Soaking Superman

As 2008 comes to a close, I find myself looking forward to 2009 more than any other year I can remember. What began as such a promising year for me has turned into the most trying time of my life. Given the state of the world, I know I am not alone in this feeling, but sometimes it's difficult to find the good in all of it. My most recent challenge happened earlier this week.

While over at my girlfriend’s house, I got a call that an alarm had gone off at my studio. I rushed over there to find not a burglar, but water… everywhere. Apparently, the sudden thaw from freezing December temperatures caused a neighbor’s fire sprinkler to burst, flooding several units within the building. The water poured down, surging through four dwellings, including mine. I came home to find lines of water dripping from the ceiling down to the floor, seeping through light fixtures and sprinkler heads while splattering and soaking everything in between.

Luckily, the damage was fairly minimal to my work and belongings, but my studio is in need of repair and I cannot work there for the time being. So I am now looking for an alternative space to work. I hope to find something within the week, but it has been an interesting position for me to not be able to work. I am trying to make the most of this time away from painting, but I am anxious to get back to it.

I recently read a book that said life’s obstacles are opportunities for personal transformation and growth. I really do believe this to be true. Given that line of thought, I have the potential to grow into Superman after this year.

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.

Thanksgiving Revisited

We were approaching the end of our Thanksgiving family dinner when my sister thought it would be a good idea for all of us to go around and proclaim what we were thankful for. Admittedly it has been a difficult year, and after drinking a few glasses of truth serum derived from a bottle of wine, I teetered on the verge of finding the good in all of it... or simply expressing myself.

The rotation of positive affirmations ensued, warming the table like gravy on mashed potatoes. I knew I had a lot to be thankful for- good health, a supportive family and loving girlfriend, etcetera, etcetera- but I wasn't in the mood to delve that deep into my emotions to extract those warm fuzzies. I opted instead for the wry humor card, hoping to mix things up while demonstrating I was comfortable enough to speak my mind.

"I'm thankful this year is almost over," I announced at my turn.

My thanks was met with stunned, awkward silence. My sister pressed me for a better answer, hoping to keep a constructive perspective on my reflection, but I would have none of it. I made my decision and wasn't about to back down. Digging my heels further into the ground, I restated my answer.

"I'm thankful I was able to learn something positive in an otherwise shit-ass year!"

My second outburst was received no better than the first and we quickly moved on to the next person. I had succeeded in expressing myself, but it was at the expense of my family's feelings. I think maybe next year, I will be thankful for the ability of those around me to forgive me when I take things too far... then again, maybe not.

Hope In The Most Unlikely Of Places

I wash my paint brushes in the bathroom sink of my studio. Once I finish a painting session, I scrape off my palette, pre-wash the brushes with mineral spirits and a rag, and then walk around the corner to the bathroom sink to complete the cleaning process. Predictably, the aforementioned sink is located just to the left of the toilet. I keep jars of brush soap stored on a shelf directly above the toilet. For some time, the thought occurred to me that between the toilet, sink and shelf, this may very well be a triangle of disaster. I feared that either the soap jar or a lid might fall from the shelf or sink and plunge into the toilet signifying an avoidable mess and confirming my psychic ability to forecast my own blunders.

Just the other day, as I was rinsing my brushes in the sink, the inevitable happened. I carelessly placed the soap jar lid on the edge of the shelf. Through some physical working of imbalance and gravity, the lid managed to leap off its perch without warning, diving straight for the toilet. It happened fast, but not so fast that my heart didn't sink while a voice inside my head taunted, "I told you so!" But then, something unexpected happened. Instead of splashing into a pool of toilet water and waiting in a floating pattern for retrieval, the lid hit the side of the toilet and shot out onto the bathroom floor, unscathed from the waters of doom!

I felt relief, though not the kind you might typically experience in a bathroom, and hope was restored again.

Movie Review: Modigliani

As the starting credits roll for Modigliani, a written explanation cautions the viewer this is a work of fiction, and the film is not necessarily attempting to remain true to hard facts around the artist’s actual life. This is a shame because I later discovered the artist’s life was more compelling than what this work allows. Admittedly knowing little about the artist prior to this, I was still anxious to learn what I could about him.

Andy Garcia stars in the leading role of the film which focuses mainly on the final years of the artist’s life. The story takes place in Italy and is rich with interesting subplots. Modigliani, who is Jewish, falls in love with his catholic girlfriend, Jeanne Hébuterne. Her father’s displeasure toward their union quickly explodes into outrage over the birth of the couple’s first child. The mindlessness of prejudice produces a triangle of conflict between Modigliani, Jeanne, and her parents who use the baby as a pawn to demonstrate their disdain. At the same time, Modigliani himself is battling to survive as an artist. His casual approach to life and practical matters seem to be in rebellion to his circumstances. He is known throughout Italy but struggles to sell his paintings. These challenges, among other factors, feed Modigliani’s penchant for alcohol and drugs; enabling him to seemingly escape the dramas of his life, they eventually contribute to his untimely death at the age of thirty-five.

The most intriguing subplot of the film, however, is the continuous love/hate relationship between Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. Played by Omid Djalili, whose face manages to capture the intensity of the famous artist, the actor provides a well-intended, if exaggerated, portrayal of the artist. Undoubtedly, Picasso’s arrogance was well-known, but the hot-headed nature of his character in this film makes for a bloated caricature appearing to be more of a symbolic statement than a faithful representation. Nevertheless, the contrasting and competing nature of the two artists, as they strive for greatness, makes for a captivating anecdote.

The climax of this matchup unfortunately appears in the film’s weakest sequence. Both artists enter a juried competition, along with several other known artists of the time, including Diego Rivera. A rather absurd scene ensues, depicting each of the artists and their frantic painting process as they toil through feigned rituals to complete work specifically for the upcoming exhibition. The director takes us to the backside of each canvas in development to find its artist wildly waving brushes, attacking the surface like madmen casting spells at their own creation. Adding insult to injury, the background suddenly fills with a blundering score of contemporary beat music that is completely out of place in this movie. The music is not utilized before or after this scene rendering it both awkward and impotent.

In spite of several intriguing story lines with a fascinating cast, the movie never reaches its full potential. Though capably played by Garcia, Modigliani’s character simply lacks depth. There are certainly enough circumstances and implications throughout the film to explore the complexity of the artist’s conflicting angst and charm, but the role is diluted by an overly-ambitious script and countered by other characters, such as little Dedo (Modigliani as a boy, often at the elder’s side serving as a gentle reminder of kindness and purity lost) and the stronger figure of Picasso.

After the film was over, I researched more about the artist. The result was a wealth of information on a complex, tragic figure of contemporary art that left us all too soon. I believe the film may have been better if it had remained true to facts, delving further into character development and making a clear choice on what story to follow; simplifying to be effective. All in all, this is a decent movie that misses the opportunity to live up to its full potential, much like Modigliani himself.

Things They Don't Tell You In Art School... But Should

I am priming four new canvasses today. My priming process requires three layers of Gesso. Before I apply each layer, I carefully examine the canvas to make sure the surface is clean. One thing they failed to explain to me back in art school, I would like to pass along to you, is the wisdom of wearing a long-sleeved shirt during this course of action, especially if you are male.

Inevitably, when I prime canvasses, I will find at least one lone hair that has plunged from my arm to the canvas, eventually smothered but still quite visible in a layer of fresh Gesso. Naturally, this development requires immediate extraction from the thick, wet mixture- a messy and sometimes challenging task (especially if you have just clipped your finger-nails). Removal, however, is essential because I cannot, in good conscience, deliver a hairy painting to someone. So remember, dear artist- hair nets and long sleeved shirts are not just for the lunch lady.

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.

Painting As Dialogue

Over the last few years, while working to improve my painting skills, I have grown more conscious of my process. In doing so, I sought to make it more efficient; weeding out certain actions in favor of others that serve to improve the overall effort. One of the actions I am working to employ more frequently is stepping away from a painting to gain a greater perspective of the whole. As I worked yesterday, I was thinking of this very thing while putting it into a slightly different context.

I thought about painting as dialogue. Through illustrated relationships of color, content, line, form, and rhythm, I am creating a language. In the past, I perceived that language as a statement to the viewer. If the viewer discovers a connection that attracts their attention, no matter how brief, an interaction has taken place. Taking a step back from that point of view, however, I must acknowledge the conversation that takes place between me and the canvas, before I even share it with anyone else.

My process begins with a concept. I then work to apply that concept to a canvas through paint, but the idea is not fixed from the beginning; there are too many factors- too many color combinations, lines, sessions- preventing clarity to really see a finished painting before I begin it (though I am getting better at it). I therefore look for visual cues from the canvas to help me tell a better story. This is the esoteric nature of art. As I apply the first strokes of paint to the surface, I am initiating a conversation. As any conversation goes, one person speaks to another, but then there must be reciprocity. I need to give my canvas more of that. I must step back and enjoy the process; to listen before reacting. Perhaps sit down and have a cup of coffee, appreciating the ritual before I respond to what I hear. I believe allowing space for this exchange will help me to produce greater work because it fosters a wider perspective.

Unforseeable Future Continued

Last month, I posted a blog called Unforeseeable Future. I finished the entry acknowledging uncertainty in my future, while maintaining some semblance of hope. Since then, I continued to forge forward. I realized I have put entirely too much stock into my own expectations of what the future should provide. This has caused me great disappointment, pain and ultimately anxiety. As I make the transition to accept my reality, working to change it without relying on a definite outcome, I have been amazed at the many opportunities life affords when I am merely open to whatever they may be. I have released my narrow scope of expectations, expanding to a wider ranger of possibilities.

As I came down to my studio the other day, I looked outside to a beautiful, gray day. As my sight descended from the sky downward, to my front porch, I noticed a curious fleck of white in my planter. I opened the door and stepped outside to get a closer look. Much to my surprise, the green stalks I noticed and wrote about last month had finally bloomed, yielding tiny white flowers. A powerful surge of joy began overcame me, upon this discovery. It began deep inside, warming my sould and poured outward, completely changing my disposition. These flowers are the seeds of renewed hope within me and I share this story with you to inspire that same feeling.

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.

Seemingly Nothing

As I was painting the other day, I sensed dissatisfaction coming over me. I felt like nothing was happening, that things were stagnant. My current body of work didn't seem all that different from the previous body. As I began to delve further into the feeling, however, I realized my initial impression wasn't really true at all.

The previous body of work (from a series I call Album 1) was already hanging on the walls of my studio so I hung the newer work of Album 2 to the left for comparison. In little, but obvious ways, I saw an emerging confidence in my compositions. The change in value within a single form was more subtle and effective. The colors were richer. Much to my surprise, I saw plenty of growth.

When nothing seems like it's going on, transformation is actually occuring on the inside. Eventually, it will manifest itself outward. I just have to trust it will.

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.

Discovery

What Rothko did with abstract space, I am achieving through figurative space; capturing energy, depth, movement, sound and feeling.

Costly Drop / Cadmium's Revenge

There are certain blunders that happen in the studio an artist never thinks about until they ruin his or her world in an instant of carelessness. I have spilled mineral spirits on my hardwood floors... twice. Played a rousing game of "52 brush pick-up." And every now and then, I'll drop a tube of paint. When a tube leaps out of my hands, or falls from the shelf in a spontaneous moment of pigment daredevilry, I see the whole thing happen in slow motion, very much like The Matrix.

As I mentioned before, I have hardwood floors. When I drop a tube of paint, the first thing I attempt to determine when I pick it up is where it made contact with the floor, like a parent trying to find the wound on a child after a fall. If it's a fortunate drop, it will land on one of the few soft spots of the tube with minimal denting. A costlier drop occurs where the impact forces a tiny rupture in the tube. The problem is, I don't find out until a few days (up to a week) later when the linseed oil begins to seep through the newly formed pore, separating from and ultimately drying out the pigment. Not long ago, I dropped a tube of cadmium orange. This was a $18 mistake; cadmium colors are more generally more expensive than other types of paint. No sooner did I get the new tube then I dropped it, just a mere two weeks after receiving it. And now I am resisting the urge to overindulge my paintings with orange while trying to make the most of my dying tube of cadmium orange. Guess I'm off to the art store... again.

Progress

I am finishing up my second Album of new material: six new paintings of musical instruments. They have a completely different feel from my first effort (shown here). The first Album had a very rich palette with darker, earthier hues. The second will feature more modern, brighter colors. Additionally, you may notice the progression of my ability to render the instruments, as I believe the newer works benefited from lessons learned in my first attempt. I am excited to show them soon... First Friday, in fact- October 3rd at Artwork Network, if you can make it.

Unforeseeable Future

Every year around Mother's Day, I go to the neighborhood plant-nursery to buy flowers for two giant pots I have in the front of my studio. This is my garden and I revel in tending to it, watching it grow, and admiring the colors that burst from its soil like thick brush strokes projecting outward from the canvas. This year has been a challenging one for me. There were too many things going on, preventing me from buying the flowers this spring. Lack of time and money, while obsessing about not having enough of either, kept me away from my annual ritual of the season.

The summer months quickly passed, as they always do, and I was reminded of my situation every day as I stepped outside, on to my patio where I saw brown empty pots, void of any color. But somewhere in the middle of the summer, I saw life had indeed returned to my garden without my help. I am not really sure what is growing in my pots, whether it's a weed or perhaps a flower that managed to germinate on the behalf of an artist open for change, but it doesn't matter. It gave me hope. Furthermore, it clearly illustrated that life doesn't always happen the way you want it to, yet it continues to flourish in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Acceptance

I opened my mail this morning and learned I was accepted into The Seventh Annual Lone Tree Arts Exhibition, coming up in October. I was so excited by the news. The summer has been a challenging one, so the timing of this really gave me a much needed shot in the arm. Just a little nudge of encouragement to keep me going.

I will be showing three works at the exhibition, which runs from October 11th thru the 25th. Here is a preview:

How To Place Foot Firmly In Mouth: A Cautionary Tale

The interview was going exceedingly well, as I leaned back in my chair; my confidence building with every answer. We both knew I was over-qualified for the position and I felt like we were in agreement on so many meaningless details. The connection seemed to warm up the cold, sterile room which was furnished with an ovular meeting table, some cheap office chairs, a white board with cryptic red writing and diagrams scribbled on it, and a window that now served as a shrinking symbol of freedom.

As she spoke, I couldn't help but notice the cross resting above her breast. The conversation continued for a little while longer until she paused to look at her watch. She had other interviews to conduct. In fact, they were all back to back for the next four hours.

"No rest for the wicked," I blurted in the drunkenness of overconfidence. We shook hands and as I walked out the door, I realized I had completely nullified any chance I had at being considered for the position.

DVD Review: Simon Schama- The Power of Art

Simon Schama's, The Power of Art is a three disc series that explores key artists from the Renaissance through the era of Modern Art. The series is by far the most insightful, well told and well done of any art series I have seen. Simon Schama is an outstanding story-teller, who intrigues us at the beginning of each segment with a particular keystone painting by the artist, and then sets forth from the beginning of the artist's career to weave a complete story of art and creator. There are several other factors that make this series so compelling.

For starters, Schama has chosen a variety of artists: Disc 1 features Carravagio, Bernini and Rembrandt; Disc 2 has David, Turner and Van Gogh; Disc 3 with Picasso and Rothko. Each artist's story begins with a piece you may or may not be familiar with. The narratives are supported by wonderful details of the artwork itself, dramatic story lines, character acting and on-location shots to really help the viewer immerse them self into the artist's world.

An interesting point to mention is though Schama certainly respects all the artists and work shown here, it doesn't necessarily mean he likes all of them. That said, he never lets his own opinions get in the way of revealing each individual's significance in the greater context of art and history. His passion for the arts is contagious.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the series, learning more about artists I wasn't all that familiar with and learning more still about those I thought I knew a great deal of. I appreciate what Simon Schama has done as an historian and story-teller, and truly look forward to seeing more work produced by him and The BBC.

DVD Review: Art City (3 Disc Series)

I rented a three-disc series called Art City. Each DVD explores an inside perspective in the world of art through in-studio interviews with artists and other art players in various parts of the United States.

The first DVD concentrated on the southwest and west coast. The artists in this film, for the most part, seemed to have retreated into the open spaces of New Mexico and other less, urban locations (though one artist had set up her studio in the middle of Los Angeles). I enjoyed the feeling of this disc the most, though at times, the artists themselves tended to delve into esoteric dialogue that some might have difficulty appreciating.

The second DVD was all about Manhattan and 'making it' in New York. The people in this part of the series were more direct in their interviews which made for a nice contrast of insight offered by the artists in the first part of the series.

The final DVD was my favorite- really thoughtful, more in depth discussions. I felt like the producer and director of the film really got more from their efforts with each part of the series, which were filmed at different times (three separate releases).

I believe this is a must see for any aspiring or emerging artist. It has provided me with inspiration, affirmation and a renewed sense of community that tends to dissipate over time, while we work in our studios alone.