Friday, June 20, 2014


I've spent the past couple of days chauffeuring my friend and "critic of the fringe" Carlo "Chuck" McCormick around these hills. Following the lead of  the now defunct Green Door mag. publisher Akira Ohiso's coining of the term "Hickster" Chuck pitched an idea to ARTNEWS to cover the so-called "Hickster Aesthetic" of the Catskills. Is there such a thing? I remember using the term in a blog in about 2004 and then never using it again. I like it. But it took me years to realize "hipster" had become a derogatory term used to describe the sock hat wearing, over the shoulder bag carrying, ubiquitous glom of hip, destroying Brooklyn. Hey, I'm out of touch. Hipster? Hickster? Who cares. I was just glad to be in ARTNEWS.
    So we got in Shirley and headed north. It's hard enough to distill down any individual artist's approach, let alone a group, even if they live in the same neighborhood. When they are spread across 100s of miles of timber, farm fields and winding roads it could be impossible. But with a full tank of gas and a bladder full of coffee we were about to give it a try. First stop was SHANDAKEN RESIDENCY, off Rt. 28, just below Big Indian. This outfit is just starting out. Four young women residents and a bright, energetic man named Nick (who ran the place), gave us the tour of small plywood studios, plopped down in clearings around an old farm house. We had lunch, talked art, dropped names and soaked up the vibe. Trying not to interject myself too much, I periodically would have to reel Chuck in from portraying his "driver" as an old, deer hunting local failed artist, who had attended Woodstock. All true- yes. But if I let him run with it he'd be pointing out my "prison tattoos" and calling me a carpenter. Identity is everything in art. Nobody seemed to like the term "hickster". Oh well. Moving on.
   The next stop was a German video art couple- E TEAM, across the river from Hudson. We had drawn the line there. No Hudson. No Beacon. No Woodstock. These places were already too well known. This area of Greene County was more high end gentile farms than either Sullivan or Ulster, yet still the Catskills. Chuck included E TEAM, WAVE HILL FARM and Peter Nadin in this corner. All take different approaches to their work and relationship to these hills. E Team were internationally recognised artists, who wanted to open a diner called WAITING. "You wait to be waited on, only to be served your just deserts." I love the Germans. We had homemade jelly, warm croissants  and espresso.
    WAVE HILL was a very impressive local radio station/experimental sound collective, that also was a residency. Bands like JAPANTHER and CHICK, CHICK, CHICK had come and gone, leaving cool crap in the woods. There was a lot of static, solar panels and visionary, radical politics. I wished I could get them on my boom box. No food was served. That's OK. We weren't hungry.
   The last stop was Peter Nadin's farm, a 180 acre piece of heaven in Cornwallville. We had farm fresh sausage over pasta, good cheese and red wine for a sit down lunch and conversation. I was ready for a nap under the Chestnut tree. Nadin, who has an art career, runs an 80 head pig farm/ceramic/painting studio complete with vista views, green houses and a completely restored 1790 farm house. He seems to do it all in a white shirt, with manicured lawn and no shit on his boots. Only the Brits can pull that  off. Was there a "hickster aesthetic" among this bunch? Who knows. It's up to Chuck to articulate that. I know he will. That's why he makes the big bucks. The woman from WAVE HILL tossed us the term "Citiot", to describe what the locals think of the encroaching hordes from the south. We both loved it. As "local" as I am now, 20 years ago I too was a citiot. I use it here as a term of endearment. But don't pay any attention to me.  I'm only the driver.          


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