Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Fables of Faubus (on repeat)

It has been one full week since the United States elected Donald Trump to President.  This week has felt like years.  Social Media has become a task even more difficult to champion than it was during the height of Bernie Sanders Memedom.  I am tired of the internet.  I also depend on the internet.  Without it there is absolutely no audience for my artwork or my creative thoughts.  Without it, my creative community is limited to my neighbors and knows nothing of NYC or the West Coast.  Without it, I do not sell much work.  Without it, I do not get more shows.  And yet, with it, this is as depressing as it goes.

I read, and wonder, where is the love?  Why is everybody bickering?  Why am I bickering?  I did not come here to bicker.  I do not disagree with the majority of the people out there.  But I am tired.  I have been attempting to read the paper, to keep up, to know what is happening.  Sadly, the plot line has been similar to Hans Keilson's "Life Goes On," thus far.  But then today, I read the front page of the New York Times and there was news of series of beatings conducted by corrections officers in Marcy, New York.  I just felt so overwhelmingly sad.  More sad than I have felt thus far.  It seems that prisons and jails should be relatively safe, at least safe from violence by officers. I spent so much time with people in uniform when I was a child riding around with my dad.  There were so many very good people working in that policing community.  Marcy is not far from where I grew up.  This news hit me hard.  It felt like the root of all that is getting in between us.  Multiple inmates claimed to be called derogatory names for race and orientation.  Multiple inmates filed claims of broken noses, contusions on the head, being used as battering rams through dry wall.  This is not the world I want. A few officers should not be able to sully the name of all officers, and no inmate should ever be victim of such crimes.

The article listed what the inmates were in prison for.  One fellow was listed at serving 17 years for drug possession.  I don't know anything about sentencing, but 17 years is an awful long time.  I started to think about what one does when they get home.  Do they even have a home when they get out?  Seventeen years!!  That is just a little less than half of the time I've been on this planet.  I drew this blind contour from the portrait of one of the inmates that was printed in the New York Times.  

All last week I was consumed by two parallel lines of thought.  One was that white citizens do have power which is at a higher level than other races in this country.  It is undeniable.  We don't think about it.  We don't have to, because we are white.  But other races do.  People with different sexual orientations do.  Men seem to over women.  I've been reading W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, trying to get a grasp on what it is to not have this power.  It is some sad reading.  Hopefully there are others who will read it as well.  It seems important, vital, to our improvement to understand the challenges that many people face.

I am interested in the structure of all things natural, and of things which are manmade that take root in the natural.  I think that perhaps if we understand the structure of everything better, we can come to more open conclusions, more inclusive decision making, decision making that will benefit everyone.

Inside the human body, barring any surgeries or birth defects we all have a knee that looks like the one above.  We all walk in buildings which have a structure like the one above.  We all witness insects which can be broken down into the parts above.  There is something wrong with the structure of our nation right now, but the people possess goodness at their hearts.  Let us find a way to help everyone in the best way that we can.  

I am not scared of the economy.  I am scared of creating more division.  Please don't brainwash us.  Please don't teach us to hate.  Please, stop being so ridiculous.

"Oh, Lord, don't let 'em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!

Name me someone who's ridiculous, Dannie.
Governor Faubus!
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won't permit integrated schools.

Then he's a fool! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)

Name me a handful that's ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Faubus, Rockefeller, Eisenhower
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?

Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
H-E-L-L-O, Hello."


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Drawing From Life, Abstraction & Simplification

Drawing from life never held any allure for me.  As a young man I was obsessed with the Pop Surrealist movements of art depicted in Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose magazines.  I poured over the galleries in the ads and in the gallery directory on the Juxtapoz website.  I de-valued the ability to draw from a figure or to do a portrait.  I felt like the only work that mattered was work that elicited a higher purpose.  I never thought that anything in my daily life might hold enough interest for a viewing populace.  

Currently, I find this to be contrary to my whole practice.  I have found that I am tremendously interested in observation and communicating a figure as simply as possibly.  This has created its own issues.  When I was in school there seemed to be this heavy push to learn to draw the figure as well as possible using values and proportion perfectly.  That was freshman year, when a basis in this information is vital to your artistic development.  I didn't take many figure drawing or drawing classes after my freshman year.  Really I only took one, but it was that same figure drawing I course. I feel that I didn't fully learn the basics that I was aiming to learn.

That said, I do feel that I have learned a communication of a figure, albeit in my language.  I have been struggling with justifying this figure to the figure that I felt I should be capable of producing due to that undergraduate education.  So when I was reading about Gauguin's break with the impressionists this morning, when he was abandoning the comma shaped brush stroke and leaning towards more of a caricature style, it was heartening.  Gauguin referred to his new style as "the synthesis of a form and a color, taking into consideration [only] the dominant."

Gauguin developed this style while looking through the print works of Hokusai and Hiroshige, styles and theories which I also am very much fond of.  As I've been working in watercolor, I've started thinking about how to communicate shapes using a single line much like Asian artists working with Sumi ink.  

As I read this morning I realized a connection.  I am simplifying my brush stroke which I use while working in acrylic paint, aiming for a more gestural and abstract expression of my subject.  Lost is the noodling pixellated looking brushstroke.  I never suspected that I would discover so much more emotion by painting subjects from the everyday.  I thought that the allegories that I had created were more powerful than my work from natural subjects, but I am beginning to think that this is false.  I guess only time will tell.  

While I do not suspect that I will entirely abandon my all of my silly character work, it is rather fun after all, I do think that I am excited to continue this level of discovery within the natural subjects.  I don't feel that it is nearly the sell out that I thought it was every time my mother asked me for a painting of "something pretty."


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Typee: Why so Serious?

Herman Melville writes some great adventures.  A couple years ago I read the book "Omoo" and now I am reading "Typee."  It seemed an excellent counterpart to the book on Gauguin's symbolism that I am reading as the entirety of the book is set in the Polynesia.  Melville's characters are always interesting, as the narrator is ultimately him.  He allegedly experienced something akin to what happened in his books on Polynesia, but what interests me, is that when his characters find themselves in the dramatic situation that catapults the plot of the novel, they always find a buddy.

Similarly, as I've been working through the ups and downs of my personal life I've been looking for company as well and as a result I have reached out to the members of Freehand Armada and I've started a couple new projects.  When life gives you lemons, make something new.

I've started two new projects with Freehand.  The first is a zine of varmints performing skateboarding tricks.  I will share some of those as the sequential pieces materialize more.  I have the first, a badger doing a nollie kick flip, almost done.  He just needs to land.  The second project that I started is a newsletter project.  I want to do some reviews of all sorts of things in my Portland community; a couple artist studio visits, reviews of gallery shows, reviews of new pinball machines at Arcadia, and a segment that my buddy and I just came up with, The beverage review.  We will review whatever beverage we are consuming while working on our other projects.  Mostly this will become a rolling review of our cheap beer of choice.  The first was of Narragansett and you can read it here.  Each beverage review will be accompanied by a drawing of the can.

I've also begun a #nanodrawmo project for the month.  I am going to do a small watercolor of 50 different shorebirds.

I've been really into the way that watercolor feels and how mobile it is.  I have gotten to the point where I pretty much carry my watercolor kit around with me everywhere.  These drawings have been pretty quick.  The interest in shorebirds really sprung from a book that I was reading earlier this year on the migration of the Red Knot, a type of Sandpiper, who travels all the way from Tierra Del Fuego to Nova Scotia every year.  That is a long trip and seems fitting to the way that I've been feeling about my life of late.  What a long strange trip try to account for all of my needs.

So I'm finding that in order to really be creative and loose, it has been really helpful to push silly projects with my friends.  I was beginning to take myself too seriously.  I need some friends to accompany me on my journey.  Hopefully we don't take our art directly into the maws of cannibals.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

I am, of course, Surrounded.

We are who we imagine ourselves to be.  I still have this Vonnegut line stuck in my head.  Is this what I imagine myself to be?  I think I just am.  I'm torn between the life of a dreamer and the Taoist principles focusing on existence.  Both ideals have merit.  In order to attain something we must first believe that we can attain it.  However, if we spend too much time dreaming, we lose track of what it is to be, we lose track of how to be ourselves and there isn't any purpose in attaining things if we have completely lost our identity.

I find myself living the slow/fast, big/small struggle on a daily basis.  People push and pull at you, demanding things of you constantly.  It is just a matter of personal interaction, vital to our very existence perhaps, but it doesn't allow for solitude.  I need solitude, but I also fear that same solitude. I fear that I will disappear, but I also enjoy the idea of drifting off into people's subconscious, only to return with a weighty and solid statement on existence and the moment.

Today, I have felt a bit behind.

I'm taking this moment to acknowledge that I am letting outside forces dictate my speed and my mood today.  It is time to take pause.  I did not used to believe that a bad mood or day could be recovered, but I am now feeling more of the opinion that the only moment that matters is the present. I must focus on the present.

I am planning a trip to Big Sur.  Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac's books both had a huge impact on me.  I think that Miller sought the same solitude that I seek.  I feel disenfranchised with a social media driven world even as I use it on a daily basis.  Miller loved and doted on his daughter to his wife's fury.  I understand that position better than I ever thought that I would.  Miller feels like my voice.  He's a bit bitter but sees hope in the individual.  Kerouac on the other hand seems like a lovable failure.  As he drifts about in his head, coming down, he feels both foreign and near at hand. We distance ourselves from the moments of vulnerability which might be evident in these passages. I am currently in a very vulnerable place, however.  

I hope to find something on my pilgrimage.  I have not traveled to either coast solely for myself in some time.  I think that all of my introspective friends that I've been drawing would appreciate this position of self discovery that I am entering into.  

Today feels fast.  I don't know why.  I'm going to get up and take a walk.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Artists are weird, socially awkward, self absorbed, depressed and not terribly intelligent.  At least that is what I should think if I am to believe what I have heard for years from so many people who find out what I do.  You find yourself catering to people's assumptions.  "Oh, well geez, I'm just an artist." So it came as no surprise to see this meme pop up in my Facebook feed today.  

I am not angry.  These stereotypes have a foundation in truth.  Most do.  In a society that is dominated by value in investment rather than self worth, why would an artist seem like a good occupation?  There are a limited few who do very well.  It is assumed by some that if you stick at it even though you are not one of these few that you are doing something wrong.  

I have recently had my world turned upside down.  Once again, my love for art making has come in the way of a relationship.  It is a complicated affair.  I cannot bring myself to be as attentive as many partners would like.  I am ruled an unhealthy relationship choice.  I love to make art.  I will make art no matter what my time constraints and I will upset the person who is trying to make it in the system. I think that the system is broken.  I see no reason to rush from gym, to work, to home, and then to collapse on the couch to have my happiness fed to me via television wavelengths.  I will not have my happiness dictated to me to support somebody else's system.  This is a social handicap, to say the least, but not one that I am willing to budge on.

I would ask, however, why are artists considered poor?  Why is living life outside of the system considered a threat.  There are different types of wealth.  I feel that I see more than many people.  My powers of observation are quite developed.  I see more quiet moments of love than I think some do.  (I cannot be sure of this, but I've read a lot of hate on the internet, and that hate is not what I see.)  I have hope, not in some grandiloquent plan for equality or economic prosperity for all, but that you and I, he and she, us and them can all see eye to eye.  I think this starts at the quietest possible spot.  It starts in ourselves.  We must be at one with ourselves.  We must love ourselves.  We cannot experience love for everybody else if we do not love ourselves.  I think there is something in there that big government and big money don't want people to know.  Our system demands that we be dependent on our system.  Otherwise there is no system.

 I do not think that I am poor.  Weird, depressed, so messy, tortured souls; these qualities are all products of perception.  What is weird to me is not weird to you, but might be weird to someone else. Is it just me, or did an entire hipster movement just try to make their whole statement to be as "artistic" as possible.  Shake all of the stereotypes you can out of that branch, but it doesn't make you creative because you have a handle bar mustache and a South Dakota shirt on while you are roaming the streets of a booming metropolis.  It just makes everything at the thrift store more expensive, which is a bit counterintuitive to the number one item on that list of Google suggestions, no?

That said, even the people who adopt the creative guise, are looked down upon.  Everyone loves to hate the hipster.  What is wrong with the hipster?  The only thing that I can see wrong with a hipster is the matter of authenticity.  There is, perhaps, not a genuine need to shop at the thrift store, for instance.  But as soon as the hipster dons the clothing of the artist, they become misunderstood.

Not all artists are gay, and what is this 1985?  Are we still scared that there are men who are attracted to men, women attracted to women, people that don't even identify as a sex?  Oh, good lord!  What will they come up with next?  Reputable third party candidates?  

Am I depressed?  A friend suggested to me last night, that circumstances make the feelings of an individual, not the fiber of the individual's being.  I do feel depressed at times.  I see people hating each other.  I feel hated at home at times.  I will never, at this rate, pay off my loans from graduate school.  Is it wrong to feel a bit depressed about that?  Let me go get some medication that also costs money so that I can ward off the anxiety of not being able to pull down a job that allows me $450 a month to pay off graduate school in ten years.  OR, maybe everyone could chill out for a second, because we all feel different, and we all have emotions.  The minute we try to evade our emotions is the minute that we lose sight of who we are and what we want to be.  

I don't care if I make a lot of money, if I have a 401K or if I have a new car.  I don't care if I have a beautiful house that everyone wants to come to.  I don't care if people think I am weird.  I make art and art makes me happy.  I live life slow when I can and I've found, that life is all that it needs to be. I'm happy.  Please don't project your unhappy on to me.  

I love you.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ordinary Life as Symbol

This morning I was reading on the bus from Henri Dorra's The Symbolism of Paul Gauguin, and one passage in particular struck me as interesting.  In another letter to Schuffenecker, Gauguin said, "In certain almost supernatural states of the soul, the profundity of life reveals itself full in the display before one's eyes however ordinary it might be.  It becomes its symbol."  As I was reading this it dawned on me what that feeling of documenting daily life in a sketchbook really is: It is this moment of self-awareness, that this moment matters.  There is something to this moment that means something to me.  It is poetic and important.  Working quickly in a pocket sketchbook allows this sort of snap judgement to really come alive.  

I wonder, however, how one can take these visceral moments and communicate them without the aid of a camera.  Would I need to draw from memory?  Would I simply draw from the sketch and end up with a very loose piece?  I don't know that painting that loosely would carry the same gravity as the moment seems to encapsulate.  The other night on the bus, I saw two girls splitting the earbuds from one phone playing music.  It conjured memories of my days playing sports in high school, riding the bus next to my friend Steve.  It seemed important to document the moment more because of the universality of it than anything else.  However, if I communicate that to a final piece it will lose something that the drawing holds in documentation alone.

Later in the week I was listening to Social Distortion on headphones with a petite punk rock girl sitting several rows ahead of me.  I thought back to this nature that I've had the majority of my life. Punk music talks to a scene.  People who listen to punk rock are often considered a community. Wouldn't it make more sense to sit next to the punk rock girl and strike up a conversation than to listen to Social D contentedly in the back of the bus.  I've built these barriers with the music as my companion rather than breaking down the barriers using the music as my weapon.  I wonder how many people do that?  The moment felt important, inherent in my nature.

So many moments that I experience with my son seem like something bigger than what they actually may be.  He is learning all about the world, how he interacts with it and what it is.  I have the opportunity to experience everything that we see again for the first time.  Explaining to another human being is experience at an all new level.  We observe more and in an entirely different way than we do when we use the "I know what that is" eyes.  Our familiarity with daily life kills our sense of the moment.  People will often tell you to be mindful of yourself and your surroundings, but I think there is no better way to do this than to attempt to record your surroundings and yourself. These moments of observation so easily do become a symbol.  You are no longer looking at one couple sharing headphones or one fellow sitting in the back of the bus, but you are now looking at BFF's and the solitary individuals, the Saul Bellow characters walking through your daily life.  Perhaps they feel more sadness or introspection, or perhaps they are more comfortable with accepting their own sadness and introspection.

Children are generally understood as new to all of these games.  There is both a positive and a negative connotation to the word naive.  It is perfectly acceptable for a child to be naive and deplorable for an adult to be so.  And so it is interesting to partake in play listening; to purposefully allow yourself to behave in a naive fashion in order to better the development of a child's psyche.

What is it to make artwork utilizing this voice?  Is naivety an issue because adult must go to work and be grown up or because somehow it assumed that you will miss out on something more profound?  I am growing to think that there is something very symbolic to the act of seeing things like a child.  If a person is able to approach a situation without a Deuleuzian Rhizome of understanding, perhaps you can experience that situation or object for the first time.  You can through what it is supposed to be.  I think it is just a symbol of hope, but do any of us, as adults, really understand what hope could be?


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

We Are What We Pretend to Be

As I've settled into my study of great master draftsman and portrait painters, searching for suitable compositions to replicate, I stumbled upon a book of Degás that I had tucked away in the studio. I believe I found the book at a rummage sale for a buck. For the better part of the past 15 years I have collected art books but it wasn't until I was through with graduate school that I really started to read them. I suppose my patience just hadn't arrived yet. But I digress, there were two anecdotes that I wanted to share from Degás' history. 

The man was a bachelor, but he delighted in the movement and rhythm of the human figure, studying ballet dancers, opera singers, and horse jockeys. He studied from class Greek and Italian works, venturing to Italy several times. His aim was to be as immediate as the impressionists who worked outdoors trying to capture precious moments of lighting while drawing the figure with an understanding of classic anatomy and drawing. It is said that many women desired that they have their portraits done, to which he would respond, "I would love to paint your portrait, but would probably dress you in the hate and apron of the servants."

I adore this mindset. The expectations of people seeking portraits is often counter to the dialogue that is painting. One can make an accurate portrait but have achieved nothing in the sense of emotive paint. I've had a good deal of struggle with this with people who have wanted to model for me in the past. I am just not seeking the same thing in the portrait that they are. 

The second tidbit from Degás that I was looking to share was to the point of his funeral. He was said to have suggested, "If there has to be [a duneral], you, [Forain], get up and say, He greatly loved drawing. And so do I."  There is something so cavalier and charming I. This statement. As a person who struggles feeling love for one person greater than the love I have for many, and who certainly feels more passion for the act of drawing than I do for any person(other than my son) this is music to my ears. I feel, suddenly, less alone. So hears to you Edgar Degás. You were a champion drawer and a true inspiration of a life. 

Here are a couple more drawings that I have put together in preparing my homage to Gauguin's "Woman Carrying Flowers," from 1889. 

I am very excited for this piece. My model seems to breathe a similar life into the pose which Gauguin's model also did. My line work is getting a little softer and a little more confident. The process seems like it is more akin to the lifestyle that I'd like to maintain. I saw a Kurt Vonnegut quote online yesterday, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."  I'm going to pretend to be as great as Gauguin and Degás.