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.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Be Impressionist to the End, and Fear Nothing

"Be impressionist to the end, and fear nothing," Gauguin replied to a friend upon the accusation of terrible mysticism.  A terrible mysticism is surely what an artist needs to avoid in order to escape the labels that society so often casts upon creatives. How then, does one tow the line between symbolic, purposeful and thought provoking work and pedantic dribble?  Grandiloquent gestures aside, it still seems imperative to couch your work in some form of symbolism.  And symbolism almost always finds itself speaking for too much; racial issues, religion, or ecological issues.  There is too much there.  Hopefully the artist is capable of utilizing the juxtaposition of symbols in such a way that it will speak to these larger issues without either growing too big for its britches or being too straight forward.

We all utilize a library of our own symbols.  In the past I have relied on a myriad of archaic devices and machines, like the cassette, steam engines, and antique telephones to attempt to begin a dialogue about what it is we've discovered, used, and ultimately cast off.  What is that process I've wondered. This has allowed me to create a fairly vast body of work that I've been proud of on the whole.  As I've been drawing more and more in my sketchbooks over the past 9 months, I've realized that utilizing these symbols isn't really achieving what I had hoped for.  I had hoped to make some pretty grand statements, to provide pause, and to ultimately affect people in some way.  I am not getting through. When I created a show of extinct birds, I received comments on how pretty the birds were.  When people saw the patterns that were coupled with each bird, they assumed that they were random.  People did not look and try to solve my riddles.  Perhaps there were too many riddles.

I've realized that what I want to communicate is a compassion, an acceptance, a contentedness in the daily routine.  It isn't so much about what we have cast off.  While I do care about what we have cast off and I think that what is left behind does say a lot about our level of contentedness in life, I think that I have, perhaps, missed the mark a bit.  That said, I do think that some of the symbols are important, just not all symbols all of the time.  It is the juxtaposition of symbol, of the signified and the signifier that I need to master.  Gauguin understood that dichotomy very well, even if he didn't always expect the viewer to come along for the ride.  He went on to say, "It is evident that the symbolist path is full of potholes, and I have only treaded it with the tip of my foot, but it is, after all, part of my nature, and one must always follow one's temperament.  I know well that I shall become less and less understood.  What does it matter if I separate myself from the others?  For the masses, I shall be a riddle, for a few, I shall be a poet, and sooner or later quality finds its rightful place."

In studying Gauguin, I am finding a language within myself that I had given up on.  The human figure is making more sense as a moving object, capable of communicating allegory and emotion.  I am finding in the figures that I am studying the very slimmest inkling of an idea of how to communicate what has been swimming in the ether just beyond my mental grasp, and it excites me deeply.

"For the masses, I shall be a riddle, for a few, I shall be a poet..."  I am slowly stamping out my creative fears one by one.  I shall be a painter to the end.  I will find my voice.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Stars not where they seemed or were calculated to be, but nobody need worry.

I finished reading "The Hunt for Vulcan" this morning.  The book follows the trajectory of the theory of gravity and how it relates to the celestial bodies in our solar system.  For approximately a 100 year span it was believed that the imperfect calculations on the location of the planet Mercury were due to another small planet named Vulcan.  The book covers the empirical research of perhaps a dozen different scientists, culminating with Einstein, who disproves the existence of the additional planet. Towards the end of the book, Levenson, shared the original headline from the New York Times, which stated, "Stars not where they seemed or were calculated to be, but nobody need worry."

This statement is such interesting poetry to me.  In the same sense that I've been determining that my failures are in fact necessary for my growth, this is a wonderful illustration of how it took a number of different scientists to figure out what seems to be a relatively well accepted and understood idea now; the number of planets in our solar system.  In order to arrive at Einstein's final steps, however, it was imperative that he modify Newton's theories, which was a sort of Physics Holy Grail for a couple centuries.  These were laws, information that could not be altered.  It involved a number of very stubborn people who believed, but did not know that there was a planet closer to than the sun than Mercury.  They believed that Newton's numbers had to work.  It was belief versus a search for truth.  As I spend more and more time trying to learn to draw again, it dawns on me that in a sense, we have come to believe in the theories presented to us in art over the past fifty year.  We believe modernism and post-modernism to be the lens that we need to search through because everything has been discovered, we have seen in before.  But here we have a science that didn't quite figure, that was accepted for over 200 years, suddenly come shattering down because one person was willing to put the work in.  I'm not sure what I'm after, but as I was reading about Einstein and his penchant to be alone, thinking and working, I felt akin to him.

I am not for a minute claiming the genius that was evident in Einstein, but I do feel the singularity in purpose that he exhibited.  I feel drawn to artwork; the studying, teaching, and making aspects all.  I feel inclined to avoid close relationships, blow up romantic relationships, and focus on my work.  I feel a definite similarity to Mr. Einstein there.

I am wondering what to do with my sketches.  I am not sure that I have made any that I am eager to make into any large scale pieces as of yet.  It used to be that I would grow so excited about my ideas that I would have to put them down on paper instantly.  I am not feeling like that anymore.  I am very much into the idea of creating some figurative pieces with compositions referencing famous artists.  Currently I have most interested in works by Gauguin, Goya, Cezanne, and Sargent.  I love Sargent for his ability to make all of his subjects look remarkably noble.  I enjoy Cezanne and Gauguin for their abilities in abstraction.  Goya seems to me the master of transcendence.  His works elicit such a vocal response from the viewer.

With that in mind, I think my plan is to stick to making drawings.  I cannot make pieces that reference famous masters if I do not believe that my drawings belong in the same realms as said masters.  I have essentially determined that I will learn how to do all of the parts of my artwork that make me uncomfortable.  I thought that graduate school would encourage behavior like this and I think that that is what I most wanted out of that experience.  It didn't end up being the case, however. I have, on the other hand, realized that where I used to think I didn't have enough time to complete everything that I wanted, that I now am more interested in working as often as I can rather than worrying about how much I create.  These undue stressors only make my work more claustrophobic and constipated.  I am looking for a freedom in my mark and I think that I am getting closer to it.  I merely needed to reject the idea that learning how to draw very well doesn't necessarily mean a break with the current trends and goals in modern art.  It is just my journey.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Create

My brain is open.  It is open to all sorts of information and ideas, but it is far more evident that it is open; as in it is open spilling out of my ears and pooling on the floor.  There is just too much to keep track of all of the time.  I am combating it like a champ though.  I am drawing and taking it slow.  I am keeping up, but keeping myself at a good pace.  I've been making my coffee with a pour over.  I made myself lunch.  I did the laundry and picked up the house.  I have been more efficient with my lessons and grading, more prolific in my tiny doodles, and much more apt to have my nose in a book.  I have been working on watercolor studies and final pieces and every morning I create a watercolor bug.

 My phone is the devil.  I need to put it down.  It is just oh so easy to pick it up and check Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and repeat though.  Chasing a toddler around makes your brain feel like soup.  The release of the phone feels like a nice crusty bread to mop up the last of the broth.
It makes sense.  It is a fight to be able to create.  

In order to help myself both calm down and keep up the momentum of creating I've started to catalog all of the quiet moments I have with my son.  I've drawn just about everything that he has brought me or given me as a present, and also some of the moments that we share.  It has been a major help in attempting to be slow.  The world operates very quickly.  It is a fight to be slow and meticulous just as it is a fight to be creative.

I am not always winning this fight (see thoughts on smartphone above.) but I am feeling better about the it.  I am slowly trying to implement changes in my life to return myself to the creative entity that I once felt myself to be.  I am also realizing that for all of the time that I spent telling myself that I was working, I think I produce almost as much work now.  It is quite possible that it has more to do with the type of time you spend rather than the amount of time.  I've had several ex's try to express that to me before.

I've been fascinate about this idea of time, however.  There are periods of time where all I do is produce artwork and other times where in the past I have spent with my girlfriends or wife.  It does seem like this is one of the better instances of balance that I have ever mustered.  I feel as though I am making but not impeding progress.  Now all I need to do is line up a couple more shows for 2017.  Although, that might just break my balance that I've been trying to cultivate.