Post or Post?


Cultural, generational language differences lead to confusion

Some time ago I had asked my father for some family details as I had been messing around on A few weeks ago he sent me an email which read:

Yesterday I posted a Flag to you and the details I had managed to find regarding my Grand Father and G.G.F. I got these details rather a long time ago, but could get no further.

I immediately went to Facebook to check on his post but there was nothing there. I went to to see what information he had flagged. Still nothing. I checked emails, messenger and even Skype. Nothing anywhere. I sent him an email reading:

What’s a flag? I haven’t got anything from you.

This was his reply:

Andrew: A flag is a piece of material which is normally found on a stick or a pole called a flagpole. Post is something you do with a letter at the post office after you put a stamp on it and send it off to someone like you. Love Dad.

I literally laughed out loud when I read it. I had forgotten that I had asked him to find an English flag for my soccer-watching experiences. I had also forgotten, after 30-plus years in America, that the English “post” things not “mail” them,

But, more importantly, it really said more about shifts in language.

Who, nowadays, does not immediately think of Facebook, Instagram or some other social media when one “posts” something? And I often “flag” a post or email when I want to remember where it is.

I constantly talk to my students about being concise, being aware of possible misinterpretation of words. I could not make up such a perfect example.

So thanks for the flag and the info, Dad. I hope you read this blog post. No stamps required.


Review: As Essential as Dreams

HOUSTON — There is something fascinating about the outsider artist. They often toil away in obscurity, driven by some inner voice to tell their story.

Houston’s Menil Collection is putting an ear to those artists’ voices in “As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither” on display through Oct. 16.

Self-taught, or outsider art, is work produced by artists who have no formal training and who work outside the mainstream. The Smithers have collected work by many artists, and there are a dozen from around the globe represented in the exhibition.


Domenico Zindato, Untitled, 2007. Ink, pastel, and acrylic on Japanese paper, 19 1/4 × 36 7/8 inches (48.9 × 93.7 cm). Collection of Stephanie and John Smither. © Domenico Zindato

In many cases, the works are highly decorative and filled with what look like doodles. Domenico Zindato’s “Untitled,” from 2007, is a case in point. The highly detailed pastel and ink work, three-feet wide and almost two-feet high, is filled with hundreds of time figures swimming among fish, faces, body parts and intricate pattern work. If one squints, it is simply a colorful abstract. The closer one looks, the more details present themselves. Another of the Italian’s untitled pieces looks at first to be an eye, but once again it is filled with tiny people. The museum’s literature notes that, like many self-taught artists, Zindato builds his works layer by layer, without a vision of the final result.


Thornton Dial, Tiger on the Run, 1992. Oil paint, spray paint, rope, and rubber on canvas, 56 × 78 3/8 × 4 3/4 inches (142.2 × 199.1 × 12.1 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston, Promised gift of Stephanie and John Smither. © Estate of Thornton Dial / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Thornton Dial’s “Tiger on the Run,” utilizes oil, spray paint, rope and rubber on canvas to create a vibrant, dynamic assemblage. The African American Alabama-based artist, in the museum’s literature, states that, “The tiger represents himself, but also the struggle of all African American men.” The tiger in his work is free, which represents the freedom to make his art. The “Tiger on the Run” is breaking free from the seated figure trying to capture him.


Adolf Wölfli, Der Frienis=Barge, ca. 1920. Colored pencil and graphite on paper, 37 × 12 inches (94 × 30.5 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston, Promised gift of Stephanie and John Smither

Adolf Wölfi’s “Der Frienis=Barge,” from 1920, is prime example of the genre. A drawing with colored pencil and graphite on paper, it is a perfect example of the highly detailed and colorful qualities of the genre.


Domenico Zindato, Untitled, 2007. Ink, pastel, and acrylic on Japanese paper, 19 1/4 × 36 7/8 inches (48.9 × 93.7 cm). Collection of Stephanie and John Smither. © Domenico Zindato

Belgian artist Solange Knopf has a familiar back story for many outsider artists. She started making art in earnest after being hospitalized for depression. “I was completely destabilized, in the dark, lost, and confused,” she states in the museum literature. “It was at this moment that I began to draw, at first small mandelas to ask for help.” In “Spirit Codex No. 14,” Knopf uses acrylic, charcoal and colored pencil to create a work that is part grave and part earth mother. The work is complete with eyes and floral designs that infuse her work, as well as references to the occult.


Italian Carlo Zinelli’s 1969 “Untitled,” is a narrative piece that features flattened silhouetted people and animals. His works relate to the his experiences in the Spanish Civil War and WWII, and, like Knopf, he was in a psychiatric hospital. While the works are narratives, the exact story is indecipherable.


Domenico Zindato, Untitled, 2007. Ink, pastel, and acrylic on Japanese paper, 19 1/4 × 36 7/8 inches (48.9 × 93.7 cm). Collection of Stephanie and John Smither. © Domenico Zindato

These self-taught outsiders create art that is, in a real sense, pure. For them the act of making the art is the end itself — they are driven neither by commerce nor celebrity. Their work is interesting and honest — and well worth seeing.

The Menil Collection is located at 1515 Sul Ross in Houston.

Travel: Visiting Papa’s place

“We will be in Pensacola Beach anyway, so it’s only a few more hours to Key West,” she said. OK, it’s 14 more hours, but what the heck. I had never been to Florida, let alone the Keys, and it seemed like a cool way to start our summer vacation. …

Here is my travel story about the Ernest Hemingway House Museum in Key West, which ran the September 2016 ISSUE magazine.

Click here for the link.



Review: Sororité, if not égalité, shines at Main Street


Callina Situka (clockwise from back), Shannon Emerick, Bree Welch and Molly Searcy star in Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists” at Main Street Theater.

HOUSTON — A playwright writes a play about a playwright writing a play. The characters are fictitious imaginings of “real” historical figures, imagined not only by the playwright, but also by the playwright within the play. Is the truth more or less real for all that?

Such are the problems of meta theater, problems that Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists” tackles with gusto and relish.

Still with me? I’ll explain.

The regional premiere of the play kicks off Main Street Theater’s 40th season and it is a delight. The play centers around Olympe de Gouges, a French playwright who was active during the revolution, as she struggles to write her final play.

She is joined early on by a black woman, Marianne Angelle, a Caribbean abolitionist, a “friend” off whom Olympe (Shannon Emerick) bounces ideas and philosophies as she attempts to write a play that advances equality for all. Olympe has writer’s block about the direction her play should take, even proposing a musical — “No one wants to see a musical about the French revolution,” Marianne says, eliciting a healthy chuckle from the audience.

The self-referential quips, in the hands of a less skilled wordsmith could be trite, but Gunderson’s script crackles with anachronistic nods to its own cleverness.

When Charlotte Corday, the young assassin who killed the zealous revolutionist Jean-Paul Marat enters, she asks for only one thing — a line. She seeks a playwright who can give her the line that will commit her act to history. Molly Searcy plays Charlotte with youthful conviction of the righteousness of her cause. That her action, rather than ending the reign of terror will, in fact, only make a martyr of Marat, is something her lack of cynicism cannot comprehend.

Finally, the gang is joined by Marie Antoinette, portrayed as a preening comic character who nonetheless has an occasional profound thought among the frippery and folly of her upbringing. Bree Welch plays the doomed queen with impeccable comic timing and flair, and no little pathos, although the entire ensemble create an organic whole, from the thoughtful Olympe to the earnest Marianne (Callina Situka) to the steadfast and committed Charlotte.

As the action progresses, we see that each woman is trapped by their destiny, guiding Olympe to finish a play whose ending is already pre-ordained. There is no place in the revolution for equality of the sexes. This is a revolution of liberté, égalité and fraternité, but one that does not include sororité.

The language is modern, and references to, for the characters, future world events, are thrown in (Marie Antoinette jokes about her lack of real power by saying she could not even get a youth fitness program at the palace, a clear reference to Michelle Obama’s activism).

The real point is that women, while often fighting as hard for change as their male counterparts, rarely reap the benefits of that so-called progress. When Olympe presents her “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen” in 1791, she does so with the realization that her dreams for the revolution are not shared by the ruling assembly.

In the 319 years since the French revolution, women have made strides toward equality. But the very fact that Gunderson’s play resonates today shows how much work is still to be done.

Despite the guillotine, which literally looms over the proceedings, this play is witty and bright, thoughtful and intelligent, and the characters never lose hope for a kind of world they know they will never see.

Vive la revolution. Vive “The Revolutionists.”

“The Revolutionists” runs through Oct. 2. Main Street Theater is located at 2540 Times Blvd. in Houston. For information, visit

Mapping out an art series

Cartography large2

“Digging through the bones of history” by Andy Coughlan

When Dexter Augier of Finder’s Fayre Antiques offered me a show a year ago, I had to come up with an idea for a new series of work. Sure, I have a bunch of paintings in my studio, but I wanted the challenge of working on a series that would work in a small environment.

My initial idea was a series of 12-inch-square canvases that I could sell affordably. I also had an idea for some drawings that I could work on over the summer without having to sweat in the heat at my studio.

The idea was to combine the sensibility of my most recent abstract paintings with some of the line work and imagery I incorporated in my work 20-plus years ago. Those pieces were reminiscent of ancient carvings and pictographs. So the idea became to produce a couple of “maps” that showed burial sites and spiritual locations. I was drawing on multiple cultures, from Stonehenge and hill carvings in England to Celtic rock carvings in Spain, from indigenous tapestries to Nazca images in Peru. Throw in some crops circles and old mythology and I was set.

As I started working on the series, I became more and more excited about the pieces. I started making up stories about where these sites were located. The idea developed to be that the abstracts are actually of sites that form the foundation of civilization. The colors and shapes shifted according to where the map was “found,” and also reflected the idea of modern technology that could scan the sites and see the treasures hidden beneath the surface.

The series ended up being 24 images and I named the series simply, “Cartography.”

Working on this series allowed me to tap into the retro influences of my past work — I was digging up some artistic “bones” of my own.

The complete 24-piece series is included in the slideshow below


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