Friday, December 31, 2010

About Time Off

I have taken time off, away from my usual and beloved routine, to spend with family and friends during these holidays. It is not easy for me to do that as I love to work and feel safest when I am taking care of the business of life. My parents each had small shops in Brooklyn at a time when it was against the law to open a business on Sundays. The cop on the beat would turn the doorknob on the front door to make sure you weren’t trying to fool anybody and doing business on this day of rest. My father locked his door and worked in the back part of his cabinet shop. My mother would try to get him out to a movie and sometimes succeeded. I understand my father’s need to work. It feels like the right thing to be doing most of the time.

The biggest painting I have done is named Time Off (see also About Scale) because I did it for fun in intermittent bursts between what I considered more serious pursuits. The other projects that were in progress were well thought out and I had plans for them. Time Off was about putting colors together to please myself with no thought about any kind of outcome; I thought I would play with it and then take it apart. I put twelve inch squares of color painted on paper into groups on a twenty foot wall in my studio. I started with one group of five rows, four panels in each and went on to make three groups of that format. At that point I thought I might mount each of these groups separately as I did later with Structures and some others in 2008. But then I filled in the gaps and it became one painting. After that came a big job. I had to think of it differently. It was one thing to compose groups of sixteen or twenty pieces and keep each color panel close to those others that most enhanced it, and at the same time have the color distributed through the entire piece in a way that made some visual sense. I had never attempted to do that on such scale as had come together here. It could look like total chaos, which is not my inclination ever, or it could be harmonious and serene and coherent.

While that took a lot of time it never became tedious or laborious. It was always time off for me and a joy to work on from inception to completion. If I ever were to win a to week of all paid vacation on a beach in a tropical paradise I would give it away. I would rather have time off at work or with my family any place on this earth.

I use Time Off (with me in it for scale) at my web site. The image above was taken at the show I had with The University of California, Humboldt Division, two years ago. The details are ©2002, Mixed Media Collage on Canvas, image 62” x 198” on canvas 84” x 255” .

Friday, December 24, 2010

About Yaddo

Some years ago I had the great good fortune of a month’s residency at Yaddo, the artists’ retreat in Upstate New York. The memory is with me now as I finally finish, after twenty years, work that was begun there. The process was interrupted when I left Yaddo and did some museum-ing and family visiting. The vision I was working with was lost. It took this long to feel ready to go back to these paintings and feel confident that I would be able to finish what I started without turning them into something entirely different.

I did take the largest of those works to a very satisfying resolution a couple of years ago — but it became who I am now with no respect for the vision that originally gave rise it.  And that was okay because it wasn’t really very far along and not much was lost. As a matter of fact, it had gotten itself painted into a corner and I was happy to make it into something totally different.

The other, somewhat smaller works, were a different story. They were pretty close to being what they could be and at the same time some distance from complete. I needed to respect what I had there because I liked them so much. What I had to deal with was that in the intervening years I had learned and changed. But I guess there is something within us that in spite of growth and learning remains a constant, solid core. I wanted to respect what they were and bring them to their full promise. I have now given them my all and they are complete. I will wait a few days and then hang them in my studio and look them over. I am a harsh and demanding critic and I usually ask of myself something more than I am capable of. But I will be gentle with these works as they are from somebody I used to be and I am kind of attached to her.

The image at the top of this post is the Yaddo studio where composer Aaron Copland worked during his residency. The image below is of the studio I was in during my stay with some beginnings on the wall.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More About Painting

Painting is the concern of this blog though admittedly I do stray often. My readers will discover, if they haven’t already, that there are certain themes I will go back to and never finish with. Aging is one of those and that will continue to be of interest to me until I croak, assuming that I remain in writing fitness until my day comes. Art in general is another; today, it will be the visual, two-dimensional variety that inspires the words.

Abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell said: “Painting consists of pieces of cloth tacked to some boards and then defaced by means of colored grease applied with a stick with hairs tied to its end”. Wikipedia is more respectful and less narrow of definition: “Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface.”

An article in a recent Art in America stated:  “Many contemporary artists are more interested in making arguments than delighting the eye.” That is not what I’m talking about here as that is not my cup of tea. The article goes on to say: “Visual attributes aren’t intended to be the works’ prime considerations, let alone their exclusive reason for being”. Well, I don’t know about the exclusive part, but remove the negatives and you will have my bias. I would leave the arguments to those who use words. Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that there are some works engraved in my memory cells that are spirited statements about our human history. But the paintings I have in mind, Goya’s Tres de Mayo, for example, are so well painted that they could be about birthday parties and still be great. Well, okay, maybe not so memorable. 

Some painters pursue a vision, others let their process lead the way. The artist’s “style” will develop as he/she struggles with the intent or the medium. We’re different from each other; a painting by one person’s hand can usually be distinguished from that of another (unless we are consciously imitating or copying). Just as we can recognize composers by their sound. Amazing isn’t it? So many unique looks and sounds? Humans are like snowflakes, no two alike. And if you ask a dog, we don’t smell alike either.

What heightens these differences for painters are the choices they make. Some of the non-tangible tools the artist might employ to project her vision onto a surface are line or drawing and color, which may or may not be an important factor. Then there is the composition which, when I was at school, was about having a “center of interest” and being sure to repeat certain elements and absolutely avoiding tangential lines or shapes that just touch at their edges. I hope that sort of teaching is passé now. The painter might also use texture, as did Van Gogh, or pattern, as did Bonnard and Matisse. There’s a lot to choose from. And now there is the advent of technology in art which has me hooked.

I could go on. And on. And I will. I have been told that you, dear reader, will balk at a long essay. My friend Richard said something like “We spend our time alone making marks on canvas or paper. What nonsense.”  I too have some doubts. Life is short. And now I’m spending some of it at writing this blog. 

The image above is Eden, 2009,  50 x 38" Acrylic & Mixed Media Collage on Etching Paper. For information about any of the paintings seen on this site please email Joan

Friday, December 10, 2010

About Cruelty

As I replied to Gordon Inkeles’ comment to last week’s blog post (see it below) I thought of how different we are from each other and how much alike. What came to mind for differences was that some of us are capable of inflicting great cruelty on others. My recent reading about the reign of King Henry VIII included vivid descriptions of persons, men and women, young and old, being burned at the stake before a crowd of witnesses. I like to think that the arts reside at the other end of the spectrum of human behavior. For there we divulge who we are, how we think, feel, see, and in general make ourselves visible and vulnerable. I wonder about some of the poetry I have read  in which a most personal and hidden interior place or vision is exposed to the scrutiny of strangers.

I had an experience once, long ago, in which my life was threatened by somebody who looked as if he didn’t understand my reaction to him. How could he not know I was terrified? I was screaming bloody murder. I later cast about for an understanding of this lack of empathy. I had struggled with that question from the time I saw photos taken in the camps of the Holocaust when I was ten years old. A Vietnam veteran answered the question for me in a way that I could understand. He explained that those who are severely mistreated have to numb themselves to their own pain and thus are lacking in compassion. How sad.

The why of art for the artist must be to provide the self with balance or harmony as he or she has control over words, or lines and colors, or the shadows in a photo. When I hear speak of the agony suffered during a creative undertaking, I think: “Uh,oh. There’s somebody who wants perfection.” Well, why not? Surely it’s worth a try.  How very many ways we have found to make things to satisfy the compulsion to produce something to our own design. The very act of creating something can be sublime because there, at least there, it can be just how it should be, just how we want it. Often it’s as close to perfection as one can get to in the moment. A real blessing. 

The image above is Seasons, made and sold in 1996. Mixed media on paper mounted on canvas, 23” x 68”. For inquiries or to purchase a painting shown on this site, please email Joan. Remember you can also purchase a print at my Etsy site with ease.

Friday, December 3, 2010

About Being Critical

Alexander Pope famously said, in his Essay on Criticism, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.

Well, as wise as that advice is, my thoughts have turned critical. This was provoked yesterday when I delivered a work of mine to a local group show and was sorely dismayed by the quality of work that I saw leaning against the wall of the exhibition room. The spectacle caused me a moment of concern as in art as everywhere else, we are judged by the company we keep. If this sounds shallow and superficial, remember that visual art is totally about appearances. 

Art does not suffer mediocrity well. While I have definite and clear preferences, even prejudices, when it comes to painting, I respect a job well done in any mode. The vision may vary, the medium can be any, but the craft must be finely honed. (Here I have paraphrased friend and fine painter, Tina Rousselot.)  

I have entered into this topic with some trepidation as I live amongst people who are careful to be discreet about panning an artist’s work. I don’t know if this is true for all of the rural areas of California but it was not so when I lived in big cities. Those populations seem to be more willing to reject a poorly made work. Here I have remained seated while an audience around me has stood to give an ovation to a theater production that was shamefully bad. The defense of this approbation is  “they worked so hard!”. Well, too bad. That’s not enough to make me want to pay for that sort of performance and then have to sit through it. No, thank you.

The aforementioned exhibition was juried, a detail I had forgotten. The juror, who obviously had some preferences of his own (and possibly a few prejudices) made his selection. From what I know of the work of those on the list of the accepted, this show will look good. I would not discourage the budding artist but I believe we do him/her a disservice by applauding a poor effort. As the French satiric moralist Jean de La Bruyere said: “There are certain things in which mediocrity is intolerable: poetry, music, painting, public eloquence.”

The image above is History 004, 2010, digital painting, size varies. It is a work in progress as I still haven't gotten the green area on the left quite right. To read about the giclée process and this series, or to purchase an original digital print, CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 26, 2010

About Choices

Last week I mentioned Nicole Krausse, author of Great House. In an interview on NPR, she speaks of the willful uncertainty she struggles to maintain as she writes, and which she instills in her characters. “I think the characters in this book are struggling,” she says — “and yet, it is their efforts to escape their solitude that makes them most alive.”

M. Scott Peck declares “life is difficult” in The Road Less Traveled. Why then choose a life in the arts? We already know that only a small percentage of those who do actually rise above poverty level with their art. Most have to surrender to a day job, teaching if they’re prepared for it and lucky, or something totally unrelated to their natural inclinations. My own experience of that evolved into feelings of self-betrayal. That sounds rather dramatic, even to me as I write, but I’ll stay with it. I was living a life that wasn’t mine. More drama there, I know. Krause says of her characters: "All of them are dissatisfied with that alienation or that isolation that they feel. They all quite desperately would like to be known, would like to be seen and understood, would like to communicate themselves. I feel the litheness and exhilaration of their effort. The effort to be known and go beyond solitude."

She’s even more dramatic than I am. I don’t think so much of “being known” but more about being who one is, comfortable in the self. I walked out of the life that I was living and took with me only my children. I left the country I had lived in for twenty-four years, an equally long marriage, a good job (I was offered chairmanship of the department when I tendered my resignation), and came back to this country in mid-life, full of fantasies and fears about the choice I was making. There is still some sadness about the comforts abandoned and (hard to admit this) the things I owned. But never anything even remotely like regret. This life I have is replete with uncertainty and struggle. And overflowing with the “litheness and exhilaration” Krausse speaks of.

I try not to get this personal here; I start writing without intending to spiral inward in this way. I wish I were writing fiction because then I would speak of a character that I could design to my specifications. About painting, I wonder: “Does anyone see what I see?” And about the roads we take, “What reasons are there for choosing the more arduous one?”

The image above is Pulse, ©2008, Acrylic and Mixed Media Collage on Museum Board. For those who missed my open studio, remember that it is easy to purchase a fine print at my Etsy site, or if you are in the area, call to make an appointment for a studio visit.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

About Aging

Growing old is never far from my thoughts. I touched on the subject before in About the Aging Artist.  I continue to observe the process with curiosity, some grief and very little resignation.

Aging is about losing the person one was, trying to rise above it and at the same time conceal it. Concealing it is necessary because we don’t want to be treated as less than before. As a female, and now an elderly one in this culture, I find I have to make an effort to stand taller and speak louder to be sure that my presence is noted. Aging with dignity is the goal. And keeping as much of oneself as can be preserved without too much effort. There’s a lot of instruction available for the upkeep of brain and body. I have never been fond of crossword puzzles and I abhor exercise. Always have. The half hour exercise video that I force myself to do is like taking the cod liver oil that was popular in my childhood.

I am grateful beyond measure that the part of me that paints doesn’t deteriorate. It flourishes and brings me more joy and solace than ever. Would that my memory were surviving in similar fashion. I’ve never been good with numbers and now I bless my little calculator, for without it my checkbook would be a hellish mess. I don’t even want to think about enduring only to experience a loss of independence. I scrutinize with great interest the lifestyles of those who grow old with grace and with their faculties intact. The trouble with that is that everyone does it differently which brings in the question of genetic heritage. Well, we do the best we can. Golden age, my foot.

I think my reason for examining this chapter of life so closely is that it provides some vague sense of control. That’s all, just a vague sense. Time marches on, do what we will. I still remember seeing Lost Horizons, the Ronald Colman version, made in 1937. When he takes the woman he loves away from Shangri La, where nobody grows old, she fades away in an instant. Very sad.

The Image above, Sunlight Factored, is one of a series made and sold in 1992.  Mixed Media on Paper Mounted on Board, 54” x 38”. For inquiries or to purchase a painting shown on this site, please email Joan. Remember you can also purchase a print at my Etsy site with ease.

Friday, November 12, 2010

About Abstraction Again

"To abstract is to trade a loss of reality for a gain in control."

James Moffett
, The author of the quote, a teacher and scholar, is speaking of abstraction as less than real. My dictionary defines abstraction thusly: “existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence”. That led me to thinking that abstraction in visual art is in fact real, not an abstraction at all. It is usually made of solid materials that can be seen, photographed, touched  (not in a museum of course; my daughter once caused alarms to go off at the Metropolitan). Abstract thought is a horse of a different color. But, of course, it can usually be written. Along with most other kinds of thought.

The kind of work I do, abstract, minimal, color-field — call it what you will, has far fewer fans than landscape, still life or other forms of representational art. It is for that reason that I write about it. I believe that we, myself included, form an idea early on, of what a painting looks like. It was difficult for me to break away from those confines. The later learning about “foreground and background” and “negative space” were obstacles in the path I needed to take to be able to make a painting about — here I have to stop and think. A painting about what?  My paintings or those of other artists whose work I love, what are they about? Shape, color, paint, texture: not particularly interesting. Put them together to realize some intention of the mind’s eye and, voila! an object that can move us to tears of joy or sadness, or delight our senses. How does that happen? Damned if I know. But it is the artist that we meet when we hear or read or see the results of his/her labors.

I am reading Great House now by Nicole Krauss. There’s a monologue of an aging father imagining himself speaking to his alienated middle-aged son; it puts emotional pain into words that can be felt intensely. When my children were small, we had on the dining room wall Little Girl in Blue, a sad-faced child by painter  Amadeo Modigliani . When I was away for a teachers’ conference Barbara was heard to say, wistfully: “Her mother is in MIami.” I don't know why we choose to feel all that. Maybe because feeling anything is how we know that we are alive.

Well, there, I did it again. Just got carried away. I apologize to those who prefer shorter readings. I will mend my ways. In the meantime feel free to stop anywhere. And to those of you who stay with me, much obliged. I enjoy the company.

To close, here’s Garrison Keillor: “I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.”

The image above is History 001, 2010, giclée print, size varies. To read about the giclée process and this series, or to purchase an original giclée print, CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 5, 2010

About the Materials of Art

Last week a reader left this question for me: "If you create a work like this on paper, why do you then mount it on canvas (rather than some kind of board)? Or: if you mount paper on canvas and then create the artwork, why do you bother with the paper?"

The answer is that I like to work with paper and do not like canvas. Paper is responsive, it lends its character to the mediums applied to it. I find canvas inert and devoid of personality. But adhering the finished work on paper to canvas makes the final version more durable and gives the flimsy papers I prefer to use a certain dignity and presence. I work mostly in collage fashion and need a support on which I can assemble the separate elements. For small works I use some non-flexible paper boards or masonite type surfaces. But larger works are best rolled for shipping to galleries or to the consultants who sell for me. They can then be stretched and framed without glass or plexiglass as the finished work has a strong acrylic surface that does not need cover. In short, the reasons are both aesthetic and practical.

Once, at a gallery reception, the director called me over to meet a couple who had just purchased a large painting. As we chatted, the lady who was staring at the painting, gasped and asked: “What’s that?” In the seconds that it took for me to locate the source of her horror, I had nightmarish visions of the many ways a painting could self-destruct. What I saw was a hair from a paintbrush embedded in the paint, which I quickly explained and the lady was greatly relieved. Let me tell you, I do everything in my power to avoid the embarrassment of learning that a work of mine has failed to pass the test of time. I would have betrayed the gallery that sold it, the collector who bought it, and most of all, myself.

The image above was made from the same group of works made in the seventies using inks of fugitive color described in About Memory. It is History-019, ©1976-2010 giclée print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, October 29, 2010

About the Kindness of Strangers

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. …” — Blanche DuBois’ words in Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire.The phrase has been floating in my head for a while.

I recently had occasion to communicate with strangers. I was tempted to join an online gallery which requires an upfront fee from the artists it represents. I am, in principle, opposed to such charges. Galleries usually take fifty per cent of the sale price of the art they sell. The artist accepts that contract for many reasons, mostly because most of us do not want to engage in the business of selling art. And most of us have little ability as salespersons. The gallery, if it is doing its job, promotes our work and exhibits it. They often take care of designing, printing and mailing announcements and doing the framing. The director of the gallery I worked with in Seattle spent hours on the phone, calling clients to invite them personally to the opening reception, advising them that “the artist” would be present. The artist had only to dress up and appear to find wine being served, hors d’oeuvres set out and a crowd assembling. The gallery has employee salaries to pay and overhead. Good galleries do all this and more. They earn their commission.

The online gallery in question seemed to do a good job of promotion but I knew little else about it. I reviewed the site to find artists whose vision was akin to mine and whose prices were in line with my own. Then I sent a number of these strangers an email inquiry about what their experience had been with this company. Of sixteen emailed inquiries, I received sixteen responses telling me more than I needed to know and in many cases wishing me well with the venture. Many had visited my web site and included nice words about my work. How lovely. I was regaled with the kindness of strangers.

The general opinion was to recommend the site. Most had good things to say about it, a few hadn’t had much luck but nobody was critical. I will go for it.

The Image above is August, ©1995,  Mixed Media on Paper Mounted on Canvas, 48" x 17", exhibited and sold in 1995 by the gallery described above.

Friday, October 22, 2010

About Artist Prints

The tradition of artists making prints: etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, silk-screen and such, reaches  far back into art history and up to the twenty-first century.  Goya’s Caprichos, made in the eighteenth century, are aquatints, a process in use from about 1650. Albrecht Durer was an engraver in the fifteenth century. We also have drypoint, mezzotint and monotypes. And now we have the phenomenal advent of print by inkjet. I have a vested interest in promoting this process as, I might have mentioned before, I am hooked on it. But I have seen that it does not yet get the respect that I would like it to inspire. 

Today I will describe the process which produced the image above, an original print. Original because it exists (as do some of the other giclées I have exhibited here) only as a print. It is a lengthy, meticulous and expensive (the archival inks) operation which I revel in. So, in a rather large nutshell, I started with three of the Memory series that I described a blog or two ago. I took the flower shape from one; it was red in the original scan. The large red area came from another of these scanned old works, originally a flat opaque red on the top part of the scan. The pale pink area came from a finished piece in which I had achieved the desired degree of light. I made adjustments for contrast and scale, placement, saturation and color balance. The separate elements are arranged collage fashion, an operation for which Photoshop is well qualified. I have been working on this image for several days and will now start printing, making “proofs”, until I get the color and visible texture and interest as I want them.

I learned at school that editions were limited and each print numbered because the metal plate or wood block, or silk or whatever the print was made from deteriorated with use, making the first prints of finest quality. It seems that limiting prints done by the giclée or photographic method is about valuation or pricing. A case in point: Condé Nast is publishing a great  old photo from Vogue magazine for $2050, edition of ten. And this:  Recent auctions of giclee prints have fetched $10,800 for Annie Leibovitz, $9,600 for Chuck Close, and $22,800 for Wolfgang Tillmans.  April, 2004, Photographs, at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York. Limiting the editions in these cases keeps the price up and resale more profitable. My editions are limited because I want to go on to the next work when one has become all it can be. I print more on request but since even my collectors are interested in the next newer work, editions remain small. Numbering is an artificial embellishment; kind of silly, don’t you think? There is no deterioration of the giclée and the number printed is small by the very nature of the process.
I tried to keep this short, but got carried away again. Thanks for reading.
The image above is Red Blue Memory, 2010, giclée print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.
More information and an explanation of the term “giclée” can be found at: About Giclee Prints

Descriptions of the print processes mentioned above can be found at can be found at "P" | Subject Index | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, October 15, 2010

About the Ivory Tower

A recent email brought this query: I am interested in your opinion on selling art commercially. That is such a touchy subject for me because I was always led to believe that marketing your work and promoting yourself in any kind of a commercial way was not "really how it was supposed to happen".

Why not? What begets this sort of thinking? Is art-making not an honest trade? Painting, writing, composing not honest work? Is the artist so above ordinary mortals that she has none of the basic human needs? Not the artists I know. Most have healthy appetites, like to be warm in winter and usually even want to own some kind of vehicle. Are these needs filled by some manna streaming down from the heavens? Somebody on a yacht in the Mediterranean who sends this note: “Paint; be happy”? (My personal fantasy.)

The Ivory Tower does not come replete with bed and board or money for the purchase of materials. Franz Schubert couldn’t afford a piano. Vincent Van Gogh needed his supportive brother. I replied to my friend: “not selling art is wholly unrealistic. Certain luminaries of the arts, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Beethoven, Mozart, amongst many, many others, sold their work and supported themselves that way”. They exchanged their work for the cold, hard cash that would enable them to go on doing what they did. If I put myself in their shoes (maybe have to stretch a bit), I know the issue is about how continue with the work one wants to do. Besides, if you are a visual artist, you might find yourself with a storage problem. Your friends and relatives might refuse to take any more of your gifts. Now wouldn’t that be disheartening? Let’s not forget the validation inherent in a total stranger whipping out his checkbook to buy a very personal vision, one that you were not comfortable exhibiting. It hurts to be ignored. It does not hurt to get paid for one’s efforts.

Well, I guess I have said what I think. Thanks for reading.

The image above is from a series created in 2002 called “Birthdays”. Mixed Media/Digital Image Collage on Tyvek, 8.25" x 33”. For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, October 8, 2010

About the Blesssings

I don’t need to be reminded to count my blessings. It seems miraculous to have raised four children who developed into good people in good health with good lives. To have never experienced real hunger, or war at first hand. My life as the lives of most of those I know has been free of major tragedy. I just knocked on wood. Learned that from my mother whose beliefs must have come from her mother and the "old country". I don’t believe any of it but I knock, just in case.

I’m coming to the end of Wolf Hall, a historical novel that tracks the life of Thomas Cromwell in the time of King Henry the Eighth. The brutality of that reign and age is stupefying. The book is well researched; as I read I go to the web to investigate the characters and events and nothing in documented history has been embroidered on. I have had to skip over pages where another person was being burned at the stake or subjected to an even more horrifying ultimate agony. Too well written, too much information. One wonders how such cruelty could or can be countenanced.

We can choose not to believe what we see in a movie; it’s a movie. But this is our history. So I am grateful to have been born in this time, in this place, grateful for modern medicine (they bled sick people back then), and happy to have a computer and the internet. And let me not forget painting, a major blessing which provides solace and balance in this good life.

The image above is from a series created in 2002 called “Blessings”. Mixed Media/Digital Image Collage on Tyvek, 10.75" x 33”. For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.

Please note that at your right, on this blog, is the door to my new Etsy shop. I have five of my new giclées there and will be adding more as I make them. I invite you to click and visit, and if so inspired, leave me a comment here. I really like hearing from my readers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

About Enhancement

The image on the left is a fine scan of an original, painted more than thirty years ago. It is completely faithful in color and detail. The image on the right is the giclée I am making of it using Photoshop as my tool. 

I started using Photoshop ten years ago; reluctantly, I might add. A friend insisted that I see it demonstrated in a classroom. And so I fell, head over heels. Now it seems that my studio materials, paint, pastels, pencils and such, take me only partway to the vision I hold. Photoshop takes it further. It is a huge application and while I have dedicated many hours to learning it, much more remains to be digested. It endlessly fascinating and rewarding, an artist’s tool deluxe. There are other applications for painting using computer technology; they all have their devotees.

The visual artist often clings to a vision far beyond her capacity to realize. The vision may evolve; in my case it has become simpler in format and more complex in color. It is still beyond my grasp but I am grateful to have the tools technology has provided.

By the way, the image on the right is unfinished; it might appear here again when it comes up to snuff.

Go to Media Arts and Technology to see what comes of marrying the arts to technology at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Friday, September 24, 2010

About Memory

Interesting, isn’t it, the ways in which scenes from the past can be brought to mind? They can be revisited suddenly and surprisingly because of a bit of music or an odor or maybe a picture. Recently, I heard again the voice of my late ex-husband when I encountered some lines of a love poem he recited to me on occasion. He has been gone these many years but might have been speaking in the same room.

I came across the image above when I looked into an ancient leather portfolio of mine, thinking I might use it to take some work to the next town for an exhibit. The image was, or rather is, part of a group of paintings I made more than thirty-two years ago. That was one year before I returned to this country after living away for twenty-four years. They are small paintings, done on watercolor paper with intensely colored inks. The inks were a pleasure to use; they had a glow to them that came from some sort of shellac. Unfortunately, in spite of being made by a very reputable manufacturer, the colors were and still are, fugitive. So the little paintings have resided in the portfolio to keep them from fading. I realized yesterday, when I rediscovered them, that now I have powers unknown to me when I made them. I can scan them and print them. Not only that, I have learned enough in the intervening years that I can upgrade and refine them as I take them through my computer.

The memory that came with them was of sitting in that dining room, working on the table. I had no studio then and took advantage of the quiet while the kids were at school. I saw again the furniture, felt my feet on the rug, and looked from there into my kitchen. It was another life; the family was whole, together.  That past that is gone and always present.

Isabel Allende, who suffered some immense losses, said: “I finally understood what life is about;  it is about losing everything. Losing the baby who becomes a child, the child who becomes an adult, like the trees lose their leaves. So every morning we must celebrate what we have.”

The image above is History-002, ©1976-2010 giclée print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.

Please note that at your right, on this blog, is the door to my new Etsy shop. I have five of my new giclées there and will be adding more as I make them. I invite you to click and visit, and if so inspired, leave me a comment here. I really like hearing from my readers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

About Being Engaged

I toyed with writing about “meaning” in art. I think of meaning in art as the use of a visual format or words to raise awareness about injustice or some other nightmare on earth: genocide, hunger, global warming are some of the darker issues. These issues have been dealt with well in all kinds of ways. At best, a call to action is inspired or at the very least awareness is raised.

In this part of the world that we live in it would be hard not to be conscious of these realities. Tell me how to not know for a while and I might opt for an occasional vacation from the real world. Irvin Yalom’s book, Love’s Executioner, speaks of the anxieties caused by the four “givens”: death, isolation, groundlessness, and meaninglessness. He offers a choice of certain stances: to be “resolute” or “engaged”, or courageously defiant, or stoically accepting, or to relinquish rationality and, in awe and mystery to place one’s trust in the providence of the Divine.”

James Sage reviewing the book, says “Existence pain is the kind of pain that is "always there, whirring continuously just beneath the membrane of life”. The choice of the artist is to be engaged which is like taking that vacation from reality that I mentioned above. Giving oneself over to work is how many of us make our lives good. I would like to think I put some of that respite into my paintings and that it remains there for the beholder.

The image above is Red-Blue ©2010,  Giclée Print,  size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

About Self Promotion

When I was a little girl, the consensus amongst my peers was that if you seemed to think highly of yourself, you were “conceited”. Not a good thing.

Today we are urged to bring our self-esteem to some sort of optimum level. Artists and others who depend on the general (or some segment thereof) public to fall under their spell, are required to “promote” themselves. If you have already achieved some sort of notoriety you might have the great good fortune of having a professional shouting your name. Otherwise you put aside the constraints of decorum and look for ways to be more appealing and to capture attention. Some of us go to interesting lengths to make our mark. Legend has it that Julian Schnabel mailed a sandwich enclosing slides of his work when he applied to the Whitney Museum’s independent study program. It worked. Brilliant move on the part of somebody who knows a thing or two about advertising.

But for most of us there is a struggle between who we are, which is often shy and happy to lurk in the shadows, and the need to invent some more attractive “persona”. Whatever that means. At the reception for my first solo show in 1979, I was told by the gallery director not to speak of my work as I did. I don’t recall what I said except that it was something about how I made the work and it was the truth. I had moved into a world where I was going to have to censor myself. Or look for another gallery in search of more freedom of speech.

Many years later we put ourselves on Facebook, send out Tweets, Link to those who might help us form a network of business connections. There are more ways than ever to solicit notice. But singing one’s own praises has not gotten easier.

The image above is Forfeit, ©2001 Acrylic on Paper Adhered to Canvas, 7.5 x 25.5". For information or to purchase any of the images on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, September 3, 2010

About Persistence

My dictionary defines persistence as something like hanging in no matter what the cost. Perseverance, a more substantial word, the same. Move ahead despite the toll taken.

Those words describe heroes. People who act at great sacrifice to themselves to achieve some greater good. I saw a lot of movies on that theme when I was growing up. They seem less popular now. Our culture is less romantic than it used to be.

Synonyms for stubbornness, on the other hand, are negative terms: obstinate, willful, pig-headed. Maybe your dictionary is kinder. 

I am working on a second blog site; this new one will be dedicated to the giclées that I’m having such a good time with now. I plan to link it to this blog and to my web site and use it for sales of these creations. I’m trying to set it up using WordPress instead of Blogger (which is how this one works). WordPress is elegant and flexible and all-around appealing to me. But I’m having one helluva time learning to use it.

So some days I see myself as persistent, and when I tire, stubborn and intransigent. Why not surrender to defeat and choose something easier? Sometimes being tenacious is a blessing, other times a curse. I had a terrible job once that I took to tide me over during a difficult time. I realized one day as I was showing up for work that I could see myself as a victim or as a hero. My choice. 

Calvin Coolidge provides solace: Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

The image above is Yellow-Green ©2010,  Giclée Print,  size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, August 27, 2010

About Appearances

Of our senses, I believe we are most impressed by how things look. It’s certainly true for me but I’m bracing myself for argument in favor of our other sensations.

We can see farther then we can smell, taste, touch and usually, hear. The biggest sight my eyes have taken in is of the Grand Canyon. I have seen mountains which might have been greater in some dimension but that canyon was more impressive in its proportions than any— possibly because more could be encompassed by one’s vision closer up.

I grew up hearing about how beauty is skin deep and that appearances are deceptive. And yet how much poetry has been written lamenting the temporal and fleeting nature of beautiful youth? And to the glory of flowers that artists have sought to keep from fading by painting still lifes, some more beautiful even than their subjects. Painting is about appearances and about illusion. It occurs to me that it is the arrogant artist who instead of trying to paint from nature and maybe improve upon it as many have done, she invents beauty from scratch. Or maybe not. Richard Diebenkorn took abstractions from views of Ocean Park, California. And Sean Scully seems fond of the facades of small buildings. There are also those whose intent is other than beauty but that is not my realm. No, I’ll stay with Oscar Wilde who said: “Beauty is the wonder of wonders … It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

The image above is Marigold ©2005, 12” x 48”, Acrylic & Mixed Media Collage on Archival Board

Friday, August 20, 2010

About Obsessive Behavior

Jonathan Franzen, the novelist, was quoted in the Time magazine, August 23 cover article: “There were a couple of years when I could enjoy blowing off a workday and going bird-watching,” he says, “followed by some years in which I came to realize that because my purpose on earth is to write novels, I am actually freer when I am chained to a project; freer from guilt, anxiety, boredom, anger, purposelessness.”

He describes it simply and well; it hit home. I am embarrassed sometimes by my reluctance, often inability, to take time off. I would rather work. I suspect it will appear that I want to seem virtuous. Not at all, quite the contrary. It is a completely selfish dedication to doing what gives me peace. I learned about how it feels to be totally delivered unto the task at hand when I was seventeen years old and I was carving an unborn child from marble. See About the Bliss of Art for that story. Now in my waning years this compelling focus delivers me from the slings and arrows of the day. I read the newspaper in the morning and am endlessly amazed by the constant reports of misery and tragedy. It is difficult to ignore the lives of others. Of course, there is too, always the threat of disaster striking close. And in a not terribly eventful and blessed life as mine there are lists of things to do, calls to make, obligations one is remiss in dealing with.

But, oh the joy of submerging into the struggle of a painting! This blue here? That line more prominent? More space between these elements? Decisions requiring attention, problems that have a solution because they are about choices I can make. I am in charge. It matters little that I often grapple to weariness to get it all right. It is not about life or death. It is about just my life.

The image above is Yellow-Green ©2010,  Giclée Print,  size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, August 13, 2010

About the Rewards of Art

What does anyone want from a painting? Why do large numbers of people stare at them in museums and galleries? I make them so I owe it to myself to answer the question and to look into my own reasons for looking at paintings. Now in addition to seeing them in buildings, I search them out on the web. Of course the immediate answer is that I learn by looking at how someone else did it.

The question came up for me yesterday when I saw this at Alyson Stanfield’s web site: Matisse said art should be “something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I find that respite in some paintings, an oasis of serenity to sink into. Monet and Bonnard come to mind. Sometimes a painted work brings a smile, not of humor perceived, but rather of pleasure felt. I think Howard Hodgkins or Sean Scully, both makers of beautiful paintings. Some works are disturbing and bring pain as do Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Tres de Mayo. Richard Diebenkorn provides the thrill of seeing what a sharp intelligence can do to turn paint and canvas into an object of splendor. The greatest reward for me is an immediate feeling of recognition, as in: “Ah, yes, I know”. That is the moment that the artist and I have met.

I like to visit museums alone. I need to keep the dialogue between my self and the artist. I have a dear friend who knows far more about art and art history than I can hold in my brain and who often accompanies me to museums. I am happiest when he refrains from explaining symbolisms and references. What care I if the message I get was not intended? It is for myself that I visit the art, not for the artist.

Friday, August 6, 2010

About the Rules

Thinking about rules today, I would like to think I make my own. I guess I do, some of them anyway. About when and how often to brush my teeth, do my laundry, do the exercise video. We learn in childhood to say please and thank you, knock before entering, stand up straight. There weren’t many rules in my home so I found them elsewhere. I took them from the novels for girls that I read and almost memorized all of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette. Rules save you from getting into trouble and keep things running smoothly. It helps to know which ones you can break with impunity.

We learned some rules when I studied painting which I try to forget. There was the one about if you use a color somewhere in a painting, you must repeat it elsewhere in the same painting. A composition must, absolutely must, have a “center of interest”. No tangential lines or shapes allowed. Negative spaces must be as important as positive spaces. (What if you have neither?)

Here are some we learned that we have now been given permission to ignore: 8 Rules of Painting You SHOULDN’T Live By (and Why). For those we are told NOT to ignore (basically the same as the previous group), see The main rules of composition.

After years of straining to shed these rules in order to approach my work with a clean mind and eye, the rule that I keep with me is the one that serves me well. It is “Trust your process”. I heard that from a psychologist who wasn’t talking about painting. Still, to stay safe, it’s good to know what the rules are before flouting them.

I think I have broken several rules of grammar here.

Mark Twain: It is a good idea to obey all the rules when you're young just so you'll have the strength to break them when you're old.

The Image above is Poise ©2010, Giclée Print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.