The Necessity of Art

For the past few months, many folks have come up to me offering their condolences for the decline of the art market as the world adjusts to the changing economic climate.

“I’m not surprised really,” they are quick to point out. “It’s not like art is a necessity.” They go on to console me with stories of other businesses beyond those in the unnecessary art-world who are dropping off after years of successful entrepreneurship.

While I would agree that food and shelter are more important, I believe art very much a necessity. The arts are a sensory way to communicate, capable of bringing about social awareness as well as provoking more introspective self-reflection. Art can give hope. It can offer a glimmer of what could be, even in the darkest of circumstances. A reflection that when connected with its intended audience can delve deep to deal with complex issues or simply radiate beauty in places where there may be none otherwise. Art is therapy, providing us another avenue to make sense of our world. It is a personal form of expression that if we were unable to share would make for a very dull world. Now, more than ever, I believe, art is absolutely necessary.

Ode To Yellow

Oh, yellow
She's a picky color
For she only gets along
With about half the others

Look at her wrong
And she’ll turn green
A neutral, sickly hue
Like none you’ve ever seen

But how I love her
When she is most pure
The most vibrant color short of white
A nine, for sure

What's In A Name: Part III

I take into account each element that goes into my paintings, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Sometimes, however, even after careful consideration, it can be difficult to anticipate the impact of a single brushstroke, let alone a signature. I hadn’t really thought about any of this until recently, when it was brought to my attention at a recent event.

Speaking to an audience of thirty-three, I felt confident as the subject matter expert of my own artwork which was displayed around us in the gallery. As I conducted the presentation, several members of the group let it be known they were also artists, or at least dabbled in the arts enough to bring up interesting topics for discussion.

One of the first questions asked was the difference and similarities between oils and other paints, particularly acrylics. I explained how I favored oils because of their drying and chemical properties in addition to their traditional and historical significance. One woman insisted the two were very similar and proceeded to share her knowledge of how she mixed the two on canvas. I clarified that acrylics should be applied first. Mixing the two in any other way causes the paint to warp or flake off entirely, due to the respective drying and chemical properties of each medium.

I continued my presentation, describing my approach to painting. At one point, I explained that I employ all six hues in my work. The woman was perplexed by this and stated there were far more colors than that. I replied that I was referring to the major colors of the spectrum.

When the presentation was over, the group dispersed to privately view the exhibition. I was talking with a friend when my new artist friend approached us.

“Your paintings disturb me,” she interrupted.

I asked her why that was, as the majority of the work shown was from my most recent Interludes Series, depicting solitary musical instruments. I couldn’t imagine what would be so disturbing about them.

“Your signature is too prominent. It gets in the way and destroys the illusion. It ruins the composition and frankly, I don’t like it at all.”

I was stunned by the comment. My signage had made an impact, as she truly appeared upset, but there was little I could do other than hear her out with a smile.

“You are supposed to sign your work on the back of the canvas- never on the front! When artists signed their name on the front, they’d find a rock or some clever place where you can barely see it.”

Really? I thought to myself. Maybe I should just put rocks in all of my paintings. I wanted to find a rock at that very moment… to hide under. What about Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, let alone my instruction back in art school? Though I understood where she was coming from, I found her argument to be a little slanted.

I thanked her for her point of view before she walked away, and continued to discuss the matter further with my friend. Frankly, the whole exchange bothered me. It certainly has never been my intention to allow my signature to detract from the painting itself. My friend brought up an interesting point that really made sense to me. She said I should let my style become my signature. After spending some time since then considering her point of view, in addition to everything else discussed in this blog series, I have come up with a new way to sign my work that I believe successfully integrates this concept with an actual signature on my canvasses. Feel free to ask me about it next time you see me.

On a side note, after the event ended, the group invited me to lunch with them. As luck would have it, my new critic was the only ride available to the restaurant. Once we finished lunch, the group dispersed to head home with their rides. I looked around for mine, but could not find her. I walked down the street where we parked the car to find it conspicuously absent. As I walked home that afternoon, I chuckled to myself, thinking my signature had really offended her that much.

Hustle & Flow

Lately, I have felt utterly stagnant. As the economy dwindles, the impact has diminished my art sales, as I observe consistent confirmations by other artists, dealers and galleries who are feeling the same crunch. A friend of mine just returned from Hawaii, where she told me both the local galleries and restaurants alike had witnessed a 60% decrease in business in the last year. Another friend attended The Armory Show in New York City (a very high-profile art fair) and commented on how quiet attendance was. I recently wrote about the cancellation of The Artist Project in Chicago this year.

Admittedly, the situation has taken a toll on me; it has been a challenge to remain hopeful in the midst of all of this bad news. Never the less, I have been determined to move forward and believe the key in doing so is changing things that are within my control. The first change I have been focusing on is my attitude. Negative thoughts have plagued me for the last year, ultimately causing major anxiety attacks. After I determined anxiety was the root of my problem, I sought to counter it through meditation and have been practicing Vipassana meditation now for the last three months and I cannot begin to tell you how liberating that process has been for me. That alone, however, was not enough for me to make the necessary change.

Vipassana meditation is also referred to as “insight” meditation; becoming aware of your body, thoughts and feelings by quieting your mind of ideas stemming from memory or anticipating the future, thereby becoming fully present. Though I have been successful at calming myself through meditation, the practice by itself has not changed my circumstances and I have continued to fight feelings of dissatisfaction. In spite of the state of the economy, I know I can change my circumstances, but in order to do so, I not only have to think differently, I must act differently. Meditation made it apparent I need to change the way I live my life. As a result, I am more conscious of how I interact with others and how I treat myself, while considering what exactly I am doing to make things better for myself and those around me. Simply becoming conscious of these things, again, was not enough to facilitate change.

For the last two-and-a-half months, I had put off clearing piles of paperwork that accumulated on my office desk over the course of the previous three months. I neglected to put away packed boxes of clothes and belongings since moving in with JQ. I recently realized all of the clutter was only contributing to the stale mood preventing any progress from happening, and I simply couldn’t stand it any longer. So, yesterday, after another sleepless night, I woke up at 4 a.m. and with nothing to do, I started tackling the long list of small things I had procrastinated from doing: I cleaned up my office desk; I put clothes away and threw out boxes; I filed papers; I sent out e-mail correspondence to art partners and job prospects. I took care of the seemingly little things that were within my control. In doing so, my intention was to make space for new energy and a new flow of positive things in my life by doing away with the lifeless clutter I had allowed to weigh me down. I have read about this type of thing before and now it was time to put it to the test.

Later in the day, I met a friend for coffee. I must admit, I thought about cancelling, but I hadn’t seen K in some time and though I felt like I had more pressing things that required my attention, I wanted to honor my commitment. We ended up having a great conversation with many ideas for me to consider regarding my artwork. It was very positive. After our meeting, I went to the studio and had a very inspiring painting session. When I returned home to check my e-mail, I was amazed at what I found. In the last 24 hours, I was offered an interview, an art showing with a potential patron, two additional art contacts and a meeting with somebody interested in helping me sell my work. I hardly think this is all a coincidence. I feel better than I have in a month and look forward to writing about more positive updates in the near future. Stay tuned.

Welcome Colorado

Today, I co-hosted an event with my fellow RiNo Neighbor, Sharon Brown. The occasion was a private studio show for Welcome Colorado, a group of local women dedicated to showing other women of international backgrounds a slice of Denver life through various activities. Sharon and I agreed to host a private showing of our paintings along with a verbal presentation and discussion around the work.

The occasion had been planned for months and I really wanted to make a good impression on the group. Yesterday, I hung my work up at Sharon's Pattern Shop Studio and only hoped my verbal presentation would be nearly as good as the visual. I began planning what I would say about a week ago. As the time drew nearer, my ideas began to solidify. Over the weekend, I wrote them out and rehearsed the material from flash cards. I was prepared, but admittedly a little uncertain I could manage speaking without fumbling around a bit, at least in the beginning.

This morning, before I arrived at the studio, I meditated. At first, I went through a succession of familiar mantras, but then I did something a little different. I visualized the event, intending the outcome. Knowing what I was aiming for gave me the ability to see the event from its ending back to its beginning. The exercise relaxed me and facilitated a confidence boost to interact in a way that often escapes me. In short, the actual experience turned out very much as I had visualized it. I never even bothered to use my flash cards, as the words flowed out effortlessly with great enthusiasm. I was radiating the very energy I convey through my artwork. I had a wonderful time and I believe the women of Welcome Colorado did too. My growth as an artist seems to be expanding in all directions and it feels miraculous.

How Long Does It Take?

"How long does it take you to do a painting?" It's a question I often get asked, yet the answer, as it pertains to the development of an individual canvas, hardly seems sufficient.

I remember a pastel class I took, not too long ago, where the instructor was asked that very question. Without hesitating, he explained, "57 years." Evidently, he was referring to his age. The answer confounded the class, seeming to avert the question in favor of creative secrecy. Recently, I saw a film on Mark Rothko (Simon Schama's- The Power Of Art, Disc 3, I believe) where the artist gave the same answer.

While reflecting on the growth of my own technical abilities in recent years, I realize the explanation is actually quite thoughtful and authentic. The works I produce today are the sum-total of my very existence; it has taken me all my life to learn how to 'see' the world; how to communicate with it. That progression continues constantly, whether or not I choose to work on any given day. Every comprehensive moment shapes what and how I paint. Therefore, my work is the collective insight of my life experience.

Paying To Play

As an artist, I am always looking for opportunities to display and sell my work. There are a variety of ways to do this, such as hosting open studios, exploring gallery relationships, art brokers, festivals, group shows, juried exhibitions, and even local restaurants and businesses. Through networking and searching for opportunities, I have found some interesting propositions to artists that, after all is said and done, seem to favor the party making the proposition. This is all done under the guise of "exposure", of course... a word carelessly thrown out to entice, but rarely amounts to anything of substance.

I ran across a posting on CraigsList the other day that took the cake. A local coffee shop posted a call for artists. Most of the time, such a venue will make this type of request with the understanding it will receive a percent of the commission, should a work sell. The idea being this is good exposure for the artist. In reality, however, most of the time this is nothing more than an opportunity for a venue to obtain free artwork. The aforementioned coffee shop however, seemed to be operating under an even more lopsided premise. They were requesting a $400 fee, upfront, from the artist, I suppose for the "privilege" of showing work there for a month. I couldn't believe the audacity of this request. I urge any artist to carefully weigh the pros and cons of allowing these kinds of business practices to continue by refusing such preposterous invitations.

I realize legitimate venues are attempting to hedge their investments in artists by guarantying a certain profit for the cost of putting together a show. Businesses that rely solely on the sale of artwork for their revenue, for example, take a risk by showing artwork that may not sell. I can't see how a coffee shop, on the other hand, would fail to benefit from having free artwork on their walls, from an artist of their own choosing. If they need money so bad as to suck blood from turnips, perhaps they should explore other business ventures.

Project Updates

I just finished up my second "Album" of work. It's been interesting to advance concepts I created in the first series. You can compare and contrast the two bodies of work by clicking here.

For my next effort, I'll be working on eight new paintings: two commissioned works, three for a new series I'm working on based off The Kabbalah, two more music pieces, and one experimental piece.

Ten Is The Magic Number

I recently blogged about a DVD series I rented called Art City. It provided an insider's perspective into the world of art through in-studio interviews with artists and other art players in various parts of the United States. I remember one interview (though the artist's name alludes me) where the artist was discussing 'making it' in the art world. He talked about the necessity of biding his time as an artist; honing his craft while proving to galleries and collectors that this was a life-time career for him and not some passing fancy. Specifically, he said it takes about ten years to really establish yourself as an artist.

I really felt this point was right on the money... at least for me. Since watching the series, I reviewed my resume and discovered indeed it has been a little over ten years now since I have been painting professionally (I got a little side-tracked after college, thinking I was going to be a rock and roll star). In that time, I have built up a resume that demonstrates achievements from exhibitions, to commissions, to honors and awards over the course of eleven years. As an artist who wants to make a name for myself, the resume affirms I have cultivated a track record to move in that direction. From my patrons point of view, it asserts they made a good investment in an artist who wants art to be his lifelong career.

Censorship

I'm finishing work on a new piece, based off a William Blake quote, called "The Road Of Excess Leads To The Palace Of Wisdom". After considering various ways to approach the composition, I decided to render the work with an urban setting, as opposed to an actual road leading to a palace. One symbol of excess is a nude woman lying on a couch.

I have painted several nude works in the past, and have various studies in my sketchbooks of the human form. Whenever I present the work publicly, it is always interesting to see the reaction. Whether or not folks are interested in the nude figure in the first place, fewer still seem to be willing to hang such work in their home (let alone their workplace). To many folks, the nude is taboo; to the artist, it is a celebration of nature and the human form.

As I mentioned in my "Impressions of Impressionist Exhibit" blog, I read Ross King's book, "Michelangelo and The Pope's Ceiling." It details the story of how Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The book covers a great deal, from the historical figures of the time, to painting methods, politics and even the social climate of the times. One of the topics discussed is how even in the Renaissance period, nude figures were still controversial and met with resistance, even though many such works, great works at that, were generated during that time.

Here I find myself in 2008 debating how my nude figure will be received by the public. Interesting to me how some topics remain controversial, no matter how much the world appears to change.

Paint Binder


I recently completed a commissioned work for a friend of mine who was surprising his wife for their anniversary. He wanted me to paint a picture of the house they will be moving from soon.

After our initial meeting, I was eager to get to work on his project. He was so enthusiastic about the collaboration. That enthusiasm, in turn, fueled my passion for the painting and so the ideas readily came to me. Though the work appears at first to be of the house alone, if you look closely, the windows in the center allude to several chapters from the family's history. Subtleties in my work are some of the things I enjoy most about painting. They help me create artwork you can come back to again and again, finding something different each time in a brushstroke, a color or even meaning.

The joy carried through the entire project- from the meeting, to the planning, painting, and eventual delivery of the final product. When the couple finally saw the finished piece, I knew from their reaction that what I had put into the work was received by them in a very special way. It is for this reason that I enjoy doing customized commissioned artwork- the emotional aspect of connecting with others through art.

Revisionist

They say Mozart used to write music as if he were being dictated to by a higher power. Beethoven, on the other hand, would labor over his works, reworking, refining and ultimately perfecting his compositions. The way I work is more like Beethoven.

I recently blogged about updating a painting of mine called Blow in Sequel to "The Sequel" (March '08). The original Blow is a piece that is very dear to me, as it is one of my first Interludes paintings (a series work of musicians). I recently wanted to create an updated version of it to reflect the way my style of painting has evolved over the last few years. After spending some time with the newly completed painting, however, it appeared flat. Technically, it demonstrated the depth I am now able to achieve in my paintings, but it just didn't have that snap to it; the movement of the music. I recently took the time to rework the new piece. Below is a comparison between the original work (left), the newer version (middle) and its update (right). I am pleased with the results.

Blow

Blow Again

Revised Blow Again

Black And White

In my journey as a painter, the last two years have been about taking stock of what I already knew and what skills I already had, determining how I wanted to improve them, and figuring out how to make the transition. Upon realizing how I wanted to advance, one item I wanted to address was- be more deliberate with my color and contrast.

Back in college, I remember being discouraged by my instructors to use black and white in paintings. “Black,” they would say, “is not a natural color; it is not found in nature (referring to observing every day color- specifically, shadows).” Black is a very powerful color, or absence of color. It is used to shade any given color and add depth to it, but if over-used (an easy pitfall), it darkens and muddies a painting. White was also discouraged because if used improperly, it gives a “chalky” appearance to the paint. Used befittingly, however, an artist has the ability to add tinting strength to a color; brightening that particular color. With these thoughts firmly impressed in my mind, I largely abstained from using either color in my work, until recently.

Making my transition into oil paints, I studied old masters and specifically, focused on the palette of The French Impressionists. In doing so, I realized that these artists employed both black and white in their work more than I was originally led to believe- the difference, and I believe the message my instructors were trying to tell me, is they never really used those colors exclusively by themselves. In other words, you would be hard pressed to find pure black or pure white in any of their paintings.

In permitting myself to begin using these colors again in my work, in addition to making adjustments in other colors of my palette (moving away from a traditional Impressionist palette, while finding my own), I believe my paintings are emerging with a higher-key palette. They are brighter and more vibrant than they were just a few years ago.

The paintings on the right illustrate this difference, with the work on top of an acrylic I completed around 2002 and the work below it, a more recent commissioned work, finished earlier this year. With the first painting, I used Burnt Umber and Payne's Gray instead of black as a shader, with very little white in the work. The result was an over-use of shading that makes the painting darker and heavier. With my new technique, the work demonstrates variations of dark and light without that heaviness. I am now on a very deliberate path of where I want to go with my work.

For The Record

Whilst I was painting the other day, I was enjoying a playlist of CDs by Beck that I had set up in chronological order. Usually, when I'm painting, I tend to favor a particular artist for about a month, recharging me through their musical catalog which, in turn, serves as an inspiration for my art. I like hearing the progression of an artist and how they evolve over each release through changes and refinement of their sound. I pondered the career of a musical artist- as they come up new material, record it and ultimately release it onto an album- and I thought how much my process has become like this.

First, I'll come up with some ideas- stories that represent a specific time in my life, either technically, conceptually or visually. After the canvasses have been prepared and their perfect white surfaces reflect the glow of my studio lights, I can see the possibility of perfection and delve into the process of my craft. The series of paintings are worked together for one to three months at a time. Over this period of time as each painting progresses, it teaches me something that I can apply to another work and helps maintain the harmony of the bigger picture- the overall "sound" for my upcoming release of new material.

This is such a larger concept than I had originally envisioned for this blog and I'm torn between blowing it out into a novel... but I think for now, it has served its purpose and I'll look to write more about it in the future.

Connection and Creation

Last night, I delivered three paintings to some friends of mine that had commissioned me to do some artwork for their home. I brought the works, one by one, into the house. As I hung up each piece in the very place I had designed it for, the art came alive. Afterall, the colors, content and sizes were all specifically catered to the environment of this particular dining room. It was gratifying for all of us to see the work this way, after going through a process where we had discussed ideas, designs and dimensions several months ago. It's easy to get excited about the concept of a project like this- everyone has their own idea of what the final product will be- but to actually see the finished product really creates a feeling that's hard to express.

Once all of the art had been placed, my friend Melanie said to me, "So, nobody else will ever have paintings like these, right?" I confirmed she was correct- I had designed the paintings specifically for them and they were not to be reproduced. A few moments passed and the idea really started to sink in. With great excitement she went on, "You know, somebody could give me $10,000 to spend on any art I wanted and I would never be able to come up with this. I mean, you can't just buy this kind of work."

Melanie was right- there was no way she could have simply happened upon that kind of art- it didn't exist. The paintings were created for her and her husband- by me for them- and that is what made it so special. After I left their house, I felt so happy and fulfilled- I had conceived and delivered artwork that had a significant impact on my clients; work they will surely enjoy and cherish for a long time to come.

As I headed home, down the highway from the foothills of Colorado toward Denver, I was struck by the sight of a big, bright orange moon that seemed to be there just for me to honor the moment.

P.S. If you would like to learn more about Customized Commissioned Art Work, click here.

Facing Myself

I just finished my third self-portrait painting. Of the other two I had done previously, I exhibited only one, so I still consider myself relatively new at this. I remember the reaction from others on the work I exhibited last time (a few years ago)- some people didn't recognize the figure as me, while others differed in their opinion of how it was rendered and were critical. Criticism certainly comes with the territory, but particularly in the instance of a self-portrait, I was more inclined to defend my point of view... call it foolish pride ;). I believe this portrait certainly looks more like me and though I will no doubt do better next time, this is the best I could do for now.

I believe this portrait, entitled, "Awakening: A Self-Portrait," captures the essence of me. In doing that, I believe I have achieved success in the piece, although technically, I can still represent myself better. I learned a great deal from doing this work and am actually anxious to explore the subject again.