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MARCH 21, 2008   More below: CHUCK CLOSE

Taxes & treats

As it gets close to April 15th I no longer dread sitting down to hours of frustrating work preparing my income tax returns. I used to do it all manually, then switched to software (MacInTax, now TurboTax). But one year I decided the stress wasn't worth it—things had gotten way too complicated. I was teaching part-time at different schools and doing design work on the side. Even using the computer I always worried that I'd screwed something up, missed important deductions, or done something that would trigger an audit.

So we started going to a tax person at H&R Block who'd been recommended by a friend. Now we're working with our third different advisor (the first retired, the second died), and even though it's not cheap, it's money well spent. I no longer worry about making mistakes, and we pay relatively less in taxes than when I did the forms.

Malley's Billy Bob sundaeI still don't look forward to the appointment. The night before I have to print out a bunch of expense reports that detail what we've given to charity, spent on work-related things, etc.

Then I hunt through folders of receipts and scraps of paper to make sure they get added to the other lists. Then we have to sit down and go through a bunch of questions every year with the tax preparer. But...

Since the office is in Lakewood right near Malley's, when the appointment is over we reward ourselves (well, it's mostly me—Joanne goes along for the ride) with a treat.

This year it was a Billy Bob sundae made with Coconut Chip ice cream and hot fudge. Other ingredients are caramel sauce, pecans, and of course whipped cream. It was pretty darn good, but I think maybe I overdid it. Next year I'm going back to plain vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. More ingredients aren't always better. Come to think of it, it works that way with Deluxe pizzas, too.

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Chuck Close movie

Saw a great movie at the Art Museum tonight, a documentary about the painter Chuck Close. The film follows Close painting a large self-portrait, beginning with large Polaroid photos and ending nearly three months later with him painting the last few squares of the gridded-off canvas. In between frequent scenes of Close working are interviews with his friends, associates, and wife Leslie. Since these friends include contemporary painters like Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Katz and composer Phillip Glass, the conversations are wide-ranging and intelligent. I felt like I was getting an education in both the history of painting as well as the contemporary New York art scene.

Close is known for his large-scale portraits based on photographs and executed using various types of repetitive marks: air-brushed dots, thumbprints, boxes and circles, and more recently colorful mixtures of shapes. He—and several other artists interviewed—talk about "information," a much more pragmatic view of their work than you might expect. Reminded me of my former colleague, photographer Garie Waltzer, who surprised me at first by discussion photos in terms of how they present information.

Chuck Close brushcam viewThe movie was shot on high-definition video and the quality is quite good. I sat pretty close to the screen and didn't see the harsh digital look that I've noticed in other digital videos.

Video was used very effectively in one of the film's more interesting segments shot using a "brush cam"—a small camera taped to Close's paintbrush. You can see a bit of this at the ArtKaleidoscope website. Dizzying at times, but a unique view of the process.

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MARCH 2008