You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


(Part of an ongoing series on books that make excellent substitutes for the morning paper. Follow the Breakfast Books label for more suggestions.)

Editor Trinnie Dalton worked as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles from 1999 - 2003. One of her duties, as it is of all teachers, was to confiscate the notes passed among her charges. She saved these, maybe those she considered the best, maybe all of them. Eventually she turned them over not to the principal's office but to artist friends and let them have a go at transforming them into this book of drawings.

How, you might wonder, do you improve on perfection? When it comes to the contents of the notes, the artists know not to tamper with such raw beauty. Fragments or complete texts from the notes appear unaltered and offer up a mind-numbing, misspelled stew of venom and angst delivered in grammar that often suggests borderline brain dysfunction. Using this source material, the 20 or so artists and artist collectives Dalton selected took a variety of approaches. Many participants have mastered the kind of crappy drawing that apes the scratchy images adolescents scrawl onto notebook covers but that just a few years later can be reproduced only by someone with an MFA. Other have styles that come from advertising and commercial graphics. Some are baroque while others are brutally direct. Leanne Shapton places a line drawing of a face in the upper center of the page and below it quotes a simple message: If I see her on the stairs I am going to throw gum in hair. Or, I dare you to ask Steven do you ever wish you looked cute and that lots of girls liked you. Paper Rad, a collective based in Pittsburgh, PA and Providence RI, often channels Peter Max for their contributions. The ubiquitous Marcel Dzama is a contributor, and I am sure that just as I recognized maybe four or five other names, anyone who follows the contemporary art scene, especially on the West Coast, will recognize familiar styles. 

Leanne Shapton

Gay accusations are common, and particularly punchy phrases attracted more than one artist. OK cute or OK ugly receives several visual treatments, as does the ever hopeful Thank you for your quick response. Many entries are sadistically hurtful, but Dalton's compilation would make a poor excuse for an anti-bullying tract. None of the contributors appear to suffer from survivor's guilt. They relish the chance to dig into this material, whether they intend to create images that are as vicious as their sources or as poignant as many of the feelings that underly it. And none of the artist match the visual power of one note in red marker that begins 2:Victoria, goes on for fifteen increasingly illegible lines, and ends with the injunction: P.S. PLEASE W/B.

Jason Holley

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