Friday, January 24, 2014


Every winter my fortunate friend David Schoffman ties a tray of cheap watercolors to a rickety French fold-up easel and acts the gentleman amateur. While some seek summer respite under the blesséd skies of the South, my contrarian colleague chooses January to move his steaming, over-cooked kettle from the California flame. Like Bowles and Burroughs before him, David has found a small slice of paradise in the northern Moroccan port town of Tangier.

Schoffman in Tangier, 2014
He rises each day at dawn when the grey peaks of Andalusia are barely visible over the Strait. After a strong cup of Turkish coffee and a warm fresh sfenj from the local makhbaz he begins his trek through town looking for the perfect painterly motif.

Some say it's a sign of waning ambition, others are less charitable, seeing it as an augury of imminent instability. I see it as merely a tepid tribute to a middling talent whose promise was betrayed by the misfortune of unearned and premature professional preeminence .

How else does one explain the reams of unresolved doodles that are perennially tacked to the walls of his Los Angeles studio? Why is it that when quizzed, as he was recently by the Guardian critic Shoshana Temehu about the small scale of his recent work his stock reply was "even Ezra Pound had trouble with the long form?"

When one makes the simple calculation it becomes glaringly evident that save for a few eager years early in his career, David has been most comfortable making pretty little pictures whose commercial accessibility can only be matched by their conceptual irrelevance.  

Don't get me wrong. I love the guy and I deeply respect his work ethic and admire his formidable intellect. It's just that it is simply undignified for a grown man to devote so much effort to painting lovely little watercolors and then attempt to dress them up with some fancy theoretical shroud of academic dissimulation. 

When I hear him describe his work as "disruptive analogs of taste," or "flagrant assaults upon visual intersubjectivity," I feel a throbbing, woozy jolt gnawing within the viscera that can only be described as sea-sickness . 

 When he tries to pass off a darkened view of the Gibraltar port, as he recently did in a CBC interview, as "a cautious gaze at the unanalogous," my throat tightens and my breathing becomes labored and dangerously uneven. 

Why, you may ask, do I let him get to me in this way?


Naked, unabashed, chest-thumping, ball-scratching rivalry.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Tomer Tamar is one of the great names of modern letters. Accomplished poet, esteemed though greatly feared critic, playwright, aphorist, polemicist, political speechwriter and professor, Dr. Tamar has spent a lifetime illuminating and elucidating the world of ideas.

Dr. Tomer Tamar, watercolor on paper, Serge Mahfouz
After years of championing the work of my good friend David Schoffman, it appears that Tamar has finally gone rogue.

Thirty years ago while serving as editor and chief of the now defunct periodical Eruditio Humanitas, the professor was a tireless advocate not only of Schoffman but also of the entire band of expatriate miscreants who flooded the bars and bistros of la Rue de Rennes in the early 80's.  No superlative was too hyperbolic for the dazzled don. It seemed that every other week some essay would surface extolling the visionary genius of this American insurgent. Needless to say a noisy claque of malcontents from l'École nationale supérieure simmered with both a vehement and a jingoistic vintage of bitter resentment.

I too was among them.

We cried foul but to no avail. Dr. Tamar remained unmoved. It was as if he had a gambling debt or was the subject of blackmail. One day Schoffman was the heir apparent to Derain the next he was the visual equivalent to Lacan or the visionary twin of Lévi-Strauss. It was obviously all just flagrant unabashed connerie but the professor was so powerful at the time that nobody had the nerve to challenge him.

Now that the esteemed scholar has retired from public life and is living in quiet retirement in Samois sur Seine his ardor has cooled and his influence has waned into near irrelevance. I would love to report that his memoirs have been eagerly awaited but that would be a gross exaggeration. The fact is, after all these years he had trouble finding a publisher.

As a courtesy I received an advanced copy and I confess that the first thing I did was scour the index for references to me. I was slightly wounded to have merited a mere two paragraphs but was content to find that our long-standing grudge was airbrushed into a vague form of "intellectual friction" (divergence d'opinion). Schoffman on the other hand did not fare as well.

In a chapter with the ominous heading "Charlatans, Knaves, Fools and Frauds," (Bouffons, faussaires, imbéciles et les fraudes), my dear friend David is described as "a blowhard whose fractured French was as agreeable as a day-old brioche." He goes on to depict an atmosphere of debauched dilettantism where "the rightful heirs of Ingres were supplanted by a coterie of cowboys who left New York to try their meager luck in the small, parochial pond of Paris."

It gets much better and ultimately leaves Schoffman battered and bleeding in a raw, turbulent soliloquy of scorn, slander and ridicule.

I'm not entirely sure how Tamar's book will be received by the public. For a variety of reasons his ideas are not taken very seriously any longer.

Friday, January 03, 2014


Le buste/Survit à la cité

Or so my good friend thought. Like Gautier, pauvre David Schoffman believes in art. After all these years he still desperately clings to the Romantic idea of Transcendence. 

But really David, if art actually held the path toward redemption, don't you think we'd all be redeemed by now?  Are there not somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand Bachelors of Fine Arts degrees awarded each year in North America alone?

Yes, perhaps the hard stone monuments may endure but probably not much else. Here in Paris the current exhibition season has been replete with video installations and performance art. I think our cities can outrun these flinty fads of post-modernism.

But you David, il ne faut pas exagérer, your reactions are way too extreme.  

Are you seriously devoting all your time and effort making small sketches of zoo animals!?

Untitled watercolor on paper, David Schoffman, 2013