I’ll begin by briefly weighing in on five of the most prominent pieces of the 2023 zeitgeist, at least from where I was sitting. Some cynical vibes ahead, so feel free to skip past this part if you’re not in the mood for negative energy:
- Taylor Swift: Gen Z’s version of Beatlemania is a bit of a head-scratcher for me, since I find Taylor Swift’s music to be entirely unremarkable, but that didn’t stop her Eras tour from being the musical event of the century so far. She clearly represents something significant to an awful lot of young women, and I’m glad they’re having fun, but I wish they could rally around something more iconoclastic.
- Barbenheimer: The internet took characteristically outsized delight in the fact that Barbie and Oppenheimer, two very different summer tentpoles, were being released on the same day. Surprise!: I was underwhelmed by both. This was to be expected on the Oppenheimer side, since I tired of Christopher Nolan’s overwrought shenanigans long ago, and I oppose Oscar-bait biopics on principle. I had higher hopes for Barbie, since I really enjoyed Greta Gerwig’s previous two films, and while its production design is truly something to behold, it’s still ultimately a toy commercial that doesn’t transcend what I recently saw referred to as “the shallow end of the pool most girl-power cultural product is playing in today.”
- AI: Large language models hit the mainstream in 2023, and the people who make them are here to tell you they’re a landmark achievement in human history that will either destroy us or make our lives indescribably amazing. Whether or not these claims are another round of hyperbole from an industry with an undeservedly high opinion of itself, I have absolutely zero faith in that industry’s ability to wield its creation responsibly.
- The war in Gaza: Hamas slaughtered 1,100 Israeli civilians, prompting a disproportionate response from Israel that has so far killed more than 22,000 Palestinians, and the loudest voices in the peanut gallery here in the USA would have you believe that there’s a good guy and a bad guy and the deaths on the bad guy side are entirely justifiable. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have skyrocketed, as have accusations of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia against anyone who dares criticize or support either side in any way, and the decline of our national discourse continues apace. (For the record, I think Hamas sucks and its actions are barbaric, but its constituents aren’t a monolith to be considered complicit in Hamas’s misdeeds; I’m also skeptical of Zionism and think Palestinians have good reason to dislike Israel, and I’m not sure how anyone can say Netanyahu’s noticeably unsurgical strike in Gaza isn’t genocide.)
- That Fucking Guy: The walking bottle of bronzer who we once decided should have the nuclear codes is angling to get back in the saddle, and the four criminal indictments he’s picked up along the way have done little to diminish his momentum. He and the nihilistic circus that surrounds him promise to make 2024 the most miserable election year on record, whether he prevails or not, and the very real possibility of his return to what he perceives as the throne is too disheartening for words.
2023 was a weird year for me. I continued laying the groundwork for my art practice, doing intermittent freelance design to stay afloat, and I struggled with both the design and the art, dragging out processes and producing little. There’s no flow without ebb, and I don’t know that I was spinning my wheels so much as letting things percolate, so I’m not beating myself up as much as I have in years past, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed. Nevertheless, I made some things I’m proud of.
Plus Equals #7 went in several different directions before settling into its final wavy form in the last few months of the year. I fell well short of my goal of publishing four issues of Plus Equals in 2023 (which I’ll aim for again in 2024), but I was successful in taking the project to the people, as I did at five events, in Washington DC, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Philadelphia. I’ve been enjoying discussing my work with people on the art book fair and zine fest circuits, but I have yet to find a way to make them profitable, especially when travel is involved. The vast majority of my sales in 2023 were at these in-person events, but I only made back a little over half of what I spent.
Glenn and the Danzigs
I’ve wanted to front a Misfits cover band for roughly as long as I’ve been alive, and the opportunity finally came my way in 2023. It meant leaving town for Halloween and abandoning the local trick-or-treaters, but it was worth it. My friend Jon and I hope to make this an annual thing in Philly during the spooky season, so local ghouls are encouraged to keep their ears to the ground.
All Day Hey!
Following the one I did the previous year for Beyond Tellerrand, I put together a twitchy opening title sequence for All Day Hey!, a web conference in Leeds. This project let me flex a variety of creative muscles, including coding up a custom transition system, devising a geometric take on animated dust and scratches, and composing and producing a busy, percussive soundtrack.
I reunited with my former ProPublica colleague Sisi Wei and some other smart folks to design a new homepage for The Markup, where Sisi now serves as editor-in-chief. This was a whirlwind project with a tight deadline, and my part came together in less than two weeks, which was a great way to jumpstart the new year.
For this year’s annual horror movie marathon, I designed and built the Robtober film browser I’ve envisioned for years, and I’m really happy with it. If I can resist the urge to iterate on it next year, reusing it should simplify the design process and let me put the time I save toward more deliberate film research and curation.
Apart from the aforementioned art book fairs and my return to Canada for the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I didn’t do much travel in 2023, but here are a few travel-related items:
- I went skiing for the first time since 1995! It was a blast, and I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got back up to speed. A few of us spent Super Bowl weekend at Camelback, and particularly since the Eagles were playing, lift lines were pretty manageable. I’m hoping to make this an annual thing.
- For the first time in nearly 15 years, I (co-)own a car. Leah and I had a free 2007 Hyundai Tucson with low mileage come our way and we decided not to pass it up. We don’t use it much, and I hate adding another auto to the mix amid Philly’s suffocating car culture, but I can’t deny it comes in handy from time to time.
- I went to the inaugural Kinference event in Brooklyn, which was something of a Brooklyn Beta reunion. I was glad to catch up with some old friends, especially since I hadn’t gotten to say a proper goodbye when I left NYC during Covid, and some of the speakers offered good food for thought, but it was mostly a reminder that I’ve turned a corner and this isn’t really my crowd anymore. I don’t really understand how anyone who’s been involved in the digital product world in the last 10 years isn’t thoroughly disillusioned by now, and the prevailing enthusiasm for blockchain and AI among too many attendees was especially hard to stomach.
- Modigliani Up Close (Barnes Foundation)
- Matisse in the 1930s (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
- Tara Donovan (Pace Gallery)
- Odili Donald Odita: Burning Cross (Jack Shainman Gallery)
- Edward Hopper’s New York (Whitney Museum of American Art)
- “Some Nights” Honoring Martha Groome (Larry Becker Contemporary Art)
- Put It This Way: (Re)Visions of the Hirshhorn Collection (Hirshhorn Museum)
- Raymond Saá: Tin Tin Deo (Pentimenti Gallery)
- The Mashrabiya Project (Museum for Art in Wood)
- The Art and Influence of John Dowell (Free Library of Philadelphia)
- Alexis Nutini: Close Reading (Paradigm Gallery)
- Derrick Velasquez: Close to the Memory Of (Pentimenti Gallery)
At 17 shows in 2023, my concert life continues its return to pre-pandemic levels, though it’s still not nearly as busy as my final two years in Brooklyn. My 2023 shows were mostly bands I’ve seen before, but seeing Kali Malone for the first time proved memorable, as did finally getting to see Unwound.
It was a good year for records. My favorites, in the order I picked them up:
I still get tripped up trying to talk about ambient music in qualitative terms, but this record was an appropriate soundtrack to many late nights fooling around with acrylics, and, notably, the inspiration for the aforementioned Plus Equals #7.
A trio of teenage girls from Brooklyn writing an impeccable grunge album was not on my 2023 bingo card, and what a delightful surprise it was. I missed seeing them not once but twice (once opening for Deerhoof and once headlining), both times due to illness. Here’s hoping for better luck in 2024.
There’s not much innovation here, but in thrash, originality has always taken a back seat to effectiveness, and this satisfying and perfectly dialed in set wastes no time getting to its task of removing flesh from bone.
I can’t wait to see these Nashville goofballs live. I understand there are puppets. All but one of these songs is available on earlier EPs and singles, but the fresh production makes it more than worth buying this whole set of endearingly spastic, spindly punk tunes again.
I’ve tried many times over the years, but I’ve never really been able to get into Slowdive, despite them being very much my sort of thing. Reunion records are so rarely good, I was pretty stunned to find that the two they’ve made—especially this one—have connected with me much more easily than the ones they made in their heyday. Everything Is Alive is probably my favorite record of the year.
I saw about two dozen new films (including miniseries and a couple of standup specials), but nothing really knocked my socks off. Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland came closest, and May December and Showing Up were pretty good too. I probably missed some good awards season stuff towards the end of the year while I was binging Veronica Mars episodes while recovering from Covid. C’est la vie. I watched 150 films in total, nearly a third of them on Criterion Channel and 18 in theaters:
|Ottawa International Animation Festival
|AMC Dine-In Fashion District
|AMC Waterfront 22 (Pittsburgh)
|PFS at the Bourse
Ambitions for 2024
- Prepping for grad school applications: In the interest of having a stronger foundation from which to create, engage with, and evaluate art, I’ve decided that I want to go back to school to pursue an MFA, so I’ve got plenty of work ahead of me in researching schools and building a portfolio. To that end:
- Painting: I spent some time in 2023 putting together a makeshift painting studio in my basement, experimenting with acrylic techniques relevant to work I want to make, and mixing the palette for the first series of Kalinoscope paintings I’m planning, among others. The intent now is to make a habit of putting down paint on a very regular basis.
- RobWeychert.com V7: It’s now been four years since I began this redesign, and based on the quiet strides it made in 2023 (including some I haven’t written about yet), I’m as confident as I can be that it will finally properly come into its own in 2024.