Thursday, November 21, 2013

Index Card Art, The Metamorphosis and A Night Off

Yesterday my wife volunteered her time to help paint a new wellness center that our good friend is spearheading.  I was granted the opportunity to an entire day in studio, but alas when I was left alone in studio I was not very capable of working.  My energy wasn't there.  I didn't really care what I was making.  Sometimes this happens.  Usually this happens when I have been waiting for days to have a good long studio day and haven't been granted one.  This was the case yesterday, I think.  At about four in the afternoon I gave up and traveled out to my old, pre-wife haunts.  I visited my friend Mattie and my friend Shirah.  I talked about teaching and my frustrations therein.  I talked about art making and its traps and I talked about how my students never show up to class on time.

Shirah is an amazing painter.  It is lovely to take time off to speak with her.  She has a habit of setting my head straight.  It proved to be no different this time.  I woke up today refreshed and ready to get some work done, at ease with the wife being gone all day in place of my former reluctance, and curious as to what I was going to make.  I am now wondering if maybe being curious as to what to make is better than being certain of what you are making.  Today I made some small pieces of jewelry and traveled to the craft store to pick up more supplies for necklace making.  I then set to making a number of small drawings on index cards.  My artist assistant was busy making backers for each of these.  You can read about that at my Tumblr blog which she manages.

It donned on me that the index card paintings would look a lot better as acrylic paintings than as watercolors.  I determined that I would leave the background as index card and the foreground would be painted opaquely.  I was very pleased with the results.

The other day I had made a single watercolor which I was trying to recreate.  The recreation did not go so well.  I think that may have been the root of some of my problem yesterday.  I had to abandon that method as the expectations were too high and it was influencing the quality of my piece.  Here is that original piece, however.

It was good to abandon that drawing for a little while.  Painting opaquely requires a different type of focus; one that alleviates my stresses and makes me more in touch with my anxieties.  I become a better person, essentially when I paint opaquely.  I think that perhaps this is what people mean by having a calling.  It made me think back to the weekend.

This past weekend I read the Metamorphosis.  Since about Monday I have been questioning why Gregor ever needed to turn into a bug in order to create the resolution to the story.  Why wasn't he just sick or completely immersed in his work or why didn't he just disappear on one of his many train rides?  The fact of the matter is that I have spent four days wondering why the construct of the story happened.  It is a success.  It is stuck in my head.  It didn't need to be anything more than it was.  It was simple.  I have been looking for a big punch again, an answer that will solve the world's problems; my problems, but I have forgotten once again that the world's problems start as something very small within the citizens of the world.  The inconsistencies and anxieties that each individual feels feeds the dinosaur that is our society.  The whole turns about and eats the constituents.  To solve the worlds problems we all need to find our own balance and let the other guy be the other guy.  That is, at least, what I keep reminding myself.  It is, I think, just as correct as many of the sociologists hypotheses.

Til next time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Mug from My Hometown

This evening after bowling, I was sitting having a cup of tea in the kitchen while my wife was looking through her many cookbooks.  She has been meal planning.  It is a creative process that I do not share the joy for.  As she was meal planning she began talking about "real Mainer" type dinners.  My response to this was to draw something from my hometown.  The last mug of the four for Artstream Studios was a fund raiser for the Volunteer Fire Department in Croghan, NY.

It felt good focusing on my hometown.  I remember the Fire Department before its expansion.  When I think about its location I can visualize Vinny's Pizzeria, the library and 7 year old me.  I can see the Monnat brothers running to the station from Monnat and Nortz Garage at the sound of the fire whistle.  I can hear that it is noon everyday when the whistle goes off.  In a little less than two weeks I will be home for a few days.  I can't wait.

I am excited to do some more work like these pieces.  I think that there is something much more personal in drawing your personal belongings than there is in trying to tell the stories that are in your head using metaphors.  It is like drawing a very sensual portrait verses making a caricature of someone.

I'm off to bed with the sounds of The Fruit Bats, Hobo Girl in my head.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Dangling Man, Coffee Mugs, and Solitude

This afternoon during Experimental Painting class I finished The Dangling Man, Saul Bellow's first novel.  Saul Bellow's characters always bear such a sense of solitude.  In Dangling Man, Joseph is waiting for the draft board to call for nearly a year and in the meantime, slowly loses his sense of control and balance, but also gains a sort of comfort with the solitude.  It is a feeling that I am often curious about.  Much of art is this solitude.  Until my recent marriage, the majority of my studio days were accompanied only by feline companions.  To be sure I played a variety of music in studio and listened to a number of podcasts and different musicians but at the end of the day an art practice is a quiet practice.  It is one that has traditionally been accomplished in solitude.  What of this type of man in wait for his calling?  Joseph was waiting to be called by the draft board.  Is that so different than waiting to hit your big break.  Eventually we see in Joseph that his inability to act, which is exacerbated by his depression which is in direct correlation to his loneliness and lack of purpose, becomes the very source of his lack of happiness.

With this in mind, I started to think about my ability to act.  I have been taking some solid steps in the right direction these past few months, but still have a couple major steps on the way to success.  An inability to act on these steps will only result in loneliness and depression, or as the rock band AC/DC put it back in the 70's, "It ain't no fun waiting 'round to be a millionaire."  I've got to take some action and it is important for me to prioritize these actions.

In contrast to this thought I have also been very much involved with a new series that I am producing for Art Stream Studios' "Off the Grid" show coming up in December.  All work is 6" X 6" and under $250.  I started these four panels by painting a color pattern field in the back.  Actually, to be fair, I indicated the colors, mixed them and laid the panels out like paint by numbers for my studio assistant.  You can read about that a bit over on my Tumblr blog, which she has taken over as a sort of process diary from the studio assistant perspective.  It is certainly different hearing these perspectives from outside of my own head, but I digress.  As I looked at these color field paintings, I had originally planned on doing a few more pipe and drop pieces, but realized that that had nothing to do with the way that I was feeling about this show.

I started to think about the ordered chaos of the color patterns.  None of the shapes were really the same scale.  The colors alternated back and forth and so the pattern was the same but the color and size varied from piece to piece.  They were all very much related but would never be mistaken for being in the same pattern.  They fit together more like a quilt.  Recently I had been visiting my nieces and had broken my favorite coffee mug which they have set aside for me at their house for some five or six years now.  I have since found one which I use at my own house, but that has only been in use for maybe 2 years.  I thought about how objects hold some of that relationship, working as a sort of totem and concluded that I needed to do a series of mugs over the top of these patterns.  It would serve as my source of mental pause over top of the ordered chaos that is the world these days.

This first mug is the mug which I spoke of that my nieces would always hand me.  It carries with it my memories of my past relationship, the roots of a couple fantastic friendships and a family which is not really mine but which I will always feel is mine.
 This second mug is a mug which I purchased on a trip back to Seattle after I had moved away the second time.  I was staying with my friend Jill in her First Hill studio apartment, where she had shown me images from her recent trip to India and her adoption of Buddhism.  It was a defining moment in my life.  Her apartment was so simple and cozy.  We had tea.  We lived quietly those two nights and she worked very hard.  The morning after I finished staying there we had coffee at Victrola on Pike Street.  I left with this mug and it now carries that story with it for all time.
My father was a forest ranger in New York State, as followers of this blog well know.  There were two mug designs that I remember from growing up.  There was this one and one with a simple green tree on a very tiny mug.  This commemorative mug is the mug that holds my paint brushes.  While drawing this mug I couldn't help but think of Jasper Johns castings of his mug and brush set up, but also was taken with thoughts of my dad, and drinking coffee at home.

It is a little odd to be drawing from life and perhaps a bit odder to find so much meaning in these inanimate objects, but it seems natural and I really like the way the pieces are coming out.  I'm doing at least two more; one more for Art Stream and an additional one of the mug that I won at a muzzle loading match with my father in the 90's for my folks.  Coffee mugs have always been my family's jam.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Drawing More

I am starting an experiment.  In efforts to draw more and fit artwork into my day in the in between spots I am carrying notebooks that are specifically for a certain subject.  I have started a bird, robot and monster book.  The books are just memo books and, as such, are not incredibly precious.  I feel like the nature of these books will make it easier to deal with mistakes and to work quickly.  This morning while I was experiencing my beginning of the day studio time I tried to work through a few different characters in my monster and robot memo books and it seemed to get me by the working kinks that start every studio day.

I have always kept sketchbooks so this practice doesn't seem completely new, but this is the first time that I have ever challenged myself to fill a particular book with variations on just one subject.  I think this will prove interesting.  Often subjects become boring when you draw them too much because they become all very much the same.  As I am attempting to create a different creature for each page I think that this will make me think a bit more out of the box.

 At any rate, it was at least a pleasant way to end my night last night and begin my day today.  I wonder what other subjects I will try to fit into memo books.  They are cheap.  I'm looking forward to the drawings.  I hope you dig them too.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Clouds and Paint

Last week I went to visit several very good friends.  Each stop revealed multiple works that I had painted.  My style has been very different than most of that work in the last two years.  While there is something really great about my newer drawing based work, I have been missing the layers evident in my more painterly style.  I really had started drawing more as a way to work on my skills where I felt they were wavering.  It was not that long ago that I wouldn't worry about the state of drawing so much because I knew that once I started painting I could make the work look like whatever I needed it to look like.  I had kind of lost sight of the fact that the strictly drawing based work was an exercise.  It is time to paint again.  I want some more serious shows again.

With these last two thoughts in mind, I started at one of my sketchbooks during the middle of a class that I was monitoring on Saturday.  I visited some cloud motifs that I had worked with a couple years ago.  They were really a modification of the clouds in the old Cloud Constructor works, but with more of the express intent of making the clouds characters in their own right.  I started crossing this imagery with the rain marks.  Rain has always signified a sort of cleansing and rebirth to me.  Perhaps it is like a continued sort of baptism?  The rebirth brought me back to me child who is on the way.  I started mixing the baby badger into the piece as well.

Finally I was able to get some real painting in the other night.  My wife was asleep on the couch and I was listening to Ben Kweller ( I love pop music when I am working through new ideas. )  I took a panel that I had nailed together in attempts to entertain her little brother at one point.  Side note: that plan did not work.  I liked the shape of the pieced together wood and I thought that cloud forms would add a nice contrast to the rectilinear shapes making up the larger shape of the surface.

Slowly everything started to form in my head.  The clouds and the rain are a way of thinking of media and ideologies which saturate our vision and thoughts.  It is all one confusing cloud or blob.  I began to think about my child.  What are all of these extraneous bits of information going to feel like to a small child learning the ways of the world?

The larger piece felt pretty good and I felt like the colors were working really well.  It felt like the right thing to be painting again.  I started to wonder if there might be something in working the painterly and the drawing back and forth a little bit more.

This is what I ended up with when I started to think about the two as one.  I think that there is probably some success in here that I had not been aware of before.  We will have to see.