on site review 28: sound

This was an experiment about how to get sound into a paper object. In Grade 10, in 1965, I had a subscription to Sing Out! (which, astoundingly, I find is still published); one issue came with a little vinyl 45 on a tab stapled into the magazine. This was amazing, a one-sided, very thin record that came through the mail. It can still be done, a fellow at the end of Victoria Road in Nanaimo can do it, but for On Site review it was just too costly. Instead, and this is where digital technology fails, there was a series of links to recordings, youtube performances and sound files printed with each article and linked on the original webpage for this issue. So many have expired that this way to get sound into a journal was fragile, at best. However, I’m sure that anyone who wants to re-link to Riders in the Storm sung in the RCA studios bathroom can do so. (See pages 44-47, the article about bathrooms and reverb by Eon Sinclair, founding member of Bedouin Soundclash)


Lexi Axon,  Daddio Listens . (68” x 54”, oil on canvas, 2012

Lexi Axon, Daddio Listens. (68” x 54”, oil on canvas, 2012

Thinking about how to talk about paintings as texts, layers and layers of narratives that appear on canvas.  Clearly this includes the making of a piece, the technical processes that put an image in place; it includes the history of the artist, whether or not this is evident to either them or us; it includes the incorporation of art history, popular and visual culture, whether or not these things have been actually rejected, filtered or used.  

Now, what is it to be a New York painter of a certain age, born into abstract expressionism and Milton Glaser, who came of age with The Factory and SoHo, went on to a Hunter MFA and a family?  One would expect something of this biography to be in the work, whether literally, or torn away from it.

As editor of On Site review, a journal about architecture and urbanism, I chose this Lady McCrady painting, Daddio Listens, [68” x 54”, oil on canvas, 2012] for the cover of issue 28: architecture and sound.  This being a fairly ephemeral topic – sound whistling by us as we move through space, adequate architectural images do not spring to mind. Daddio Listens, on the other hand, is a noisy flashing moment on a Manhattan street.  Daddio saunters; the world is rich, colourful, loud. One cannot find the photographic image that says this, not even Bill Cunningham’s photographs convey this almost eternal roar of New York life, but a painting, this painting, can. It is littered with traffic cones, temporary street barriers and luminous tents over open manholes, orange warning flags flap, dark pits sink into the sidewalks, a yellow cab shoots off the side, oil on the roadway gleams, Daddio walks through a patch of sun that has flashed into the canyon – someone has walked here before; there is his foot.

This painting was recently in a 2018 show of figurative work: figurative certainly isn’t the word I’d use, but rather narrative, and not in the realist tradition, but more in the sense that there are stories in this work, not sitting up front on the surface, but almost implicit:

Daddio, 1950s hip, snapping fingers, too cool.

Traffic cones, testimony to Manhattan infrastructure laid down in the nineteenth century continuously under repair.  Traffic cones warn, block, sit like witch’s hats on the road surface, untouchable.  

Red and white diagonal stripes: warning, warning, especially with orange flashing lights pinned to the top.

Construction tents: made out of plastic tarp material on an aluminum frame; for night work they glow.  They are so flimsy they could easily be knocked down, as all these street work objects could be, but they aren’t because they are removed from the social commerce of the city and belong to another layer: infrastructure, necessary and through our general ignorance of the plumbing of a city, mysterious.

Yellow taxis, under threat from ride sharing; there are about 13,000 medallion cabs in New York City, egg yolk yellow since 1908, utterly iconic, endowed with speech through their horns which register danger, impatience, prescience, traffic prangs about to happen, wandering pedestrians being idiots, or being slow, or being people.

New York in the 1980s when it was on its uppers, poor, dangerous, filthy, glorious, full of artists living in nooks and crannies now cleaned up and going for oligarchical prices. There is something a bit nostalgic about Daddio Listens, seedy streets harder and harder to find.

Blue: songs are like tattoos, you know I’ve been to sea before. Crown and Anchor me, or let me sail away.* All that is concrete and asphalt is blue and purple, like a vast bruise; all that is living is yellow, cast with green, and orange cast with red. Not entirely optimistic – the yellow is worried, acidic, the red is hot and angry.

Outlines: people are the only things outlined. It gives them a clarity set apart from the thick stew of stuff that surrounds them. They are drawn rather than painted. They are transparent. They are easily rubbed out, cut off. They are un-embodied; the city is very much the complex body here.

Is Daddio in that middle-aged man in the overcoat? or is he the one looking out the window onto the street, listening, invisible; the painter.  Don’t know, don’t really care. I've assumed, perhaps wrongly, that he is.  I read a novel for the truths in relationships, not for verifiable facts. It suits me to think of people on the street with their inner lives often so much more exciting than their clothes. But everyone necessarily reads a text differently.

68” x 54”  This is large. 5' 8" x 4' 8" One thing about doing a mid-career MFA is that artists, limited by the size of small apartment walls, are given industrial-scaled studio space where they learn to control industrial-sized canvases much larger than they are. This is an impetus to move a career onward to maintain that kind of studio community and studio space – that most valuable of commodities.  

Tell the truth but tell it slant.**  The ultimate grid city, Manhattan, is all atilt here. Just because one is looking out a square window down to the traffic filled street below, does not mean that one’s head is fixed to the frame. Our gaze is a frame without rules. The field it frames is a tilt in the inner ear; new things are heard.

These are just some of the narrative fragments in this painting that have given me things to think about: each is autonomous – even disconnected; the canvas is a Beckett-like chorus of voices that collectively make a work that does not start at any particular point and certainly does not end with a conclusion. 

Daddio listens to the fugue that is the city.


 *Joni Mitchell, Blue, Reprise, 1971

**Emily Dickenson, 'Tell all the truth, but tell it slant' (1263) The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998