“Then through all our proud land let us proudly proclaim / As we march to the front / “Remember the Maine!”
Which is relevant because:
I don’t simply confess, I proudly proclaim that I have posted about Mark Bulwinkle a great deal.
When I was first kicking around the idea of Quirky Berkeley, I asked my mentor, guide and guru Sally Woodbridge for her thoughts. The first thing that she said was “Mark Bulwinkle.” I now know why. To see the work of Mark Bulwinkle is to see just how much a person can accomplish in a lifetime.
I did a Big Old Comprehensive post about his work that is found in Berkeley.
I have since then devoted another six entire posts to his work.
As they say in Fargo, you betcha. I proudly proclaim. Ain’t no shame up in my game.
Bulwinkle is always working – one way or another. Everything he does is an artistic expression. Today we will see two big new projects and one smaller new project. None of them are are Berkeley.
I. Don’t. Care. Mark Bulwinkle is the true north of Quirky Berkeley. You could also say that he is the geodesic north of Quirky Berkeley.
Because he is true north, wherever his work is found is fair game. And, yes, I know that he has lived in Oakland not Berkeley. Y qué? So what? Take a look at what was his house on Manilla in North Oakland – that’s what I’m talking about.
Starting with the smaller new project – I only have two photos and not much of the back story.
Bulwinkle made this dog privacy gate – his terminology – for clients in Carmel. There was some confusion about the measuring and it did not fit the door opening.
Bulwinkle offered a do-over at his expense. Of course.
The clients said they wanted the mis-measured piece as sculpture. And would like in addition to pay for a correctly measured piece for the door.
This is the way it should be, no?
The first of the big new projects is found in Joshua Tree.
This is a gate to the Harrison House in Joshua Tree that Bulwinkle made using steel repurposed from the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
Through connections at Mills College, Bulwinkle met and became friends with the late Lou Harrison, a composer with an affinity for non-Western music, especially pieces written for Javanese-style gamelan instruments. The gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Indonesia, made up predominantly of percussive instruments. Harrison wrote in just intonation rather than equal temperament. He worked with microtones. I don’t know what any of that means other than he was an innovative, experimental, avant garde composer.
Harrison finished building a straw bale house in Joshua Tree in 2002, shortly before his death. After Harrison’s death, his friend Eva Soltes founded the Harrison House Artist Residency program, which has evolved into Harrison House Music, Arts & Ecology.
Bulwinkle has shown his work there several times, both steel and tile.
Bulwinkle recently bought this house in Joshua Tree. He says he won’t leave Oakland for good, but he is fond of the desert.
So that’s the Joshua Tree part.
In 2015, the Oakland Museum of California announced a competition in which steel from the eastern span of the Bay Bridge would be made available to artists for repurposing and reuse. The museum formed a selection committee to administer the Bay Bridge Steel Program.
Eva Soltes and Bulwinkle proposed a gate for the Arts Center fashioned from the old Bay Bridge trusses. The gate was proposed to frame the public entry to the Center, and was pitched as a celebration of the Center’s Bay Area roots where Lou Harrison engaged in a “lifetime of artistry, activism and concern for the environment.” It was one of the 15 projects selected to receive bridge steel.
The gates themselves are classic Bulwinkle manic depictions, with “Harrison House” spelled out in rebar.
Installation required heavy construction skills.
Bulwinkle’s website includes a series of photos showing the engineering and excavation that went into installation of the steel. Eva Soltes took the photos.
For more on the project:
Now for the third new work, to be installed in Oakland.
Bulwinkle made this 8″ by 12′ piece – “The City” – for the Liz Caliborne store in San Francisco in 1993. the non-rectilinear shape conforms to the stairway leading to the second floor of the store. The work mixes painting and cut metal pieces that are attached to and stand out from the painting. It features cultural, architectural and historical landmarks in San Francisco.
Bulwinkle sent me other close-up photos of the work.
The last two photos honor Carol Doda and Melvin Belli and Bernard Maybeck – quite a combo.
This summer, Bulwinkle made an Oakland version to be installed in what was once the Dufwin Theater, 519 17th Street.
The Dufwin, designed by Charles Peter Weeks and William Peyton Day, opened on October 8, 1928. Weeks and Day also designed the Fox Theatre and the I. Magnin Building – Art Deco personified.
The Dufwin’s owner Henry Duffy went broke early in the Depression.
The theater closed and was reborn as the Roxie.
The Roxie Theater closed sometime in the early 1980s and the building was converted into office space in 1983. There is an amazing Art Deco faience mosaic mural on the front of the building.
John Hamilton is a Principal/Co-Founder of Dufwin building.refurbishing the
He has known Bulwinkle for more than 30 years. He has dozens of Bulwinkle pieces. He owns a house for which Bulwinkle designed every piece of hardware and art. He bought “The City” when Liz Claiborn closed and has moved it around from project to project to accessorize lobbies, although it is now going to a new home he is building.
Hamilton is struck by Oakland’s uptown emerging as a cool, fun place. He thought a Bulwinkle piece would be good for the Dufwin.
He sees spirituality and fun in Bulwinkle. “He has the hand of an artist. He’s risqué and unapologetic.”
Bulwinkle pitched a panorama of Oakland. Here is the prototype.
Hamilton wanted more, a lot more. He had a hard time enticing Bulwinkle to make the piece. He told Bulwinkle, “This will be your masterpiece.“
Bulwinkle said “If it doesn’t kill me.”
He assembled six panels on a lot near Bulwinkleland. This is where “Bulwinkle Dreams Oakland” would come to life.
He painted the background. And then came painted details.
And then came hundreds of pieces of cut metal which he painted.
He did much of the painting in a cargo container that many years ago was his living quarters.
Each individual piece exudes the almost-manic joy of Bulwinkle’s art. Together – there just aren’t words.
The cut metal pieces are attached to the painting, leaning away from the background.
The work changed constantly as it grew.
During the project, Bulwinkle came upon the poem “Heaven” by Langston Hughes. It was a life-saver for him:
Heaven is the place where happiness is everywhere
Animals and birds sing — as does everything.
To each stone “How-do-you-do?”, Stone answers back “Well! And you?”
How do you do?
Yes, here and there, from Gertrude Stein saying of her childhood home, Oakland “There’s no there there.”
There are endless details in the piece. Here are some:
Bulwinkle’s sketch for the Oakland Tribune Tower.
And being painted in place.
The Oakland Airport – before the planes.
The airport with another plane. Yes, that’s the Campanile. Yes, it’s not in Oakland. John Hamilton wanted the Campanile. Why not?
In the middle of the houses – Bulwinkleland.
It is his home, garage, workshop, studio, and gallery.
Chinatown – 屋崙華埠 – really pan-Asian but that doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Jack London, a son of Oakland – more or less.
John Hamilton observes that even Bulwinkle’s suns have spirit and personality.
Bulwinkle sent me some close-up photos.
Among them, this expected Bulwinkle self-portrait.
And then some of the many scooter pieces.
This scooter girl is on the painting table. These are not:
Well! All I have to say is: Holy Mackerel. What is not to love love love about these? I am sometimes told that less is more, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut even on of these photos.
Near the end of his work on the piece, Bulwinkle wrote me: “I made ‘The City’ 25 years ago. It has taken some courage to get back on that horse and ride it. But then again, it is my horse, so I guess it will help me. The painting went well today even though I had planned on resting some. I wrote to my client and told him that for me to engage in such a painting was like falling into another lover, and I know that I will not be able to leave it alone until the painting is finished. It will occupy all my thought day and night and I will want the distraction drinking can give. And then, when it is done, I will be depressed with nowhere to go. But then, it has always been thus, and I am at least a little accustomed by now to the process. When the ship is built, it sails away, and the yard is suddenly empty and quiet. So it goes.”
A few days later he wrote me more about what he has come to call Bulwinkle Dreams Oakland.
“The painting is coming along well but not without struggle as it nears completion. There are four things I should say about it:
1 – E. H. Gombrich’s essay, “Meditations on a Hobby Horse or the Roots of Artistic Form” from the beginning of this work, and all of my artwork throughout the last 50 years, has been an important companion and mentor.
2 – My early personal revelation near the beginning of such a large painting was that this thing, the painting, was just a big toy for me to play with. Mark’s toy. Without play there is no art. To combine play with business has it’s pitfalls.
3 – Langston Hugh’s poem, “Heaven,” which threw me a life saver part way into the painting, set a happy tone for this place, the subject, Oakland, my home for over forty years, which can be a very unhappy place.
4 – Finally, since a deadline was always hanging over me for installation, I have found myself, when stuck yet again and tired of working on such a monster, announcing to me, the worker, an old ship repair mantra,
‘Let’s go, this ship’s gotta sail.’ And so it will.
Playing can be such a lot of work, and it can be hard to make a thing look easy.”
My Quirky Berkeley friends – there are some words to live by in there. Reef the main top-gallant sail! Full speed Mr. Bo’sun.
The man himself – without play, there is no art.
I plan/hope to be there for the opening when Bulwinkle Dreams Oakland is installed in the Dufwin Building. I will update.
I handed my friend the draft post for his review and comments, but he wasn’t ready to talk about Bulwinkle.
He handed me this photo. “Really threw me for a loop, boss. Earl sent it, found it in an old suitcase that I guess was mine. Her name was Caroline. Her family moved to Detroit from 47-something Chester Street, Spencer, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. I remember all those names. She said we’d get married at the Ranch of the Saints outside Spencer.” On the back of the photo my friend had written “For a while it seemed that sunshine walked beside her.”
That was it. That’s all he said about her. It explains his sometimes obsession with “Caroline No” from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. I know him well enough to realize that I will hear what I hear when he wants me to hear.
He put the photo down and started going through the Bulwinkle post.
“Geeking out on Mr. Bulwinkle again and it looks like you got the purple ink out for the prose.”
After some minutes with the post, clicking on almost every photo to go full screen, he hummed “Someday, everything is gonna be different, when I paint my masterpiece.” And then, “I think he did. Can’t wait to see it up on the wall at the Dufwin.”
Overall impression of the post?