Friday, May 25, 2012

About Modern Times

I have been making prints to hang in my studio for the weekends of our North Coast Open Studios event. The process is very different from painting but it is equally absorbing and very rewarding. I have friends who are using the iPad now and are smitten with it. Some delightful iPad creations by David Hockney were shown a while back at the Royal Academy of London. And this is but the tip of the incursion of technology into the arena of the “finer arts”. Of course art and technology married long ago when artists had to learn about making their works less vulnerable to self-destruction. The advent of acrylic paint, and all the mediums and possibilities for using materials never before possible that came with it, caused many to turn away from the beloved fragrance of oil paint and its longer drying times. Some, like myself, will always miss its lusciousness but are faithful converts to the marvels of acrylic.

What I do with Adobe’s Photoshop - I need to stop to say here that I still find the telephone a remarkable device. I mean, think of it: lift the receiver, dial and talk to New Zealand. It’s amazing. And I won’t even mention what you can do with a mobile phone these days because I don’t use one and wouldn’t know what I was talking about. But, back to Photoshop. It works magic on the images it touches. I use photos or scans of my paintings and do with them what paint cannot do. There are times when what I want would be better done with paint so it becomes a way of enriching the traditional studio process too. 

I think sometimes about how fortunate I am to be living at this time. I’m sure my parents were happy to be alive at a time when automobiles became widely used and I wonder what our descendants will be grateful for.

The image above is of Charlie Chaplin in the 1936 movie Modern Times as the doofus made crazy by the machinery of his workplace. The image below demonstrates the power of Photoshop to enhance an image.

Somebody (anonymous) evidently not a fan of technology: “Computers let you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.”

And here we have American sociologist and writer, Daniel Bell: “Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

About a Pot of Soup

Writer John Irving quoted in a recent interview in Time magazine: “If you presume to love something, you must love the process of it much more than the finished product.” Well, yes. But therein lies the rub. I would be happy to paint and never finish anything. Resolving a painting, deciding that it is as good as it’s going to get, or that it’s great or that it’s for the trash bin; that’s the hard part.

I love to cook. I like the process so much that it serves as time off for me. I like to be alone and focused and to work at my typical careful and slow pace. I turn putting a soup or stew together into a lovely time away from the cares of the world. In some ways it’s like painting. Except I don’t have a problem with getting the soup to the table in the same way I have with getting a painting to public view. When I was first married any criticism of my cooking would devastate me but I got over that after a while. 

It requires determination and discipline to finish a painting. I think that apart from the pure pleasure of the painting process there’s the factor that my vision for the painting usually goes a bit beyond the reality of my powers. There are those wonderful moments that the work seems to surpass my vision for it and there are a few paintings that seem to have happened sort of magically. But mostly, after some time has gone by, I think I can do better than that about many of them. That’s not a bad thing; it keeps the work moving on and always interesting, but accepting that not every piece of work will be a minor miracle is never going to be easy. So back to the kitchen and another satisfying experience of a pot of soup. And I can eat the finished product.

Wisdom from French painter Maurice Vlaminck: “Good painting is like good cooking; it can be tasted, but not explained.” 

The image above is a new small collage called BlueYellow ©2012, 8.5” x 10.5”, mixed media on paper.

Friday, May 11, 2012

About Hanging an Exhibition

“Viewing art gives the same pleasure as being in love.
The same part of the brain that is excited when you fall for someone romantically is stimulated when you stare at great works of beauty, researchers have discovered.
Viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.
Dopamine and the orbito-frontal cortex are both known to be involved in desire and affection and in invoking pleasurable feelings in the brain.
It is a powerful affect often associated with romantic love and illicit drug taking.
In a series of pioneering brain-mapping experiments, Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, scanned the brains of volunteers as they looked at 28 pictures.”

So begins an article published last year in The Telegraph. I am not convinced in spite of the expertise of the neurobiologists who conducted this study. Niether am I convinced that being in love is such a pleasure. I can remember some misery when in that state.

Yesterday my daughter and I and a good friend hung the show I spoke of last week. Fortunately the helpers were competent, but still it took most of the day to get it done and the effort exhausted us. It’s just one decision after another and a lot of measuring, looking and looking again. And then often making corrections when we didn’t get it right. But the biggest determination is about the whole look of the show; the “gestalt”, one might say (if so inclined). Ideally, the work would be from a particular time period and a single vision, or maybe a retrospective with works carefully chosen to represent of certain periods in an artist’s life (or oeuvre as it is sometimes called). The look I don’t like at all, certainly wrong for me, is that of the work of different people juxtaposed. Some work might be fine in that setting. My work likes to be with others of its own ilk. I like solo shows. I sometimes sound to myself like a prima donna but, okay, that’s how it is. In my studio I hang a painting, even when in progress, so that it is next to something that enhances it. None of this was possible yesterday. I chose for this show some work recently framed, never before exhibited, and some pieces from my studio that I wanted to put before a new audience. Also included were some of the prints I make myself and one of my work done by a professional printer (sometimes called “giclĂ©es”). These were included to provide a wide range of prices. Once out of the studio, it is about business. And I always want to hang as much as the space will allow sometimes to the detriment of the total effect. That's what we had to deal with.

But, it is oh, so important to me that the work look good. So with an eye to causing the viewer to feel as if in love (Who knows, maybe the neurobiologists got it right?) and at the same time wanting the presentation to have a certain dignity and elegance, and maybe a clue to the seriousness of the intent, (whatever that is), we struggled with our difference of opinions and got it done. Tonight we will see how it looks and next month we will have a reception. That will give us time to redo if necessary. That is an unusual perk, doesn’t usually happen this way. Now I’m going to take the weekend off.

I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers amongst my readers.

 Andrew Wyeth said: "To have all your work and to have them along the wall, it's like walking in with no clothes on. It's terrible."
The image above is Coreopsis ©2006, Acrylic and Mixed Media Collage on Archival Board, 11” x 36”, exhibited for the first time in this show and a favorite of mine.

Friday, May 4, 2012

About Soft Structure

I’ve been reading a biography of painter Joan Mitchell and thinking about her painting. Her work was all over the place the last time I was in NYC. There were two gallery shows and a museum retrospective and articles in newspapers and magazines. The paintings, many of them monumental in size, are gorgeous, full of passionate and fiery energy. I find the dark areas in some too dense and cold but that’s a subjective criticism and small flaw to find in such majestic work.

I often find something to take or learn from the paintings of others but when thinking of Mitchell’s I realized that what I want is very different from her kind of startling beauty. I want to paint quietness and order. I want peace, serenity and joy. Which I also want from life. I don’t want excitement or adventure. The challenge is to make the painting something to step into, a place of light and warmth. A place to rest. Well, as I said, it’s a challenge. 

Mitchell’s history in Manhattan preceded my school years there by about ten years but was spent in the same neighborhoods and from the photos I’ve seen she spent some years in the same building my then boyfriend lived and painted in. But that is the only way I feel even slightly connected to her. Our differences have made clear to me the plan for the paintings I am beginning to work on now. I have been moving back and forth between more or less structured paintings. From collaged hard edged works with some architectural drawing as in August Four (below) or softer, more organically inspired works like Bower (also below). The vision of the moment is for a soft structure. I wonder what I will be able to make of that.

So after getting clear about the direction I want to take now, thanks to Joan Mitchell, I am going to lay my brushes aside for a bit to focus on supporting the habit. I will be the artist-in-residence at Plaza , the new business on Arcata's plaza, set to open next week. For those not familiar with this beautiful piece of California, Arcata is ten minutes north of me (in Eureka) and home to Humboldt State University. This new venture means I will have paintings in a periodically revolving exhibition. While the business part of my operation is not where my aptitudes are best employed, I very much want the paintings to be seen and the prospect of showing new work spurs me on. This is the best of all possible worlds.  

August Four ©2011, 16” x 20” Mixed Media 

From writer and Nobel Prize winner Romain Rolland: “It is the artist's business to create sunshine when the sun fails.”

Bower ©2009, 50” x 37” Mixed Media

Andy Warhol was another kind of thinker: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Warhol was unlike any artist I have ever known or read about.