Friday, September 30, 2011

About What I See

Does anyone see what I see? Does anyone care? Should they? You can’t eat it or use it to clothe or shelter yourself. How can anyone in her right mind make it the reason to get up everyday? 

When I had my first solo show, thirty-three years ago in Caracas, the gallery owner would stop by my little studio occasionally to check on me. He was giving over his beautiful exhibition space to me for a month and I suppose he thought he needed to crack his whip now and then. Actually, he taught painting at the Universidad Central and was the best teacher I ever had. He was able to put aside whatever his own aesthetic preferences were and help me to move ahead in my own direction. I always greeted him with questions somewhat in the vein of those above. And he always repeated these words as he left: “Now stop thinking and paint!”

I’ve just come from the studio where I dove into my red painting again. As I worked I knew exactly what color to put where, how thick or thin, how transparent or opaque and how short or long the stroke. But C├ęsar was right, when I really know what I’m doing, I’m not thinking. I see and I act. Very strange.

I wind up feeling very pleased with myself, very complete after a session like the one I just described. And then I wonder if anyone really cares about whether or not that red comes alive. Maybe nobody sees there what I see. And, of course it could happen that nobody will ever see it. Over my dead body.

The response that I get when a viewer says something to me that means he delights in the color that I have manufactured means a great deal to me. So what is that about? I think it’s a kind of communication. It’s not too much different from preparing some wonderful food and then waiting on the edge of your chair as your guest(s) or family taste, and then tell you how good it is. Makes that time in the kitchen worth every second. There’s a movie about that called Babette’s Feast. Babette was a totally whacky artist whose medium was food.

I have finished the quartet. I will leave it hanging in place for a while in case I see something more it needs. I have already started the next project which is about assembling paper that I painted some months ago. I will adhere it to canvas to make collage paintings. I had a lot of this material on the walls of my office for a long time and not the slightest notion of what to do with it. And then after two days of playing with the stuff I got very clear about how I want the new work to look. Which made me very happy. I am committed to eleven or twelve linear feet of wall in a group exhibition in December and there is a chance that I will be moving home and studio soon. I need to get ready now for that show, just in case.

A long time ago, somebody who did his utmost to discourage me from the path I chose to follow said to me: “You’ll see, you will get tired of painting and then you will see what a mistake this plan of yours is.” I couldn’t know what lay ahead and those words scared me. But the mistake was his.

The image above is of some of the material I am using for my collage operation now. Each color panel measure 17” x 11”. They are usually cut up into separate sections, but not always.

And here below is the Destination Quartet ©2011, finally finished. 35” x 25” each panel, mixed media on heavy etching paper.

From Douglas Adams author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”: “He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

About the Challenges

I think I have raised the red painting from its grave. Red is hard for me. Every time I set out with red as my goal, as the predominant color in a painting, it’s as if I have never done it before. This one started well (they all do) and then I turned it to mud (not unusual). Then I worked and re-worked it and it went from okay to not okay and back again. Very frustrating. The panel must weigh twenty pounds now with all the layers of paint on it.

This morning I was determined to breathe life back into it but really didn’t know where to start. I dawdled and imagined the different routes I could take, looked carefully at some successful reds in a couple of older pieces and then advanced, brush in hand. And voila! I did it! But it is not finished. It has gotten its lights back and now I need to heighten the red. I plan to move ahead this afternoon with great caution. But first I took a photo. Here ’tis: 

It is still not ready. I intensified the red too much. Now I have to backtrack a bit and up the lights again. I am hoping to have it finished next week. It is still a challenge but I’m no longer flummoxed by it. This is its current incarnation: 

The other three members of this group are close to finished. They are far less a battle than the red.

I was more aware then ever last week as I turned the pages of Time magazine of the hardship and trouble all over the world. Page after page about the economy, more memories of 9/11, a hideous fire that took lives in Kenya, a malaria epidemic, and so much more that is awful and sad. A small section of the magazine at the end is given to “Culture”. There we have books, movies, music, the visual arts and more. This issue had an admiring review of an autobiography by film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert lost his jaw to cancer and with it his ability to eat, drink, and speak. He does, however, continue to write, very well it seems. He states his mission:”We must try to contribute joy to the world”.

Time magazine might begin by devoting more pages to it. I hope there is enough human creative energy to keep pace with the blights and maybe provide some kind of equilibrium in our world.

From writer Lois McMaster Bujold: Its important that someone celebrate our existence… People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in.

Please note that I very much appreciate the comments I get about this blog and I always respond them. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

About Exhibiting

This weekend I will review a proposal I have been writing for an exhibition I am planning. I will polish it, choose the images to include with it and then submit the packet to the gallery I have chosen. And then I will try to forget it during the wait for the jury to meet and then to let me know if this plan will become a reality. If you have been following this blog for a while you might remember that a while back I decided to abstain from exhibiting — except for maybe participating in an occasional group show. Exhibitions are expensive, disruptive and unnerving.

So why this change of heart? Well, I don’t always know why I do what I do, but the truth here is that I will be very disappointed if I don’t get this one. I guess it’s mainly about constructing a script to make sense of this life of mine. I get up in the morning, take care of some of the chores and then go out to my studio to work on the current quartet until I tire. I incorporate a lunch and a nap into the plan and it works well. My spirit rises and falls with how well or poorly the work goes. Right now I am happy with three of the panels (see the image below) but the red one is not right yet. I am contemplating a radical intervention.

My usual procedure is to photograph paintings when I finish them and then store them away and market them from the photos. I almost never get to see them after they are finally sold and hung in place, usually in some building on the East coast. That’s mostly okay, but with this project, (and the current quartet is only the beginning), I want the paintings to be seen, and to see them myself in a clean and uncluttered, well lighted space. Otherwise this will be a story with no conclusion. My last big show was in 2008 and it was as I said before, expensive, disruptive and unnerving. And also wonderfully rewarding.

This current series, barely begun, is very close to my heart; I want to expose it to criticism or praise and to take pride in the achievement — assuming I can pull it off fairly close to the vision. I want to know how far I can move in the direction of minimalism and still maintain the interest of those who follow my work. While I cannot adjust to the tastes of my audience the  response to my work is important to me. I can survive censure and applause delights me. I need to mention here that the views on this topic amongst my artist friends varies widely, from those who refuse to exhibit at all, considering it “going commercial” to those who take every possible opportunity to get their work before an audience.

I thought I could be content and make my life easier by forgoing the labor and stress of exhibiting. It hasn’t worked. I have begun to feel invisible. I need to bolster the faith that I feel when I walk through a museum. The respect paid to art, old and new, helps dispel the doubts about what often seems to me to be a selfish and strange path. For after all, I do this for my own pleasure. Maybe the effort of producing a big show is the price I need to pay.

Brendan Gill: Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.

The images above are from a show I had with Humboldt State University’s First Street Gallery in 2008
The image below is the current state of the quartet in progress.

Friday, September 9, 2011

About Changing One's Ways

The image above (Gift ©2000) is a past foray into building a quartet of single-color panels. It is small (8” x 6” each panel) and was assembled from my stock of painted paper. I chose the colors for their capacity to enhance each other. Far easier to do than the current project (see below), which is larger (35” x25” each) and the colors pre-ordained.

My usual approach when I paint is to barge ahead responding to what the painting seems to ask for. But with this new quartet, because I have destined each piece to be a specific color, and for the four panels to work together as a whole, I am forced to modify my operation. I have in mind a specific color for each and cannot let the work lead the way. Ordinarily the outcome I seek is more a quality or a “feel” and is not pre-determined. I rather think I have done my entire life that way, often horrifying and worrying some of my more pragmatic and probably wiser friends and family. I don’t mean to say that I have operated spontaneously, no, not my style. I have been slow and careful about choosing which fork in the road to follow. But my choices have been sort of romantic and impractical, and often with no real consideration of what the future might bring. The truth is that I haven’t always believed that one can count on having a future. Sacrificing today for a secure tomorrow never suited me. I have felt regret at times for some of those choices.

My style of painting has, however, always been impulsive. So much so that it has often happened that a work that started off well has been sent to Hell by a leap in the wrong direction. I have a sad memory of doing that when I was about nineteen years old. Some second year painting students were awarded a two week stay at the school’s camp in the mountains of northern New Jersey. It was my first experience of painting outdoors and I jumped right in with a landscape that was quickly done and full of my young energy. Even I knew it was special. A visiting artist of certain repute and our instructor both praised it. The next time my instructor saw the same landscape, a little further along, his comment was: “Oh my, what have you done?” What I had done was, in my neophyte innocence, thinking it couldn’t have any value as a painting because it was so hastily produced, I overworked it and eradicated its sparkle. That experience left its mark, obviously, as I still lament it all these many years later. And while spontaneity continues to be basic to my work, I have since been a bit more cautious. Which is not to say that I haven’t ruined many a promising beginning.  Fortunately, acrylic paint is forgiving. While you can’t “revert to saved”, you can restart on the same canvas.

There is a story Elmer Bischoff told of the time when he shared a studio with Richard Diebenkorn and David Park. It seems that Park would often overwork his paintings and come up with a something his studio-mates called his “shit surface”. This description so angered Park that he would close himself in the small studio bathroom and emerge some time later with the same painting, reborn and shimmeringly beautiful. And that was before the advent of acrylic paint.

I started to say when I began this post that for the quartet pictured below, I am thinking through each step carefully before laying hand to brush. It was far easier the other way. It was play. Now it’s work.

Oscar Wilde: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”
The image below is the current state of the quartet in progress, 35” x 25” each, mixed media on heavy etching paper. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

About Making Plans

Life got in my way again last week. My plan was to put a transparent layer of yellow on the painting that is destined to be yellow (third from left in the photo below), to inject some lighter areas into the orange one, and to think through what it will take to make the far right one more red without totally losing the interest it has now. The green piece on the left will have to wait a while. It needs to be made more uniform in color and could use some lights. Working on these was my projected immediate future.

But on Friday I got a request for four paintings to be consigned to a consultant in Boston. This is what brings home the bacon and therefor takes priority. My son came to help on Saturday. One of the paintings was a six footer and hard to handle, plus putting four large canvases into a ten inch diameter, six foot tube designed for concrete tubing made a heavy, clumsy package. I needed assistance of the unpaid variety. Because my studio storage system is far less than ideal, unearthing these paintings and then packing them converted my orderly workspace into a shambles. On Monday, when I finally had the energy and courage to face the mess, I realized that I knew what was in the assorted piles of raw materials, half finished work, and collage components, at least in part, because of where I had them placed them on my tables. (The finished paintings lay flat, covered and protected under these masses of matter.) Two days later I had everything in shape and in far better order then before. Today (Thursday) I write the blog and go to the library, farmer’s market and do the errands of the week. Tomorrow, I will work at the business of marketing art and on the weekend, I will do some of the computer work on the collage material I make, one of my favorite activities. And I’ll take some time off, another favorite pursuit. Good week, not completely as planned. Only a little frustrating.

Still, I go on making plans. Adding the time of anticipation expands, extends and enhances something one looks forward to. Care must be taken not to overdo, for there is always the risk of overestimating the success of the plan. Especially if one is fond of scripting the future. Hard to keep in check though. I buy a lottery ticket now and then which gives me permission to fantasize about the studio I would design — with lots of convenient storage space. But when the day comes to check on the winning number, I put it off. It would upset the plan of the day to have to suddenly deal with all that money. Sound crazy? Then you don’t understand that most fantasies are best as fantasies. Reality, in this case, would mean taking my studio apart and then putting it back together again. Don’t even like to think about that (though I may have to soon). Another downside of a win would be the disruption of the painting projects that I am so much involved in now. I hate when that happens because if the pause is a long one the project loses its appeal and must be set aside. That is the history of most of the unfinished work in my studio. Most of it gets done eventually but there is always a sense of loss that is integral to the experience.

On Monday I will paint.

Andre Maurois: The effectiveness of work increases according to geometric progression if there are no interruptions. 
And Lewis Mumford: Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet. 

The image above is an example of the collage material I make: my own painting, scanned and manipulated and then printed to later embed in the paintings.

The image below is the current state of the quartet in progress, 35” x 25” each, mixed media on heavy etching paper.