With the heightened interest surrounding ballpoint pen as an art medium, the remaining blanks in ballpoint pen art history are slowly but surely being filled in. To those who have followed the medium with more than just a passing curiosity, Matt Rota's recently published book The Art of Ballpoint also helps fill in some of those blanks. To those newly introduced to the medium, the book may even be revelatory. I looked forward to reading this book and had high hopes for it, being the first of its kind. I am also all-in to support anyone writing at length about ballpoint pen art, and Rota seems to know a thing or two about it — or at least did his homework on the subject — but does he know enough about ballpoints to be the writer of the-book-that-needs-to-be-written? With his freshman foray into the world of publishing, Rota ambitiously crams three books into one; a ballpoint pen history book, a ballpoint pen art history book and a how-to book. Therein lay The Art of Ballpoint's biggest shortcoming. In being all of the above, all of the above suffer...
Bic threw a party but The Ballpointer wasn't invited. My boss Ballpointers would've taken it personally, but it seems they weren't the only ones to be neither invited nor notified about the opening of 'The Bic Collection' exhibition. I was surprised to hear of artists with known ties to Bic who also hadn't heard anything about it until we asked if they were part of this so-called 'Collection'. For those just finding out about it now from us, the Paris exhibition—'exposition', that is— showcased the Bic-related art collection of Mr. Bruno Bich (pictured), current CEO of the company his father Marcel founded in 1945.
The Ballpointer is at somewhat of a loss, and admits to being slightly embarrassed to report: the website devoted to all-things-ballpoint has little to report about a ballpoint pen art exhibition bearing the sponsorship of the great Bic company. In defense of my employers: The Ballpointer cannot report news until or unless it's been informed by some means. If it weren't for last-minute social media posts by artists whose work was included in the exposition, The Ballpointer might not have even heard about it at all. One particularly wary website contributor (me) wondered: 'Is this some kind of April Fools gag?' Having little to report, however, does not mean we (me) have little to say about it…
Amassing a ballpoint pen art collection and presenting it in an exhibition is the least Bic can do for artists who've been giving
the pens free publicity for years, name-dropping Bic prominently in promotion of their own artwork: "Drawn using the humble
Bic", or "Bics are best!" and so forth. Bic comes out as a supporter of the arts by putting its strength behind artists in the form
of acquisitions or commissions, but the pen empire with such global reach seems to have left those very same artists to handle
promotional duties for what nonetheless amounts to one big vanity fair. Dominique Vangilbergen and Juan Francisco Casas
exploited their social media bragging rights to announce their inclusion. Il Lee's handlers, who seem to be working hard these
days to secure the elder ballpointer's standing (while ignoring inquiries from The Ballpointer) proudly announced his inclusion. Even Jan Fabre, the where-is-he-now ballpoint art curiosity
who probably hasn't used the pens creatively since the 1980s (if his work could've ever been considered 'creative'), provided Bic with free publicity by sharing news of his inclusion.
All of those social media posts link to an online press release offered by Bicworld, which linked to another put forth by the venue, Centquarte-Paris, which seems to be a for-rent event space. Other than a plug buried in their 'Season 2017-18' listings, and a prompt to buy the official exhibition catalogue in their 'bookstore', the Centquarte website itself didn't prominently list the exposition. Clicking on the provided photo or 'more info' button took us back to the online Bicworld release. We did, interestingly enough, also discover the Bic company credited among Centquarte's 'major patrons and sponsors'. But overall, the company's publicity mechanism amounts to ''Bruno Bich has the best ballpoint art collection in the world and you should come and see it ". 21st century one-sided social media chill at its finest: make announcements, ignore questions you don't wish to answer.
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld originally posted May 9, 2016
book review: The Art of Ballpoint
Written by Matt Rota・Published by Rockport Press
thINK by B. Neufeld posted August 4, 2018
Son of a Bich PART I・exhibition review: The BIC Collection・April-May 2018・Paris, France
FORUMARCHIVES more links on the ARCHIVE page
Article text ...
Link to the full article in the Ballpointer ARCHIVES...
Click on an image above to read the fully archived article.
Top left : slideshow of photos from The Bic Collection
exhibition provided by someone 'working with the Bic
company'. Above : Il Lee's MBL1302, 2013, ballpoint pen
paper, part of the 'Collection'. Below : Bruno Bich.
All artwork © respective artists.
Just as so many presumptuous or naive ballpoint prodigies tripped over each other to have you believe they 'came first', so came the race for First Place in formally documenting ballpoint pen art history. Interestingly, Wikipedia got there first, roundabout 2012, with an incomplete but fair overview of the genre. That ersatz encyclopedia's account, however, seems to have fallen short of art world acceptability and might've actually been the spark that set subsequent writers on their respective courses of corrective surgery. Among them was Orlando Lebron, a ballpoint art collector and writer, who, with the expressed intent of ''creating discourse, no strings attached '', began publishing The Ballpointer in 2014 as a kind of trade journal chronicling noteworthy goings-on in the medium...
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld & R. Bell orig. posted Aug 1, 2016
REALLY ?・Hype & 'Hyper '・Act I
A lengthy international flight allowed The Ballpointer publisher Ronald Bell and thINK columnist Bruce Neufeld ample time to butt heads, as they often do, about all things ballpoint. Alcohol was involved. I put in my two cents occasionally but mostly kept out of it, content to record the proceedings from relative safety across the aisle. This segment of their lengthy discussion was spent debating Photorealism in ballpoint pen art. It's amazing how much two aging intellectuals can ramble on about a dead end topic. Now they had fourteen hours to kibitz. Somewhere over Canada ...
Ronald Bell: So it's just this new, fashionable 21st century rebranding as 'Hyper-realism' that irks you?
Bruce Neufeld: It's never just one thing with me, you know that. (RB nods in agreement while laughing.) We're talking figurative art and Photorealism , two terms that describe their subjects perfectly. When I hear 'Hyper-realism' I think realer-than-real. I think Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Chuck Close; names from art history. Back then (late-1960s into the 70s) it was enough to simply call it what it was: Photorealism. Seamless, technicolor painting that could truly be mistaken for a photograph. It was a full-fledged art movement. More importantly, a first of its kind. Compared to what those artists were doing, today's so-called 'Hyper-realists' don't even come close!
RB: You walked five miles to school barefooted, didn't you? Maybe they don't teach Photorealism in art school anymore. Or art history ?
BN: This reboot as 'Hyper-realism' is just art-speak hype by Generation X, Y, Z or whatever letter at the end of the alphabet we're on now.
Orlando Lebron: What comes after 'Z '?
RB: Mayan prophecies come true; skies fall.
BN: When I'm looking at a drawing — a drawing where crosshatching is clearly visible, even from ten feet away, and the only color used is blue — sure, it might be a fine photorealistic representation, but what's so 'hyper-realist' about a blue line drawing? Nothing seamless about that ...
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld originally posted June 30, 2017
book review: Ballpoint Art
Written by Trent Morse・Published by Laurence King Publishing
Since 2014・Volume 6
The Ballpointer sent inquiries to each and every 'contact' listed on either website, to anyone and everyone involved—company, venue, curators, publicists, janitor. While awaiting (and expecting) replies, we of course continued requisite searches to find out how the show was being reviewed and who was doing the reporting. French media publicity began appearing during the days and weeks after we'd learned about the exhibition but, in the end: That's. About. It. Even two months after the fact, no news about it in any of the expected art channels in the USA (nor UK). No New York Times, no Artnews, nothing in Juxtapoz or Hi Fructose. Perhaps the world media saw it for the promotional campaign that it was, right up there with product placement in Hollywood movies (read related unrelated article). Meanwhile, additional email addresses turned up and those were tapped, too, but to no avail. At least a dozen attempts to contact someone somewhere were unsuccessful, until one day... A message arrived, from someone ''working with the BIC company and the exhibition''. He provided a link to exhibition photos and said he could put us in touch with the curators ''if (we) are interested''. This was May 15th (2018), a day after the exhibition would've closed had it not been extended two more weeks (to May 27th). The Ballpointer had already made it clear to everyone we contacted, as noted above: we wanted to speak to anyone and everyone involved. But, alas, we never heard from mystery man again—nor company, venue, curator, publicist or janitor—and the promotional/review copy of the exhibition catalogue we'd requested was provided as a pdf file.
When he's not script-doctoring for TV, Bruce Neufeld is the opinionated uncle of The Ballpointer contributors. More often than not, he's just that annoying guy who drops by the office, backseat browses and hopes to be thrown a bone. The Ballpointer doesn't always agree with his "Ain't No Conversation If There Ain't No Argument" style of reportage, nor do we condone his insensitive codgery, but, the views he offers are just as valid as the next, and, The Ballpointer is an equal opportunity outlet. No points of view are suppressed here. Feedback is welcome.
thINK ARCHIVE by B. Neufeld originally posted Nov 8, 2015
2015: A Year in the Pen
Exclamation Points・WHYs & Why NOTs
My Ballpointer bosses made the mistake of giving me a key to the mailbox; access to all incoming correspondence. At least once a month The Ballpointer gets a message accusing the site (or me) of unfairly installing itself (or me) as some kind of quote-unquote ''ballpoint police''. ''Ballpoint Big Brother'' is another accusatory term that's been used ...
Top FAQ from readers: ''Why haven't you featured so-and-so.'' Unfortunate truth: not everyone is anxious to talk with The Ballpointer. I've been given permission to name names as long as I show some restraint with my own assumptions or opinions. ''Let readers know which artists we've approached without stepping on any toes and scaring those artists away,'' were my instructions. Familiar names to ballpointers: Casas, Yanovskaya, Shohei, Lee, among others. All have been solicited for interviews. No success. I can't speak for the WHYs and why-NOTs but unresponsiveness leaves room for conjecture, the realm of this column. What kind of artist turns down an opportunity to talk about their art? Niche artists not cooperating with niche media? Those who haven't been featured can't blame the site for ignoring them. The Ballpointer encourages artists' cooperation to insure quality and coverage of the artwork as it should be. Some contributing editors may choose to simply bypass unwilling artists and move onto others. This column sweeps up behind them. Freedom of the press. With or without a subject's blessing, there's always something to report ...
So, all our hard work turned up was the initial press release and a zip folder of exhibition photos, leaving me with only conjecture and opinion to offer as commentary in my allotted column. I'm very good at conjecture and opinion. That, of course, can be dangerous for all involved; I take lots of flak for my contributions here (except from my one loyal fan) while my publishers, in turn, are left to sweep up after me (even when my commentary sometimes provides cover for their own views). For now, based on those photos (slideshow above), I must at least say: curators of this exhibition should've referred to The Ballpointer's LAB page to learn the dangers of pointing hot spotlights directly at ballpoint pen drawings.
PART II of Son of a Bich will be published in January; a few more facts, conjecture and opinion about The BIC Collection. More art too.
Broad and thoroughly informative, if somewhat clinical and negligibly incomplete, introduction to and overview of the ballpoint genre. Given the confines of encyclopedic acceptability, the article's lack of personality is forgivable. Just the facts, Ma'am. Its first incarnation, as "Ballpoint pen drawings", appeared in 2011 as one poorly written, unsourced, 2,000-character paragraph. The article went through various self-promotional, free-for-all incarnations until finally given deserved respectability and taken to fruition in 2012 by wiki contributor "Penwatchdog", who turned the paragraph into the 40,000-character, fully sourced, encyclopedia entry it remains today.
ARTNEWS・Making Cutting-Edge Art with Ballpoint Pens・Trent Morse・January 8, 2014
Followers of the genre might feel ARTNEWS simply jumped the bandwagon to prove that they-know-ballpoints. Mr. Morse likely read the wikipedia page and tweaked it to suit ARTNEWS bias in an unsurprising act of exclusionary art politics to comandeer an unexploited and otherwise ignored corner of contemporary art. Academics drawing a line in the sand, so to speak? Maybe its merely another case of ill-informed coverage. Understandably, they've got their own agendas to serve, but: an article chronicling the history of ballpoint art with no mention of Lennie Mace? Morse even bypassed the ballpoint photorealism (and viral overkill) of Juan Francisco Casas in favor of naming the "Portuguese lawyer" who reportedly achieved the same (ballpoint photorealism and viral overkill) "as a hobby".
The Age (Australia)・Are Melbourne's commercial galleries becoming an endangered species?・Lucinda Schmidt・June, 2014
Troubling Truths: this article about the state-of-the Art Scene in Melbourne, Australia touches upon a topic familiar to many world-class "art" cities. "Why buy what I can get for free?" and "Why leave the comforts of home to see art I can see from right here on my sofa?" Buying what you can get for free shows you actually care enough to support it, and leaving the comforts of home is underrated.