The Ed Bradley Extension Cord Story

This story was published in the summer 2022 issue of Aspen Magazine. See Press.
Years ago when I was starting out as an artist I lived in a coal shed behind Su Lum’s Cooper Street house, which I had turned into a little apartment, albeit without plumbing. It was tiny and I had no room to make art. Finding studio space on an hourly worker’s budget seemed nearly impossible. I had cleaned years of debris out an old unheated barn on Cooper street to use as a studio for awhile but it was slated for development and I had to clear out. So I mustered my courage and drove around Aspen knocking on the doors of houses that had outbuildings or separate garages that I thought could be used as a studio, and putting the word out to everyone I knew. Someone connected me with Harry Teague, the well known architect, who had moved a little cabin from Aspen to his riverside lot on Twining Flats Road, ten miles out of town. Harry agreed to let me use the cabin and said he intended to eventually bring electricity to the lot. The house next door was a second home owned by the 60 Minutes news anchor Ed Bradley. A construction project was going on at Ed’s house, and since I had been working as a carpenter I knew a couple of guys on the job, who let me plug in an extension cord on the outside deck to power the work on my cabin. I hooked a couple of cords together, taped the joint with electrical tape and got to work, so excited to be fixing up my own art studio. Eventually those carpenters finished their job and left, but there was still no electrical service on the lot so I just kept using the extension cord. One day Ed came back, of course. I was really uncomfortable when I went over and knocked on his door to introduce myself and explain that I was stealing his electricity. He invited me in and went about focusing on making a cappuccino while I stammered on about my situation, and when I had finished explaining he went over to the back window and looked out to see the extension cord going from his deck through the woods. He said something along the lines of, “so you are stealing my electricity, and you want to do it for how long?” He didn’t want to make it too easy for me, but it didn’t seem like he was going to shut me down either.
So the extension cord became normalized. Memories of the cabin feel like a fairy tale now. It was very Swiss Family Robinson with a bucket on a pulley to get water from the river and a wood stove and a little loft with a mattress. Marisa Silverman was a good friend at the time and often hung out with me there. We would sunbathe naked in the deep brush next to the cabin. Burnie Arndt came by a lot too, leaving funny notes for us or hanging out or trying to catch us sunbathing. I even had an art opening in that cabin. At a fancy party in Aspen years later a man was telling me about “old Aspen” and recounted a cool art opening by the river in a little cabin, and I exclaimed it was mine.
Ed continued to let me use his electricity for the duration of my stay in that cabin. I would make baked items for him as a “thank you” and leave them in a bag on his doorstep, with notes like “eat me” written on the outside. Occasionally he would joke that I better get the pans rattling. When he wanted to talk to me he would unplug the cord and I’d go over and knock on the door to see what was up. Sometimes he would unplug me for no apparent reason, and we’d talk awhile, then he’d say something like, “I guess you want me to plug you back in now.” He unplugged me when the Neville Brothers were there for a party, and he unplugged me when he was bringing Hunter Thompson to my studio. When Ed’s longtime ski instructor Tommy Waltner was busy Ed would book me as a substitute, as I was still teaching skiing then. Ed also came to my very first art opening, catered by my friends, hung by my visiting family and held in a muddy alley on Bleeker Street on a rainy night, and bought the very first painting I ever sold at a show, which he hung in his Twining Flats house. I was thrilled.

I don’t know if something like that could happen in Aspen now. Things seem to have become so rule-bound, standardized and litigation-proof. I am grateful to those like Harry Teague and Ed Bradley. Harry never even took any money from me. Who would do that now? Harry and Ed were okay with an outside of the box situation, and gave me a channel for moving my career forward. They also gave me a great story.

Ed Bradley and Tania Dibbs
Ed Bradley at Tania’s first opening
Cabin on Twining Flats
Cabin on Twining Flats
Cabin on Twining Flats
Front of Cabin on Twining Flats
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The Arctic Circle Residency, October 2016

If this post is too long to hold your interest, please skip to the movie at the end.

The is a residency program for creatives of all types on board a tall ship that sails in the international waters of Svalbard, north of Norway. The program’s mission statement says “the Arctic Circle is a nexus where art intersects science, architecture, education, and activism – an incubator for thought and experimentation for artists and innovators who seek out and foster areas of collaboration to engage in the central issues of our time.” Yea, I didn’t really know how that would translate into my time on the ship either. Basically, participants either brought supplies for experiments or projects that they worked on during our journey, or like me, just came to experience the trip and to work from those experiences later. There was an opportunity to disembark at different shorelines, glaciers, or areas of interest twice a day unless we were sailing. There were some epic hikes, a visit to an abandoned Soviet era mining town, a visit to small research station at 79° north, a visit to Smeerenberg, the site of a 17th century whaling outpost, slide presentations of our work at night, occasional dancing on the deck, nighttime viewings of the aurora above the masts, a costume party, and lots of sailing.


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Contemporary Art Rules

Yes, there are contemporary art rules – codes to let one another know whether or not you are a contemporary art insider or poser.

Number one is that anyone who is anyone does not sign their works of art, with few exceptions. You might as well dot your i’s with hearts.  This was once a little tough for me to buy, having started my career in realism where there was a good chance that a painting hung with an unobtrusive signature on it led to more sales. You are aiming to be such a somebody that people know its your work without needing a signature, and if you are not there yet, pretend you are, because a signature yells that you are not even going to get there. Your signature is not part of the work. A frame is not part of the work. Your collector list is not part of the work. All of this is both true and not true. (more…)

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Hiring a web developer? Read this first.

Hiring a web developer? Read this first.

Because my website had not been properly set up in the first place I was faced with the dilemma of constant manual fixes or a complete revamp of the site, so I decided to stop fixing what was basically broken and to start over. This would provide me with the opportunity to implement some upgrades and redesigns that would have been tough to integrate retroactively. I had a pretty solid idea of what features and functionality I needed in a website and how I wanted it to look. I had no idea that translating this into a working site would be such a challenge.
Finding someone to take the job is relatively easy. Finding someone who can actually deliver is astonishingly difficult. It seems there are several types of developers out there. (more…)

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Art Writing as Conceptual Art

Reading art writing requires an extra cup of coffee for me to be able to stomach. I can more easily plow through a scientific abstract than smoothly digest art writing, which takes the simplest ideas and often strives to make them as complicated, vague and important as possible. I feel oddly guilty about this because I love art, I love exploring ideas, I love to learn, I am not intimidated by difficult text and art is my chosen field. Yet when I want to wind down with an article at the end of the day, art writing is not my choice. I fail to buy it, and get distracted and exhausted by my own judging and eye rolling when I notice the effort that the writer took to make a simple idea seem lofty or ambiguous. On many occasions I am bewildered by the first or second reading of a sentence. Art writing is the frame taking over the painting. Here are the types words that are favorites in the field: polymath, normative, palimpsest, transversal, polemic, zeitgeist, ziggurat, semiotic, polemic, etc. Sure, there are uses for them, but sometimes I feel like yelling, “Stop trying so hard! It’s just art!”  Here is an example of some drivel from a Whitney Biennial catalogue as noted in the blog of artist and critic Carol Diehl:

“Bove’s ‘settings’ draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.”

Really? (more…)

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I was driving by the frozen river on a winding road on my way to cross country ski with my dogs last Sunday. The sun was shining and flakes of snow were falling off of the trees and catching the sunlight. Some high, echoing piano notes were repeating on the radio. I used the Shazam app on my iPhone to find that the song was “Wash.” by Bon Iver. The notes sounded poignant and lilting and like a memory. They sounded to me like light green, and the sound matched the feeling of the flakes of snow catching the sun, and described the heartache of loss. I knew then exactly where to go with the canvas that had been sitting unfinished in my studio.

The painting, a 6’ x 9’ panel, was faintly sky blue covered by layers of dark drips. While listening to the song I got the idea to cover the blue with a spare, transparent wash of light spring green, turning the painting into a fresh forest, but one that is melting and dissolving and haunted by a few out of season snowflakes flying amidst the greenery. The snow over full green represents the sad fact of our climate turned upside down: snow in summer, heat in the winter, freezes in the tropics, heat at the poles, tornadoes and storms and all of the upheavals of a pained planet. I want the piece to be sensuously beautiful but to also give the viewer a jab, like the feeling you get when a beautiful bird smacks your window and falls. I want the piece to look delicate but slightly wrong, and to be evocative of loss. I want the piece to be eloquent and poignant. (more…)

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