with Sylvia Salazar Simpson, Allan Kaprow, Judy Fiskin, Peter Kirby


and Richard Tuttle getting rid of frames and capital letters:

“ art is not a copy of nature but an extension

how to make this extension concrete

it will be absolutely not be prethought
(absolutely not be absolutely)

the one an extension of the other without reference to priority ”












SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON, Eggs Verbal A / Z , 1973, Courtesy of the artist



by Rosanna Albertini

Sylvia made me aware of the sensuality of language. Of shameless decay as a mystery, a smelling, progressive alteration of fruits and flowers and things with flesh, or leaves.
She taught me to honor a molding lemon as well as the ashes of her burned out house. She made small altars with the remains, friendly places where other abandoned objects could be added over the years, tricky homes hiding the prick of cactus spines. They dislike to be touched.

Sylvia became the best companion for playing at life, pointing out to me how life becomes “life,” “something that floats, outside of time, in our thoughts.” Allan Kaprow. Kaprow had been one of her teachers at Cal Arts, CA, she was already mother of two. They remained friends to the end of his life. I also became his friend, having married Peter Kirby who worked with him for years, and cherished him like very few. Allan Kaprow allowed Sylvia to see herself as an artist, a mother and wife embracing “life,” the an-artist life. But she was not confused about the ungraspable separation between art and life, and built her own experience. Never gave up with physicality. Sewed uncooked eggs to the table, wore shoes made with celery, strawberries or ice cream, pinned into her ankles and feet. She made books with sugar, or paprika, or oregano attached to their pages. Imposed to them the destiny of decay.

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON, Imitations, 1977  Courtesy of the artist

About twenty years ago, one of the many days of playing at life with Sylvia, she introduced me to Judy Fiskin’s photographs, I vaguely remember they were at LACMA. It was such a surprise to discover photographic miniatures, of a kind I had never seen. Such a pleasure for the beginning of my new American life. As pleasurable as cooking and eating with Sylvia, mixing Mexican and Italian traditions, sharing pain and joy, as life brought them to us.

There is something amusing and embarrassing about the work” — wrote Sylvia Salazar Simpson years ago. These books’ pages don’t carry words, nor images. Each book is a physical story going bad and smelly over time. “Can you fold the page please? That’s the ritual.” “Disgusting? Why?” Any repulsion disappears when the most terrible things are written words. A jelly beans-bacon-pearl page should be sucked, read by the lips, by the same voracious tongue of a newborn exploring surfaces around her before names appear.

Art only needs an alien space to physically exist. The Sugar Book, the Spit Book? What do they mean if the book is a tongue as rough as a cat’s, black sandpaper growing Tylenol at the heart of chewed bubble gum. “Can you fold the page please?” Can you touch what your brain has produced, who knows if it is human or not it must be but it does not perfectly fit. Art is not an experiment. Sylvia Salazar Simpson’s books are flowers lying on old stems torn from the ground of history, on pieces of wood soaked with tar, cut for the railroad. They can’t hurt.

SYLVIA SALAZAR SIMPSON, Blue Sugar Book, 1997   Photo: Hannah Kirby

We have in common a passion for natural growing: trees, bushes, and flowers. The first art piece made by Sylvia that she shared with me by giving me a picture of it, was of a group of trees she had to abandon, when moving from their Los Olivos ranch. And the art was a gesture, of wrapping them with clothes and fabrics as if covering them for the winter, adding decorations to their trunk, or letting them know how much she cared for them, which is the same thing. I’m sure they understood.

























Allan Kaprow, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California press, 1993

Richard Tuttle, In Parts, 1998-2001  Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, © 2001 Richard Tuttle;  2001 the authors.





2016: UNDERGROUNDS : Art, Land Use and Democracy

From July 5, 2016 to an unknown day, at the mercy of nature and other unexpected events.



It’s hard to tell if there is or there was Amboy, in the middle of the Mohave Desert (CA). It was an expanded station for travelers journeying on Route 66 by horse, by car or by train since the late nineteenth century. They called it a town because it had a train station, a post office, followed by a motel, a gas station, a church and a few houses. For awhile also a school, that died in 1999. Never more than eighty people were brave enough to spend their life in Amboy over a hundred and a few more years. The local monument is a volcanic cinder cone, bare as a Richard Serra sculpture cooked in the earth’s  belly, overlooking the driest land one can imagine. The whole town has been bought and sold as only one urban body more than once, maybe by charming the newcomers with a faded, modernist look.

“With the opening of the DRYLANDS LAB in 2015, Matza Amboy dedicates its program to the question of water and its distribution.”

ONCE A YEAR FOR FOUR WEEKS it “brings together a selection of artists but also researchers in social sciences, engineers (solar energy, water) and architects.”




This is the exhibition I saw in Amboy, a population of art pieces shrunk by heat, covered with dust, transformed by the place. Maybe it also happened to the artist this year, more connected to the sense of loss and abandonment inspired by empty distances around the town, a space devouring the meaning of any direction except maybe imaginary lines between Amboy and constellations, planets, moons and meteorites so similar to the surface of this empty land that, at a distance, shines with salt.

There is no water on the moon”, writes Katharine in a beautiful text pinned on the wall. She describes the desolate rooms of the Amboy School, left as they were at the end of a normal morning, books on the tables and drawings and something written on the blackboard, as if a sudden disaster had forced everybody out, out in the sun, out of the inner spaces in which breath and perspiration were spread and absorbed by the skin, escaping the cruelty of being dispersed in open air. I should see Katharine’s textile banner twisted by the wind; it’s not there. School books, drawings and cyanotypes on display aren’t safe neither, the sliding back of the display cabinet is open: some papers move around on the floor. Peter and I felt entitled to put them back, definitely captivated by open doors, and lack of edges, while the heat sucked our brains out of the skull. Not completely though, we could still enjoy the ideas behind the desiccated or altered bodies of the art pieces. Our and their nostalgia hung to almost nothing, just enough to click on our cultural sensitivity.


The six white rooms of a defunct motel open their door to the art of visionary strangers with a warm heart. Concepts turn into feelings, giving form to physical awareness of common challenges for all humans: the suffocating protection against global warming in a room; white curtains flying through the windows in another room, the white room that breaths and invites us to look beyond the walls. There is the Post Office in front of the cabins, on the other side of the road. An artist, Delphine, paints a white crosswalk. Illegal! For sure she didn’t know it. Now her white stripes have been covered with black paint. They remained stripes, not very precise on the sides, as if painted with a broom.



Five weeks of solitude after the artists left, and the nails of democracy brought by Séverin have probably given to the locals the wish to be actively part of the installation, for better or worse. Although the Rain Book was stolen, somebody partially replaced it with two pages for a new rain book: writing about a day of rain near Amboy, and adding two photographs from her backyard. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe it was a girl. It’s great when the art expands beyond the initial, limited object, expanding the idea in other minds, through other fingers.





Half of the art pieces are outdoors, not easy to identify because some local sibling keep them company. Dear friends from Switzerland, you have followers!
Maybe they didn’t grab the beauty of the Ghost Drops and even stole the water jar from the excavated hole, it doesn’t matter. The order you brought into the desert doesn’t belong there. That’s why it is striking to touch it, with long fingers from the eyes. The pyramid in small size, the windmill, the hole, the bridge are as basic as the wheel, one would believe that time has vanished, you remade in the American desert symbols of a culture exposed to failure, silence, misunderstanding. Maybe without wanting you all approached Allan Kaprow’s idea of un-art, almost becoming un-artists, “the offsprings of high art who have left home.”


Jardin å la Française, the only piece the goes directly from the mind of the artist to the visitor’s mind, is a revelation in the landscape, not less than the vision in front of a French castle’s over designed garden. There was a moment, after driving guided by your instructions, when I almost screamed “stop!” “It’s here!”
Maybe I was wrong au pied de la lettre, yet I was sure the whole dryland, the bushes and the far away mountains had assumed a sense of order, an imperfect geometrical perspective around an unpaved road whose end could only be imagined. Yes! A sense of enthusiasm made me almost forget the 110 degrees of the air, wind and dust. Not for long. A grumbling noise from the road woke me up. Twelve Harley Davidson’s with their riders covered in black leather stopped in front of the white little cabins, perfectly lined up. Language was French. Laughing, my midwestern husband exclaimed: “order is only cultural.”  Maybe art is not, not completely, and it is for the best.




Marie Velardi, Frederick Choffat, Katharina Hohmann, Thierry Maeder, Delphine Renault, Severin Guelpa, Delphine Renault, Thierry Maeder, Maxime Bondu, Daniel Zamarbide, Leopold Bianchini, Laurence Piaget-Dubious

Photographs: PETER KIRBY



After a life spent hiding his paintings in a wood shed, Paris became his scent of the rose for two years, then he died: it was September 2007


This post is dedicated to all the ‘invisible’ artists who steadily grow on the forest floor of the artworld. Often not known enough to be forgotten. Al Payne not only built his sheds, he filled them with paintings and the human scape the paintings contained, a physical density needing protection, not to be exposed to a price that could be money or intellectual evaluation or both. The colors of life, sounds and feelings collapsed, maybe, so inseparably into those pantings that the artist locked them into his inner space. He did not cut the umbilical cord.

Allan Kaprow would say, “His act is tragic because the man could not forget art.” And yes, Al Payne sacrificed himself in a romantic dream of purity, dragging his artworks into his tomb before death. It would be easy to misunderstand. Only an extreme love for life leads to such a secretive activity. Or the discovery that life, and art, are in big part beyond concept, “enactment of hope” out of heartbreak and failure. He did not want to break the common roots that keep a person and her art in only one body.

From Al Payne’s notebook:

Attempt at conjuring the unthinkable thru painting.

1987-2001 – reaction to cancer, light and passing of time, family as subject-drawings, paintings pictures of family, home. Focus on here, now.

2002-2004- Dirt paintings here, now. Existence drawings

2005-2006 -reaction to parents death, rejection by family-Painting o/c. Paintings become ‘automatic’ avoidance of photography as basis for imagery. Draw, paint.

Late ’00 – invisible sculpture, engage artworld, recovery from family rejection –


AL PAYNE, Self-Portrait, 2007, Drawing on Paper – Courtesy of The Box, Los Angeles

Paris Late ’00 seems to be a NO TIME for Al Payne in Paris, his metamorphosis from the American inchworm to an elegant butterfly. A space of existence not needing to be measured. A taste of history, beautiful people, new food, a lot of white buildings under a sky shading walls and pavements with different clouds at every hour. An upsetting light. Often for lack of it. His dreams changed as well. He told Paul McCarthy, the affectionate friend who called him twice a week when he was in Paris, that he had a dream about his paintings, they were carried one by one. Time wasn’t moving onward, wasn’t moving at all. His last piece, The Invisible Sculpture, 2006/2007/2015 is a crate whose content changes size every time the container is opened. Open Paris, here is an other man, a new Al Payne, maybe taller, flaneur. “An old debonair man in a suit,” says Mara, “interviewed by Yves Klein’s daughter!”

Who was Al Payne? “A very sweet man” Mara McCarthy says. Her eyes in search of a figure that was a name, a story heard in her parents voice much more than a real person. “I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s me or my mom, who always told Al was the sweetest person in the world.” Odd coincidence, Al Payne left his painting on earth when he moved out, for his last journey, in September 2007. The same month and year in which Mara opened The Box, an L.A. art gallery she runs in collaboration with her father Paul.

On January 24, 2015, at 4 in a sunny afternoon, the Box made Al Payne’s dream a real thing: the wooden sheds were in the building with their big mouths open: from a truck parked outside the paintings were transported one by one, by hand, into the sheds. They will stay there, unseen, the whole time of the exhibition. The moving display (theory) of paintings was art for the time of a quick, imperfect view but also, unmistakably, a mystic exposure of the artist’s body spread in his work.                        


From Shadows by William Carlos Williams

Ripped from the concept of our lives and from all concept somehow, and plainly,

the sun will come up each morning and sink again.

So that we experience violently every day two worlds

one of which we share with the rose in bloom and one,

by far greater, with the past, the world of memory,

the silly world of history, the world of imagination.

Which leaves only the beasts and trees, crystals with their refractive surfaces

and rotting things to stir our wonder.

Save for the little central hole of the eye itself

into which we dare not stare too hard or we are lost.

The instant trivial as it is is all we have unless-unless

things the imagination feeds upon, the scent of the rose, startle us anew.