Painter Mark Dukes and Archbishop Franzo King Part III
The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco’s Fillmore District is adorned with the icon paintings of Mark Dukes. Under the guidance of Archbishop Franzo King he has produced unique images of legendary musician John Coltrane inspired by a sound baptism. This is the final installment of a 3-part interview conducted in December of 2009.
Painter Mark Dukes and Archbishop Franzo King Part Two
Painter Mark Dukes and Archbishop Franzo King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church form a unique collaboration of expressive skills. The spiritual inspiration of the legendary John Coltrane’s music is the catalyst for the unique aspect of the collaboration. Dukes uses his craft as a visual artist and Archbishop King uses his as a preacher. Together with what they call “Coltrane Consciousness” they preach with the medium of painted religious icons inspired by music. This is the second installment of a 3-part interview conducted in December of 2009. You can read part one here.
Duane Deterville: Now we’ve gotten up to the point Mark where you’ve actually painted the first Coltrane icon. Reverend King, what would be your experience of these icons as you do a service? How do they enhance the ministry?
Bishop Franzo King: Well, the common phrase is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, maybe an icon is worth 10,000 words. And, I think they begin the preaching. The preaching begins with the visual experience. The beauty of the painting’s art is that they allow one’s inner voice to speak and their own conscious, which is really the Holy Spirit. It can teach from just doing this before I get up there to preach or anything. Just to sit here, you know, one thought produces millions of vibrations. I might make reference to this one here in particular and say that Jesus made the earth his footstool. You can preach out of that because all of these are scripturally based. If Reverend Dukes was to talk to you about the symbolism here? The fire representing the Holy Ghost, the ribbon a gift, giving it back to God, having gotten that gift. They (The paintings) preach to us in themselves.
Deterville: How many icons all together are there?
Bishop Franzo King: Thirteen.
Interview with Coltrane Icon Painter Mark Dukes and Archbishop Franzo King
The work of spiritual icon painter Mark Dukes has graced the Saint John Coltrane Church now located in the Fillmore district since 1992. During a spiritual awakening in 1989 that he describes as being baptized by sound, Mark was introduced to the music of John Coltrane by Archbishop Franzo King. Bishop King Founded the Saint John Coltrane Church in 1971 under a different church name. Today the Church is located at 1286 Fillmore Street in San Francisco and it houses the impressive religious icon paintings of John Coltrane by Mark Dukes. I spoke to the two of them at the Church on December 18th, 2009. This is the first installment of the 3-part interview.
Duane Deterville: I want to talk specifically about this interaction between and synthesis with Jazz, spirituality and visual art. The painted icons in the Saint John Coltrane Church are interesting to me on a couple of different levels. I’m interested in art practice that uses modes of spirituality based in aspects of the Black experience such as the history of the African Orthodox Church. Art work that uses Jazz aesthetic as its inspiration, artists that use their spiritual practice as the primary part of their art practice. You know that there are many Jazz musicians that are also visual artists. The Great trumpeter Bill Dixon, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams…
Bishop Franzo King: Miles Davis.
Deterville: Yes, Miles Davis, also a painter.
Bishop Franzo King: John Coltrane.
Deterville: John Coltrane as well?
Bishop Franzo King: Did you know that? Alice Coltrane sent me an original copy of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” But in one of them he had drawn something on it. It was a cloud with a face on it and it was breathing…our god breathes through us so completely so gently we hardly feel it. That was written on it. When I visited cousin Mary’s there were drawings on the wall that John Coltrane did. [Coltrane’s cousin Mary Alexander lived with him and his family in Philadelphia. She witnessed Coltrane making the watercolor drawings that adorned the house – D.D.]
Bishop Franzo King: Oh he was a visual artist as well. I don’t think he put so much into it say like Miles did. But, yeah…He knew the need to express himself in that way.
Deterville: So Mark, where did you get your initial interest in this Byzantine tradition of icon painting. How did you originally gain an interest in that? Maybe we can start at the beginning and take the story all the way to when you created these icons here in the Coltrane Church.
Mark Dukes: Well, when I was in art school. I started reading the Bible and I had a spiritual experience just by reading the Bible. You know, I got down on my knees and accepted Jesus in my life and it wasn’t in the church, ya’know. It was kind of interesting because I had a problem with the church ever since that time because I got saved not in a church but just by reading the Bible and then when I went to the church, right, I started seeing things that weren’t really in the Bible. I thought love was supreme even back then and I didn’t really see that in the church. You know, its all about A Love Supreme. It was kind of interesting in hindsight you know that it was inevitable that I was going to be here at the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in some capacity. So, I started on a spiritual journey that kind of like lead me here. But before I got here I started getting interested in eastern orthodoxy. And you can’t be around eastern orthodoxy without coming across some icons because icons are really crucial to their worship. And so at one point I thought that I was called maybe to be a monk. I went to a community of converts in the Greek Orthodox religion and when I was down there as a novitiate I saw that there was an icon that was not complete. And I asked the Bishop for a blessing to complete that icon. I told him that I went to art school and that I was an artist and he gave me a blessing to complete the icon. That was my first icon.
I saw something within that tradition. I saw something that touched me; I saw something that was a visual form of prayer.
Visitor Flickr Photo of the Week
“Flare and Spatter and Fury” or “My baby—” ?
SFMOMA turned 75 last weekend. We’ve published a new collection catalog, 75 Years of Looking Forward, and this month we’re featuring excerpts from it here. Today, a few paragraphs on the museum’s acquisition of Jackson Pollock’s Guardians of the Secret, focusing on the correspondence between two of the artist’s earliest champions, Peggy Guggenheim and Grace McCann Morley. Guardians of the Secret is one of the most important paintings in the SFMOMA collection, and is key to understanding both Pollock’s development and the development of the American painting practice that followed.
from Flare and Spatter and Fury: Jackson Pollock in San Francisco
ALISON GASS, assistant curator of painting & sculpture
…………While today it is difficult to conceive of a time when promoting Jackson Pollock meant a hard sell, the historical record takes us back to an era when this emerging artist offended, confused, or simply did not interest the majority of the art world. [Peggy] Guggenheim had a close professional relationship with another female art world pioneer, Grace McCann Morley. Morley, like Guggenheim, had an eye for and an interest in groundbreaking contemporary art, and one of her main objectives as the first director of SFMA [SFMOMA, then the San Francisco Museum of Art], was to bring this work to her audience. In 1943, the year of Pollock’s pivotal first New York show, Morley and Guggenheim began the extraordinary correspondence that led to Pollock’s exhibition at SFMA and the museum’s subsequent acquisition of Guardians of the Secret.
In September of that year, Guggenheim wrote to Morley about the new painter she had discovered. A month later, Morley wrote back that she was glad to learn of this new artist and noted, “Perhaps something can be done about having an exhibition here next summer.” Soon after, Morley saw the Pollock paintings in person and she, too, became a significant champion of his work. She began a letter-writing campaign to the directors of all the major West Coast museums, including those in Seattle, Portland, Santa Barbara, Pasadena, and Los Angeles, in an attempt to convince them to take a solo exhibition of this unknown abstract painter. Morley wrote,
“We are very much interested in having a one-man show of the works of Jackson Pollock. . . . The group is to be shown next March at the Chicago Arts Club and either before or after is available to us and anyone here on the coast who may be interested. In any case, we shall bring the show out, for we feel that Pollock is an important new personality whose work deserves to be better known. I saw a considerable group when I was in the East recently and found the interest was well sustained, from my point of view, and that the quality of the work was fine.”
This promotional push was to no avail, and Morley followed up with Guggenheim in January 1945, writing, “I find we have room for the Jackson Pollack [sic] show after April 15th and I judge from your wire that it is free after Chicago. I suspect we shall not find many takers for it out here. It is a little beyond most of the museums.”
The show came to SFMA in August 1945, after stopping that March at the Arts Club of Chicago. The museum presentation was essentially composed of the same works included in Guggenheim’s 1943 gallery exhibition. Among these was the first painting that had so intrigued Mondrian, Stenographic Figure; two untitled works from 1943, extremely prescient abstractions that show Pollock’s early use of paint sloshing; and Pasiphaë (1943), which embodies the disintegration of internal geometries and the emergence of the allover, gestural compositional style for which he is best known. Additionally, the exhibition included two works that are very closely related to Guardians of the Secret in both gesture and color: The Magic Mirror (1941) and Male and Female(1942–43). The latter, featuring gestural brushstrokes around a central white plane similar to that in Guardians of the Secret, was likewise a critical step toward the compositional development of the Guggenheim mural. Finally, a selection of smaller untitled paintings and lithographs rounded out the show.
Despite the lack of interest in Pollock’s work on the West Coast, as evidenced by the single venue and the absence of any sales of his work to the San Francisco community, the show received an astonishingly perceptive review in the San Francisco Chronicle from local critic Alfred Frankenstein. He wrote, “The flare and spatter and fury of [Pollock’s] paintings are emotional rather than formal, and like the best jazz one feels it is the result of inspired improvisation rather than careful planning.” Morley forwarded this to Guggenheim, who responded:
Thank you for sending me the review of the Pollock show by the young critic in San Francisco. It was a very good review, and it is extremely gratifying to have one like that occasionally. The notices which Pollock received during his Chicago show were so notably stupid that I was doubly pleased with this one, as well as Pollock, who felt that it was an intelligent and sensitive appraisal of the paintings he had sent.
Indefatigable in her quest to support the artists she saw as most promising, Morley pushed her acquisitions committee to purchase her favorite of the paintings from the exhibition. Early on, Morley had commented to Guggenheim that if she could have her choice, she would purchase Guardians of the Secret for the museum’s collection, writing, “It is a powerful and fine painting. However, our funds are very small. . . . Unhappily the price of a Pollock painting [Guggenheim was asking $750] is already considerably out of our reach.” In a deal that seems fantastical to those familiar with today’s art market, Morley negotiated Guggenheim down to $500, and after what she describes as a “considerable struggle” persuading her acquisitions committee, she purchased Guardians of the Secret for SFMA. Guggenheim’s handwritten response to the news states:
Dear Dr. Morley,
I am so happy you bought the Pollock. He will be delighted too. It is a great joy to me to have him recognized as you can imagine. I feel he is my one great discovery. My baby— . . . Many thanks for all your efforts in the matter.
All letters between Peggy Guggenheim and Grace McCann Morley: 1945 Galleries: Art of This Century; Office of the Director 1935-58, Administrative Records; SFMOMA Archives.
Visitor Flickr Photo of the Week
Top 10 so far, 2010
It may only a few weeks into the new decade but I’m a-gonna hop on the “top 10” list trend and do so for the front part instead of at the end. Who knew there would be so much going on already? I know, I know, some of these aren’t exactly “new” or necessarily “news.” But hey. It’s MY column.
1. New York authorities denying the homeless a chance at designer labels.
What? Yes, believe it. There was a time when even the poor could get a shot at donning faux designer clothes — for FREE, even! According to the NYTimes, the common practice was to donate confiscated counterfeit clothing and footwear to local charities after “defacing” the designer parts of it. But now, no more. And they were still perfectly wearable and clothes, for god’s sake…
2. Anthony Discenza at Catharine Clark Gallery
His solo show that just opened last week, “Everything Will Probably Work Out OK,” is like Orson Welles meets Fragglerock meets Showgirls meets Stairway to Heaven. Go see it, and you’ll know what i mean. It gives your brain a mini-workout, in a good way.
3. The Future of San Francisco Transbay Terminal as designed by what seems to be the art directors from Gattaca and Battlestar Galactica (the new series, not the old one).
Sleek! Sexy! No trash! No children! No old people! Omg! Crazy, eh?
4. Lego Fallingwater.
And while we’re on the subject of visionary architecture: I may just have to cough up the $99 price tag for one of these babies. I’m a total sucker for do-it-yourself modernism. Can’t get enough? Try Lego Guggenheim, ‘natch. And while you’re at it you can view someone’s loving YouTube hommage video. Not quite as hi-tech as The Future of San Francisco but awesome in it’s own D.I.Y. kinda way.
In the very near future vampires have taken over the world and humans are a dying species. It also looks a hell of a lot like Bladerunner, fashion-wise. While this Aussie flick featuring Ethan Hawke does have it’s flaws, I would watch it again just for the slow-motion-vampire-army-orgy scene near the end. (Ooops, spoiler alert!) Not to mention that it’s a thinly-veiled critique on class divides and capitalism, fer real. And yeah, Ethan is still easy on the eyes, vampire boy or not.
6. S.C.R.A.P. (Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts)
Run by a wizened woman with the cutest French accent, this “scrappy” non-profit material re-use center sits in a back alley area of Bayview, nestled between industrial supply houses and lumber yards. Here you can find bolts of fabric, trims, papers, plastic gew-gaws, wood moulding, etc etc etc. Whatever gets donated to this place as surplus winds up on the store floor for your next art project. SCRAP has saved my pocketbook so many times I couldn’t even begin to count. CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP! DEAL DEAL DEAL! I was just there today and scored a bagful of art materials for an upcoming show for way less than what i would have paid if i bought them new. I <3 U! If this place ever shuts down, i’ll join in the riot.
7. Jeffrey Deitch named as director of MOCA.
Not sure yet if this is “good” or “bad” but it’s interesting, for sure. Good to know he had to shutter his gallery to move to the helm because of that pesky conflict of interest thing. I wonder how painful that is for his artists, however. Does that mean they’ll get more shows at the museum now? Hmmmmm.
8. Colma, The Musical
Although this funny little local gem of an indie film came out a few years ago, it’s taken me this long to finally watch it. Shot in that nether-world city-of-the-dead south of San Francisco otherwise known as Colma, it brought back for me brutally hilarious memories of what it was like to grow up on the fringes of the Big City (which I did). Consciously D.I.Y., Colma, The Musical wears it’s low-budget badge on it’s sleeve and delivers originality and fun. And who can argue with a movie that shows Serramonte Shopping Center within the first five minutes? Ah, local director makes good.
9. Facebook’s new “unlike” button
I hear it’s real but i haven’t installed it yet. Thank god, because i hated that my only option was to be terminally chipper and like everything. I’m glad the higher-ups have realized that there is much to unlike and the world is complicated.
Tongue-in-cheek Asian-themed cultural commentary blog from two witty gals who i’d love to share a cocktail with someday. Can you imagine the banter? God, what a party! Check out their dictionary, which carries such words as:
Gongbang: An assault on the ears of gonging sounds that occurs in movies and television whenever someone of something Asian appears on the screen. Example, Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.
Mistasian Identity: Mistaking one of us for another; a result of believing we all look alike.
Panda-ring: Pandering to our people.
“You’re a disgrace. To the race.” Yeah!
Happy Birthday SFMOMA
In support of Temporary Services’ recent newspaper project Art Work: a national conversation about art, labor and economics, I’ve created the beginnings of an “audio book” version, starting with one of my favorite texts in the publication. I then asked artist Sam Gould to record one of his choosing. You can download them both here. I’ll extend the invitation to anyone who might like to audio record a text from the newspaper, to be added to this post. You can download the newspaper in full here.
Download > Art Versus Work
by Julia Bryan-Wilson
(read by Joseph del Pesco)
Download > State of the Union
by Gregory Sholette
(read by Sam Gould)
by Nicolas Lampert
(read by Michael Bianco)
Download > Global Mega-Merger Announced with “We Can Run the Economy” Campaign
by 16 Beaver Group
(read by Elizabeth Thomas)
Download > Epeios, A Sculptor
by Cooley Windsor
(read by Helena Keeffe)