensions of the block. 

"Ceci n'est pas une bloc de l'art"

"Ceci n'est pas une pipe"

Having fun with René Magritte.


Mary Lou Zeek has come up with a great way for artists to help other artists and have a heck of a lot of fun in the process. The Mary Lou Zeek Gallery has a refurbished cigarette machine, retooled to dispense, instead of cigarettes, original works of art. People are encouraged to buy a $10 token (or two) and let chance take its course. You don't know what you're going to get... a lovely painted block, an assemblage or collage, or in my case, photos and digital photo-mointages wrapped around the block. I just brought seven completed blocks to the gallery yesterday and told Mary Lou how much fun I had doing them. As a 2D designer and photographer, I found creating three-dimensional pieces challenging and, like I say, a lot of fun. Proceeds of the sales go toward the Artist Relief Program, assisting local artists in case of personal financial emergencies. Mary Lou Zeek's gallery is at 335 State Street, in Salem. Participate or purchase! Who knows? You may end up with an original Shapiro!!! 

Natalia among the Ruins (from a digital montage)


Girls who Smoke (1)
Doctors Recommend Smoking

El Gallo esta Muerto

These two ARTBLOX were an attempt to turn a couple of my landscape photographs into three dimensional art pieces. It was an interesting experiment and compelled me to look at my work in a different way... to "walk around the image" as it were

Friday, March 22, 2013


Note: this was originally posted on on July 14, 2012

Every morning when I get up, I read the obituary page. If my name's not there, I shave. George Burns.

I've been subscribing to Mr. Burns' philosophy for wuite some time. Once, years ago, I saw my name in the obits in the Los Angeles Times as I was waiting to board a plane. You can bet I visited the Mutual of Omaha kiosk before boarding.

* * *

For over five years, I have cut out obituaries from The Oregonian (and, in the instance of two of the finished montages, from The New York Times). What I found fascinating is the way the deceased–or their family members–choose to be remembered. The obituaries that catch my eye are the ones the feature a photograph from the person's prime. 

At about the same time I began clipping and scanning the obituaries, I took a half dozen or so close-up photographs of stapled and nailed surfaces of the wooden power poles along Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland.

They stood on their own, as studies of tactile surfaces converging in graphic compositions. I cannot say what compelled me to bring the obituaries and power pole close-ups together.

The first montages were more a visual/graphic experiment, developing the integration of the various elements in a cohesive composition. As the process unfolded, it revealed a direction — a relationship between words and images—a narrative on both the life of the subject and the way we choose to remember loved ones and how they want to be remembered.

As with the majority of my photography, these digital montages celebrate impermanence. I often refer to my photography as “fugitive,” and so it is in focusing on the end of one’s life. For what is life if not fugitive?

* * *




The Salem Art Association (in Salem, Oregon) has sponsored what they call "Project Space" for four of the last five summers, utilizing a vacant storefront downtown for studio, exhibiting and performing artists. I have been involved each year of its operation. In fact, I exhibited the first obituary compositions at the first Project Space, during the summer of 2008. For the 2012 Project Space, the theme was "works in progress." Of the two proposals I submitted, the obituary project was chosen. For the exhibit, I showed the following six photo-montages, along with other unrelated montages. Other than the emphasis on the narrative, there is another big difference between these pieces and the original two, shown five years ago. I did Internet searches on each of the subjects. All of the searches revealed some additional information, but none so comprehensive as for Maggie St. James...

Maggie St. James

Maggie’s obituary revealed a fascinating story. When I researched her, it was her mother, who kept coming up. Ruth was a legend in Portland, having been an abortionist, performing over 40,000 illegal procedures. I certainly did not want Ruth’s notoriety to overshadow her daughter, who is, after all, the subject of the piece. The style was dictated by the choice of words available and the wording determined the size and relationship of images. It was influenced in part by film noir and pulp fiction, particularly, James Ellroy’s LA Confidential.

The two Lina Romays

The Two Lina Romays began with the obituary of the Mexican singer/actress. A Spanish gore/porn actress took the name, one of many she had used in her life and career. I found the juxtaposition fascinating.

Elena Mimi

Elena Mimi Casals was a Cuban poet and songwriter. Grace, Tessa and Molly led more private lives. Faces in a crowd, a family picture... or an old snapshot staring up at you from the obituary page of the paper.