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.