Friday, August 26, 2011

About Retiring

Recently my policeman son brought a group of his friends to my studio for a visit. None of these people have had much experience with the kind of art I do and probably little of any other variety. This small crowd had brought a couple of bottles of wine and some munchies and as we sat and chattered afterwards, one of my guests surprised me with: "Your paintings make me happy." 

After my last blog post I got a number of appreciative comments. (I love getting those and always reply to them, by the way.) And then this note from a person dear to me: “I read every word of every blog and value your perspective. I'm grateful that you take the time to share your thoughts and I have much respect for them. Thanks for taking the time to reply.”

I can’t give up painting; I need it in too many ways, but I was considering resigning from the blog. I write a first draft on Thursday (about an hour) and polish it on Friday (two, sometimes more, hours) A lot of time for a few paragraphs of unremunerated work. The switch from painting to writing is hard, especially on those days when I have no topic in mind. Then I get into it and it becomes something and it's okay. Other times I feel like I haven't quite said anything real and it's not okay. I am uncomfortable putting something out for all to see when it’s not everything I’d like it to be. But I have been committed to publishing every Friday come rain (often in Humboldt County) or shine (seldom and treasured). 

Life would be easier if I just gave up blog writing. Then I get comments like those above. What I can't give up is that connection that comes through the painting and the writing. I have wondered since childhood if anyone sees as I see. So this operation, at least in part, is a quest for that response. There’s an encounter at a non-rational level, one I don’t understand well enough to describe, but which brings a warm feeling of contentment. I used to put on one of Beethoven’s most dramatic orchestral works at good volume and stomped about saying: “You and me, Ludvig, you and me!”. It’s about connecting, about being appreciated and being heard. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like being appreciated but some of us are suckers for applause. Maybe it’s a kind of gateway drug. Get a little and soon the need escalates and you go on writing the damn blog ad infinitum. And complaining every step of the way, which is how I do a lot of things. While I am actually having a very good time.

The image above is Quartet Six, 6" x 16, Pigment Print on Acid-Free Paper, ©2010. It is more or less what I am attempting to do now in a much larger size. The quartet in progress in the studio is coming along slowly but should be at a highly photographable stage for next weeks blog post.

Friday, August 19, 2011

About the Artist's Unexceptional Life

I’ve been wondering what my topic would be this week. Many of my readers are artists. Many are not. I want to capture the interest of all (in spite of  what Honest Abe said about pleasing all of the people …). I had to think about what I know enough about to be able to speak of. And am I writing for my artist audience or my non-artist readers? Who am I anyway? Am I not both? 

This has been a typical week: a lot of painting which is going well. Some grocery shopping, a little cooking, no housecleaning (only gets done when there’s a dire need for it), some laundry, and much time on the phone with my kids. This morning I will write this blog, do some business stuff, (I’m uploading images of my pigment prints to Visual Art Source and will include a link to that new gallery page when I have it ready). In the evenings I usually watch an hour of something I get from Netflix and then settle into my cherished armchair with the book of the moment. I have thought a lot about what’s happening in Somalia and been horrified on a daily basis by much of what I see in our local newspaper. I will spend some of the weekend scanning and printing small paintings that I plan to use as collage material in current and future studio projects. And I will take some time off to read and probably spend some with the family. On the agenda for next week: painting, and a proposal for an exhibition I would like to have in the year 2014. Plus a repeat of most of the usual.

There are a number of things I’ve neglected to mention but I think I’ve got the bulk of it. That’s it, the fairly ordinary life of a self-employed person. I think it entitles me to write about art or anything that is ordinary. Oh, and I forgot. I do the (minimal) obligatory exercise three times a week with Jane Fonda. Into every life some rain must fall.

In a recent newsletter from painter Robert Genn, he uses these expressions when speaking of the generic artist: a higher calling, a higher path, the sensitive ones who struggle alone, a creative life and a life well lived, the most privileged of all. 

I have included a link to Genn because I have taken him quite out of context. But I have heard and read those terms applied to my ilk and find them unreal. So maybe there are those of us that live on a higher plane than most (Beethoven and Michelangelo?) but mostly we are working for a living and grateful for our ordinary lives.

All of this is my personal bias. Blogging can be wonderfully self-indulgent.

The image above is one of the little (17" x 11") pieces that I’ve scanned for use as collage material. The image below is the current state of the quartet I’m working on. Click on it for a better view. I’m using a variety of materials, mostly acrylic on 35” x 25” panels of heavy etching paper. Stay tuned for further developments.

Friday, August 12, 2011

About a Teacher

The image above is of some of the color samples I use in the studio to help me stay on track. And below is photo of a studio wall today. The quartet in the center of the wall is the major focus. Surrounding it are exercises to play with when the mood strikes. As I move on with the monochromatic paintings, I remember my first painting teacher. It was my second year at Cooper Union and I was eighteen years old. In our first year we did a lot of design: two dimensional, three dimensional and architectural, along with life drawing, sculpture, calligraphy, drawing, aesthetics and history of art. A fairly traditional line-up during the time that we were emulating and revering the abstract expressionists of the fifties. The instructor was John Ferren, a romantic figure just back from a long time in Europe. He had hobnobbed with Picasso, Miro, Kandinsky and Mondrian amongst other stars. We knew nothing of this history; he was our teacher.

He gave us a series of assignments that I am still working on half a century later. After allowing us to get used to the feel of painting in a shared studio environment and instructing those of us new to oil paints (we had used tempera and gouache in first year) he asked us to do a series of paintings, each one based on a primary color: a blue, a red and a yellow. We could push these colors to their limits of variation but no other color was allowed on our canvases. My attachment to the man began one day when totally frustrated with trying to make my red painting sing as I wanted it to, I took a bit of green paper and stuck it into the wet oil painting. Ferren spied this insurgence from the other side of the great studio room and sped towards me ready pour out his wrath. When he saw my prank he said: “Very funny, Gold, take it off.”  Our friendship was cemented one day when a large canvas I was engrossed in toppled from its easel onto my head. John Ferren gave me a turpentine shampoo along with advice about keeping my wits about me even when I painted. It was he who wrote the recommendation that was a strong part of the fellowship application that sent me to Latin America and set me on the course my life would take.

That's us, ever so long ago. I still think of him with great affection; he is one of those people that I would like to meet again and share a bottle of wine with. I would tell him about how that long ago assignment so intrigued me because I never got it quite right. This time I will put a bit of green into my red painting. I don’t have to follow the rules any more. And from what I read about him now, he never did.

Friday, August 5, 2011

About Beautiful

I am at the beginning of a new series of paintings and am deliberating about how to do them. I plan to make panels of color that will be hung together in groups of three, four or five. There will be a red panel and a blue panel and an orange panel, the whole rainbow. As many and as different as I have the time and energy to paint. The challenge is to keep them as simple as I envision them and lusciously beautiful at the same time. Their reason to be must be only their ravishing presence.

Beauty comes in an infinite variety of forms and has much to do with time and place and person. I remember as a youngster seeing some of the lingerie of my mother’s trousseau and thinking it unattractive. I found it very lovely some years later. Beauty can be delicate or brash, moving and tender, or heartbreakingly sad. It can be serene and bring peace. Music can evoke all that and more. I want to do it with color. Mark Rothko did it in his way; Pierre Bonnard in his. I have been looking at the work of artists (too many to name here) who have used color in some magnificent way, everyone different and lovely. Now I will do mine.

I have been warming to the project by making the small color panels seen in the photo above. I must have made a hundred in the last week. They take lots of layers, several different materials in addition to the acrylic paint and require a kind of “back and forth” process. They are for practice and I am using them as interim work and will go back to them when I get too serious about the larger pieces.

These are the beginnings:
I will upload photos now and then as they progress, maybe even including the times that they look awful and I am stumbling in my path. There are thirty-one of these panels in four different fairly large sizes.

As I said in a recent note to a friend, I never quite reach my objective in terms of drop-dead gorgeous color, but it doesn’t matter. This is more about the quest itself than it is about reaching goals. What matters is doing it. In the long run it doesn’t matter how successful the work is by anybody’s lights. There is, however, a reward in the paintings themselves. When finally hung together in carefully orchestrated groups, they will have some of the joy that I felt while making them. And that will be enough. Until the next round.

John Kenneth Galbraith: There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.