Flashback : Lansing, Michigan, early 1980s. Sheets' teenage sons Brig and John Sorber start using an old pickup truck to move peoples' belongings locally as a way to earn some after-school cash. When a logo was needed to advertise their services in a local newspaper, Mary Ellen—whom we're told has never had art training nor art ambitions—made ballpoint magic happen.
The ballpoint-on-napkin 'stick men' Mama Sheets drew 'as a joke' (and re-drew for History as a reenactment) struck a chord. No surprise, the doodle captures the same kind of folksy flavor implied by the company name itself: Two Men and a Truck. Twain couldn't have named it better ...
Art Projects International (API) in March announced via social media that the ballpoint drawing BL-092 by Mr. Lee, whom they rep, had been published as the cover of Dalla Misura Delle Stelle (pictured), a posthumous collection of poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). To Mr. Lee we offer our congratulations. The Ballpointer remains an ardent supporter of his work. His ballpoint 'mark-making' is genuinely worthy of respect. API, however, is a separate case …
In response to our inquiry for a few simple facts about the art and its use as a book cover came a lame 'too busy', having not even heard any of the questions. Considering the questions submitted in a follow-up 'just in case you can spare a minute' email, questions answerable without even bothering the artist (the size of the original artwork, how did it end up as the cover of this book, et al), API staff must be too busy to even breath. Our sympathy goes out to them. Surely an intern could've been assigned 15 minutes to deal with us in the same way I was left to deal with it here. Speaking of '15 minutes', I recall overhearing Andy Warhol paraphrase himself that 'even 15 minutes of fame is worth a minute of pandering'. And promotional consideration for Rilke and his book? API secured payment for the book cover art, job well done. Sales support must not have been part of the deal.
To API's credit, replying to us at all is at least a step up from ignoring inquiries altogether, which has thus far been the case—one-way communication—but everyone knows 'too busy' is the intelligence-insulting equivalent to a grade schooler's my dog ate the homework. In business, it's having your secretary call you away during a meeting. No one is ever that busy, they just don't want to deal with you. Polite rudeness.
Ballpointer editors have experience with ignored inquiries and reps who could be described as so stiff you can snap a ballpoint pen in half by the clench of their buttocks, so we'll get over it. In fairness, the API rep in question did comment that our 'project' (The Ballpointer) 'sounds quite interesting'. But wait; 'project'? Silly us, five years thinking we were providing an actual service disseminating news about ballpoint art to thousands of readers worldwide・
OFF TOPIC Points of interest in the arts, from elsewhere on the internet
The Report: Aging elbow-rubber and chronicler of the 1970s, 80s and 90s celeb social circuit Haden-Guest was fishing for a timely topic to chime in on and he found one in Outsider Art. Although he touches on some valid points, the article is provided no space for him to actually go anywhere with it. Just lots of name dropping — Henry Darger, Adolf Wolfi, Joe Coleman — enough to prove he may still know what he's talking about.
The Point: Usage of ballpoint pens to create art has its own outsider element of which Haden-Guest is either unaware or wasn't provided enough space to touch upon. But his closing statement about the "surge of faux, unfelt Outsiderism into the marketplace" hits a nail on the head. Whatever will cover the high cost of an art-star lifestyle and expensive gallery space; a Jeff Koons exhibition of ballpoint PEN tings would fit that description. B. Neufeld
Associated Press・Detroit police issue warrant for street artist Fairey artwork・June 25, 2015
The Report: Shepard Fairey, ''who created the Hope poster that came to symbolize President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign'' vandalized buildings across Detroit, and ''would be arrested if he returns to Detroit and doesn't turn himself in ''. Fame ''does not take away the fact that he is also a vandal '', a police sergeant is quoted as saying.
The Point: Indeed, this is still what it takes to be considered 'cool' in the 21st century. Personally, I 'Hope ' he's made an example of. R. Bell
Newsweek・Fox Channel Blurs Out Breasts on Picasso Painting・Lucy Westcott・May 15, 2015
The Report: Pablo Picasso's The Women of Algiers (1955) broke the record for most expensive work of art to sell at auction, but apparently had its bare nipples blurred during a news report of the sale.
The Point: Considering Picasso's cubist painting style, the only way an impressionable mind would even recognize 'nipples' is if someone told them they were nipples, and the only way they would consider nipples bad would be if someone taught them they were bad. Apparently someone at Fox must've been cut off from mother's milk too soon and still holds a grudge. B. Neufeld
BBC NEWS (UK)・Painting sale sets $300m record・Feb 7, 2015
The Report: Paul Gaugain's Nafea fas ipoipo? (1892) was privately sold for $300 million to an unidentified buyer in Qatar.
The Point: That same amount of money could... A: Buy 300 works of art for a million dollars each. B: Buy a million artworks for 300 dollars each. C: Feed the unfed of the world. D: Wipe my ass 300 million times at a buck a wipe. E: All of the above. B. Neufeld
Elizabeth Renzetti・Oct 17, 2014
The Report: The 'godfather of punk' says he'd have to ''tend bars between sets'' if he had to live off of royalties from his music alone, because 'everyone wants to listen' but 'no one wants to pay'.
The Point: The important matter of artistic value in the easy-access digital age. Visual artists face the same challenge. O. Lebron
The Report : Originating from the UK and operated by Epilepsy Action, National Doodle Day is a fundraising event to benefit ''600,000 people in the UK living with epilepsy''.
The Point : Epilepsy! Donate a doodle, buy a doodle or learn how you can get involved in other ways. O. Lebron
Daily Mail Online (UK)・As prices for Damien Hirst's works plummet, pity the credulous saps who spent fortunes on his tosh・November, 2012
The Report : Auction prices for Damien Hirst artworks are falling and some are being withdrawn unsold, circumstances cheered by the proudly biased (''Finally...!'') writer of the article (Ruth Dudley Edwards?).
The Point : At the time of Hirst's rise as darling of the art world (mid/late-1990s), suckers still speculated on art-as-trophy-investment. What's happened since then is a fine example of what happens when the now-proverbial 'wow factor ' is all you have. After the thrill is gone, someone is bound to notice: ''Uhm, it's a shark. In a tank... Isn't that what Museums of Natural History or aquariums are for ?''. It's just as much the fault of the media for reporting about such bull-shit-artists in the first place. B. Neufeld
And the million dollar genius of attaching a metal ball to the end of a tube in such a way so that ink in the tube is dispersed as it rolls? Million Dollar Genius has an occasional 'Legend' segment spotlighting inventors whose ideas seeded others, so maybe we'll one day see J.J. Loud, whose idea it was to combine that metal ball with that ink tube, or László Bíró for perfecting the technology, to really get the ball rolling・
＊Read more K. RieSTARPOINTS on the CULTUREDpage
BALLPOINTBRIEF by B. Neufeld posted May 2, 2019
'Busy ' Signal・X・
This was passed down to me from my Ballpointer higher-ups, what would've been a book review of sorts; a book judged by its cover. That would've been a good thing in this case, a love letter in the offing—the book cover in question, after all, bore art by none other than ballpoint elder Il Lee—but due to a lack of cooperation, you get me instead, left to judge that book not by its cover but by its cover artist's representatives. Followers of The Ballpointer who actually pay attention may already know that when something is handed down to me, well ...
BALLPOINTBRIEF by E. Lee posted January 8, 2019
Random Points 2018・SUB・
Short of anecdotes for the next time you're in need of small talk at a holiday function, as happens to me every December? Internet slideshows can always be counted upon to provide informative but otherwise useless, even laughable (perhaps the point) information that'll impress or at least entertain. Msn.com's 116 amazing facts for people who like amazing facts provides plenty. Did you know there's a word for the act of stretching and yawning (#30)? Bet you didn't know there's a bird who can learn to talk better than parrots (#5).
Plenty of art tidbits made the list. Entry #76 teaches us the name of the color seen when you open your eyes in a pitch-black room. Entry #14 tells us the percentage of Bob Ross paintings containing at least one 'happy little cloud'. And did you know Dr. Suess's book Green Eggs and Ham was the product of a dare? See entry #29. Our favorite occupies the opening slot: ''Between 1912 and 1948, art competitions were a part of the Olympics. Medals were awarded for architecture, music, painting, and sculpture.'' Hey IOC, bring that back!
At least For Her was about ballpoints. Other products which surfaced in product-flop slideshows weren't even identifiably Bic. The company appears twice on cbinsights.com's list Corporate Innovation Goes Bad, and neither had to do with pens. At #131 is Parfum Bic, a 1989 attempt at the fragrance market which lost close to $11M. The prospect of perfume from a ballpoint pen manufacturer must've stirred impressions of stinky ink or eau de lighter fluid, and the product was gone by 1990. On the same list, #69 flopped enough to make other product-flop lists: Bic disposable underwear and pantyhose. Need I say more? There you have it; disposable products and information, truly worthy of the king of disposables・
All but the keenest viewers may have missed the many ballpoint pen cameos on screens big and small over the years. Ballpoints are regulars in Hollywood productions, and not just as set dressing...
Two Teens and a Mom ®
Million Dollar Genius Episode #7, 2019・History channel
Ballpoints also turn up in slideshows, but not (yet ) for the artwork created using them. At #12 of 38 in msn's These 20th-century entrepreneurs changed the world is none other than Baron Marcel Bich, listed among luminaries such as Thomas Edison (#2), Henry Ford (#4), Bill Gates (#18) and Steve Jobs (#20). Bich, of course, is not the inventor of ballpoint pens, just the entrepreneur who brought them to the masses (as Bic), kind of like what Ray Kroc (#8) was to McDonalds. Bich's entry shows not a portrait photo, as most others, but a photo of a Bic ballpoint pen instead (pictured). Other entries whose products shaped the creativity of mankind include Walt Disney (#6), George Lucas (#22) and Ole Kirk Kristiansen (Lego, #14).
So Bic ballpoints have left an indelible 'mark' on history, and internet trivia, but not always for the better. At #10 in an msn slideshow of Incredible Product Flops is Bic's For Her ballpoint pen. Other than the flowery packaging and pink and purple inks, there's nothing identifiably 'Her' about the pens.
Related news... The Ballpointer had been publishing 'feature' articles only with the direct participation of the artists, but in 2019 we will initiate an editorial shift and publish with or without featured artists' participation or blessing. As an online journal reporting about the usage of ballpoint pens to create fine art, we are quite simply within our rights to publish as we see fit about the activities of artists doing so. It was only as a courtesy that we solicited artist involvement in the first place, expecting that artists would, if not initially, at some point be happy to speak to media with very specific knowledge of their chosen medium. Over time it became suspicious that an artist using ballpoints (i.e. Il Lee, or his 'reps') wouldn't talk with us, effectively making The Ballpointer seem ignorant—or worse, exclusionary—by not writing about artists whom everyone knows exist but whom have not yet been featured ・
July-August, 2020 NOW UP
The Ballpoint Summit 2020 group exhibition
ISETAN Fine Art Gallery Shinjuku, Tokyo (Japan)
Mark your calendar, book your flight and secure lodgings to be in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics (pictured: designer Asao Tokolo's Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo as reinterpreted in ballpoint pen by Lennie Mace). The Olympic competition is, of course, the main attraction, but visitors to the city during those two weeks will have the added opportunity of viewing what promises to be one of the greatest assemblages of contemporary ballpoint pen art.
Summit curator and ballpoint elder Lennie Mace intends it to be the ballpoint exhibition to set the standard. Few, if any, are as qualified to oversee such an undertaking.
Confirmed participants include Shane McAdams, James Mylne, C.J. Pyle, Joo Lee Kang, Shirish Deshpande, Andrey Poletaev and many more. Mace himself is among the participating artists, but he stresses that his involvement with the exhibition will lean more toward administrative duties. Mace is still in the process of inviting artists.
Although the exhibition coincides with the Olympics, Olympic-themed art is not a prerequisite for participating artists. Mace will, however, tap art from his Play Pen series depicting athletic activities such as cycling and running (pictured).
The Ballpoint Summit will be no competition, and no medals will be awarded, but all participating artists are worthy of gold medals for their mastery of the medium.
The Ballpointer will regularly report on preparations leading up to show time, stay tuned for more info. More info.
The attraction lies in the drawing's simplicity and immediacy. ''You're so smart to have a child draw your logo,'' commented one uninformed customer, who might've been thinking about Two Men and a Baby. Mary Ellen's use of a ballpoint pen to create something which would exceed any artistic intentions is, itself, a 'million dollar' story; ordinary ballpoint pen, extraordinary outcome.
Thirty years later, even as the company has grown into a million dollar corporation, those hand-drawn stick men remain the official company logo. ''The logo is still prominently featured on everything we do,'' said a representative who was nice enough to give us a minute. Pride in their homespun origins shows in a sign hanging in Two Men's Lansing headquarters, which reads: ''What started on the fibers of a napkin with a ballpoint pen is now interwoven into the fabric of popular culture'' ...
*Would YOU subscribe to
a PRINTED edition of The Ballpointer?
Let us know.
Listings published courtesy of The Ballpointer, space permitting.
Something you'd like to see? Something you'd like us to see?...
We're pretty sure the name Mary Ellen Sheets doesn't ring a bell, not unless you happened to catch her story in episode #7 of HIstory channel's Million Dollar Genius (April, 2019), a program which showcases people whose ideas brought them millions. Sheets had just such an idea, but it's quite possible that idea wouldn't have gotten far without a certain ballpoint pen drawing ...
INKBLOTTER last revised August 2, 2019
Ballpoint pen artwork & more, now on display or coming soon.
Support the Starving ARTS, Ballpoint and Otherwise.
Submissions to The Ballpointer are welcome and encouraged but, by doing so, you are authorizing the use and publication of any texts and/or data provided. Having said that, let us know you're out there.
Since 2014・Volume 6