Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Two Year Old's Impressions of the PMA's Women Modernists

As my son and I were sitting in the Pidgy Park, Congress Square Park in Portland, ME, last night, I glanced across the square to the Portland Museum of Art, where they were hosting Free Friday.  I scooped up my boy with relatively little resistance and we scampered across Congress and Free Streets and into the museum.  After stowing our bag in a locker I set my boy on my hip and we proceeded to read the curators statement on the exhibit, "Women Modernists."

As we walked into a a colorful wall of Torr and O'Keefe paintings, I was taken by the naturalistic shapes.  My boy, however, cried out, "green bite," at the top of his lungs.  We were standing in front of a rather dark Torr image, with strong geometric shapes surrounding a single and exquisite green leaf.  My son would apparently eat this painting, but only if everyone else had a bite at the same time. We turned the corner to a wall of Georgia O'keefe.  Her works were splendid; more grand and colorful than I've ever been able to imagine from color reproductions.  Austin was also quite taken with her work.  While many, I'm sure, were thinking about the seductive nature of the pieces, Austin was more taken with their edible characteristics once again.  "Ice cream," he cried, in front of each O'keefe painting in the first room.  After 6 years of academia I was having a little trouble at first seeing what my son saw, but after a bit I realized that her Jack in the Pulpits did indeed bear a strong resemblance to a sugar cone, the flowers, white and pink and rich browns.  They were lavish and smooth and looked immensely tasty if you blurred your eyes a bit.

On to the third wall we strode to a wall of Florine Stettheimer, a painter who I had never heard of before.  As we stood in front of her busy scenes I was taken by her textures and warm color schemes, but my son was mostly taken with an object in a painting at Asbury Park that looked an awful lot like a boat.  "Boat," he screamed to the disdain of the gentlemanly dressed "art viewer" next to us.  You know the kind, my friend Melissa would describe them by very demurely removing her glasses and resting the bow on her bottom lip, wagging her finger up and down, side to side, while offering a slight head shake.  This was the moment that I realized that I was in a museum with a two year old and all bets were off.  You do what the two year old wants if you want to escape Vesuvius in the Galleria.

We passed to another wall.  This one had rocky looking landscapes, interesting in their abstraction perhaps for an adult, but reason for getting off of Dadoo's hip for a two year old.  Austin bolted into the next room.  We stood in front of a portrait of a woman on a very teal background.  His mother loves teal.  "Mama," he cried, and made a quick escape to another wall with more architectural and industrial looking pieces on it, and it was here that I realized that two years of graduate school had taught me nothing that living day to day listening to a two year old would not have.

"Chicken," he screamed, crawling out of his own skin, "Bok, bok, bok, bok, bok. Dadoo, CHICK-EN."   I looked at painting of a corrugated tin roofing taking up the lower two thirds of the picture plane.  Two pieces of industrial scaffolding were in the background just poking over either side of the roofing.  Upon closer inspection, the roofing looked like a large chicken wing structure and the red scaffolding looked like the very top of the chicken's head.  My son had trumped me.  I feel humbled and excited.  We rambled around the rest of the museum, mostly looking for paintings with boats, and I felt happier looking at art than I had in a long time.  My son had reminded me of Rene Magritte, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."  It is all illusion.  The metaphors and allegories there for the taking or the leaving.  We were looking at art and it was fun.  We broke my masters degree in a forty minute trip to the museum and that is just fine with me.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Introversion, Reading, Podcasting, and Making Peace

Everything seems different right now.  Life is not going as planned and so I find myself fighting the urge to delve further and further into self.  I've started reading more as a way to ground myself. Social media and personal interaction seems to exacerbate my feelings of indecisiveness. With this lack of stability in my daily life comes a more clear idea of what it is that I want for my work and my work goals, however.  More specifically, I've been thinking about the way that I work and the way that I prioritize.  These are two things that I have had issues with for a little over a decade.

I have, for as long as I can remember, been of the mindset that more to do is better than less to do.  In order to be successful, I thought, you must always be producing.  I see now that this isn't really the case.  It is hard to be "on" all the time and that isn't even accounting for all of the time that a person needs to spend marketing, promoting and building relationships with clients.  There is too much other work to do to realistically work on your artwork all of the time, and yet, that is what I've often tried to do.  It isn't terribly successful from a business perspective.  I have, however, my craft has gotten a lot better than it was when I first started working.

Lately, with problems stemming from what I think I would sum up as maturation issues, I've been thinking about the steps that I've skipped.  I can't go back and make myself not skip those steps.  I can try to build a new foundation, working my way from the bottom again.  This seems hard.  Everything can seem hard.  I've found, however, that there are several things that I've wanted to do in my life, that I haven't.  There is no reason for this other than fear of failure and rejection.  And so I have to ask myself if fear of failure and rejection is worth the price of never trying at all?  I don't think that it is.

One of the things I've wanted to create is a podcast.  I always wanted to start one, but never felt like I had anything to offer that wasn't already out there and if I did, then it wasn't really worth people listening to.  My daily watercolors have given me a bit more confidence, as I realize that I've put in work that maybe other people haven't.  I know a thing or two, even if it isn't, at times, the expected knowledge.  Now I am beginning to think that maybe this different sort of knowledge may actually be a strength and not a weakness.  Isn't that what individuality and creativity is all about anyway?

And so, I've started a podcast where I vocalize the thoughts in my head while I am creating my daily fish bug watercolor.  It began as a way to try to get myself out there in a different way and now I am realizing that it helps me see the value in what I do, the methods that I am capable of, and that I am actually able to vocalize what it is that I know how to do.  These three things seem to me like the root of the ability to sell oneself.  So as my confidence grows in podcasting, I suspect my confidence will grow in speaking about my work.  You can check out my podcast on itunes, under The Mighty Lark or on Soundcloud at

Here are some of the more recent bug illustrations that I have created after I started the podcast.  I had to start a second book to house the second half of the year.  These milestones feel so good right now.  

I mentioned that I also had started to read a bit more again.  Yesterday, I took an hour to myself, and went to the park to read a book.  I intend to take some similar time today.  I felt surprisingly more at peace just by allowing myself that time.  I think that going forward the biggest key to being successful in my artwork is to allow myself to be successful in daily life, with my wife, my son, and myself.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Wisp and a Flourish

Watercolor is really trendy. At least that's what my wife tells me. She says its in. I think that it is probably always kind of in. There is something to it, much like old Eastern brushwork pieces, that truly transcends an "other" from the individual painting. 

This week I got a new watercolor kit, thanks to my mom, still my biggest artist patron.  The set came with a number 6 brush which felt awfully large to me, but as I started to use it, I realized what a fine point it would hold and that by varying my pressures and angles I could start to get some of those "watercolor" strokes people talk about.   I mean those strokes that look completely like an accident, like you gave into the world in some sort of Buddhist awareness and just let your actions be. The strokes are surprisingly satisfying even if there is a certain level of awareness to making them. 

Here are my last two bugs which I was really able to let "be."

I also started a podcast where I begin to discuss the method behind making one of these bugs every week. It's really just giving voice to some of the inner monologue while you paint. You can catch that on my soundcloud:
Let me know what you think. 

Have a good Sunday, y'all. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Projects in the Mix

My world has become so full.  I am doing more design work and illustration than I've ever had before.  I have had at least three shows and a couple extra projects each year to work on and I now have a family to take care of and a son to raise.  I'm finally starting to feel okay with it.  This is it.  I'm living now.  Whatever that now is, I've got to live it.

I've been working on a watercolor of a bug every day this year.  Until about a week ago they were straight forward watercolors.  I've never used watercolor very much.  It was too unforgiving and I used a heavy hand.  I really just didn't have the patience.  Enter toddler.  I suddenly have so much more patience than I ever thought myself capable.  The watercolors have advanced though, and I knew that sooner or later I would find myself adding myself back into the project.  This past week I started adding some geometric elements into the pieces.  I really like them.  Here are a few of the best ones.

I have also started another small side project.  I've always collected a number of sketchbooks.  One of my favorit types is called Dept. de Poche.  I have a small square book that I've started making simple graphics of whatever imagery I'm into on a daily basis.  I've started thinking of them as Squares of Vitality.  I hope to fill the whole book with foundation pieces of my vitality.  Here's one of Mingus and some lettuce that is growing in my garden.

I hope this blogpost finds you well.  I'm wrestling with myself to get back into this space.  It used to be so good for me and I think that now more than ever it could be that outlet that I am not finding in other ways.


The Process Has Changed

It is easy to fall behind.  It is easy to feel as though you are not doing the things that you are supposed to be doing.  As creatives we have our studio practices, our own marketing through social media and snail media, pricing and selling, applications to shows, events, and jobs, and most of the time we also have a day job, families, and friends.  It is easy to fall behind.

I work a lot.  I work on lot on my brand and my work and I work especially hard to try to be the father and husband that I have hoped I could be for years.  This space has become next to dormant. There are several reasons; instagram, the lack of what seems a valid thing to say, and a shift in my daily necessities.  Before I had a family I could aimlessly work through my day, facing one challenge after another rather fluidly.  Now I live a more rigid life on a sometimes unforgiving schedule.  The fact remains that I still make the work.  I have just started posting it to instagram and I feel like I have less time to talk about it.  Then I think back to my older posts and realize that I never said much until graduate school came along and I determined that I couldn't write.  I determined that I couldn't write and then I started to try to write like everyone that I was forced to read in order to tread academic waters.

I teach now.  I would say that I do not speak this idiom, still.  One of the major reasons I have trouble posting here is that I expect too much out of what I write.  But don't people just want to see my paintings and sketches anyway?  I'm going to try to get myself back here with less expectation.  We'll see what happens.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Would I Write?

Why is it important to write?  I'm a visual artist.  I am constantly looking for colorful ways to express myself in two or three dimensions.  I've heard numerous people at art openings talking about how they don't want to know what's behind the work.  They don't want to be influenced by what the artist has to say.  The artist already had their say with the image.  So why is it important at all to write?  If no one wants to hear any of the supporting evidence behind the piece what is the use of having any supporting evidence to begin with?

The answer can be quite obvious; as in, if you can't formulate a thought, what are you painting to begin with, but it can also be much more complex as well.  How much thought have you put into your images?  Do you understand what you are talking about?  Do you know how to talk about the subject of your work in another language besides the visual language?  Are my art making skills up to the task of making whatever the dialogue in your head is pitching at the canvas, paper, or sculpture.  You will need to be able to write the dialogue as you paint.  

The dialogue is always there.  The piece talks back creating an internal/external dichotomy of conversation between my reason and my creations.  The elements and principles of art are dynamic tools of a piece of artwork which can be used to clearly illustrate in what manner I  want a piece to be perceived.  It is necessary to create an artwork in which you are talking to the piece of art but also in which a third person party will understand what and how the dialogue is proceeding so they may also insert themselves into that dialogue.  

The connections that I make between the subjects in my pieces are heavily dependent on my reading, but could at times also be perceived as extraordinarily random.  How on earth are we to perceive this diagram of a honey fungus, with this tessellation and this graphic of a simple house with an eighties style boombox built into the side?  The context needs to be clear in my head before I can expect anyone to understand that relationship.  Sometimes I do feel like I fail.  The third party fails to see the connection between my subjects.  In this case the element of writing becomes all the more important.  

I find that at this point I need to return to my inner/external dialogue with my piece and myself.  The only way that I find that I can process the feedback, negative or positive, that I receive on my work is through a written discourse.  I write to myself like I am my educator, a fellow professional, old fellow students.  It helps me to begin lines of thought which unfold as differing perceptions.  I am able to step outside of my own head and into a different world.  The loop is finished and I can begin again.


On Discovery, Science, History and the Arts

My idea eludes me.  I have been reading such a variety of sources, but I can't discern what it is that I am searching for, conceptually.  I have two projects on the horizon.  They seem inextricably linked.  The one; an group exhibition focused on explorers.  The desire of this show is to begin a dialogue on imperialism, disparate cultural histories, and the validity of historical accounts while trying to capture the excitement of the unknown.  The second; a relatively loose project concerning Lewis and Clark, the "Indian" Wars, and Western expansion.  My colleague and I wish to retrace some of the steps of Lewis and Clark through South Dakota, where he lives, in order to discuss what we see and to find what is at the edge of our knowledge.

I've been reading books by naturalists and historical accounts of explorations.  Both seem relevant, as the majority of what was reported back when discoveries were made were accounts of flora and fauna and cultures who lived in particular areas.  While cultural studies and naturalist studies are far from the same thing, they require the same sort of keen observation.  I was reading an interesting passage quoted from Reaumur in Mary Terrall's, "Catching Nature in the Act," yesterday:

         "The spirit of observation, the kind of spirit essential to naturalists, and commonly assigned to              them, is equally necessary to progress in every other science.  It is the spirit of observation that            causes us to perceive what has escaped others, that allows us to grasp the relations among                    things that appear different, or that causes us to find the differences among those that seem                  similar.  We resolve the most difficult problems of mathematics only once we can observe                  relations that do not reveal themselves except to a penetrating and extremely attentive mind.               Observations make possible the resolution of problems in a physics as in the natural history--               because natural history has its problems to solve; it even has a great many that have not yet                 been resolved."

This passage struck me as particularly poignant as it described to me not only how a scientist or a biologist might approach a problem, but also how a creative person might approach a problem.  I always feel that the job of the artist is to observe that which is not observed by the average person, to re-present that information in such a way that it draws attention to the unnoticed.

I'm finding in my reading that nearly all of the old naturalists were both artists or draw-ers as well as scientists and whatever other position they might have held in society.  It is interesting to me to think then, that we have "progressed" as a society to a point where we often think of the arts as superfluous. However, if we take the time to really look at the things we are studying, and drawing the things we study certainly requires this heightened level of looking, then perhaps we actually will learn and know more.

I suspect that that is what I feel like is missing in both the study of explorers and the fur traders. While we may, perhaps, understand what the respective parties were doing.  We don't understand where they were, and while it is quite obvious that we can never return to the level of "wild" that our planet was in prior to its discovery by "modern civilizations," we can still only understand the urgency in these discoveries if we see for ourselves what the trail, flora and fauna must have looked like.  In order to do this, you must be there as much as you are capable, for reading is only as good as the observations of the person before you.  To understand the whole picture is to develop an educated opinion.

Here are a few of the sketches that I am muddling through as I attempt to become better versed in "looking."  Hopefully taking this level of looking with me to South Dakota will help me understand the idea of discovery.

Additionally, I have been thinking about major figures and characters that really speak to the idea of Western expansion.  I have mostly been thinking about Custer, who represents a side of this country that we unfortunately can't shake.  While he was merely doing his job, he failed attempting to steal land for his country.  I feel like his folly is part of what our nation is built upon.  The second is the Buffalo; a creature nearly killed off, vital to both explorers and indigenous peoples for food and warmth, and iconic to the American West.

I am hoping that by my continued reading and my eventual hands on discoveries, I will better understand the "wilderness."  I think that the search for this type of local is vital to our over-populated society and I think that as we venture into a political landscape that is so obviously flawed, it is of paramount importance to work backwards to find where the initial errors may have occurred.  

More to come in the near future.  Keep up.