Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rent Painting

Yesterday over lunch my friend Melissa and I were talking about creating art for the purposes of making money versus creating artwork out of a compulsion to answer a diverse array of visual problems.  Both are adequate goals.  To be sure creating work that is salable is a difficult problem to solve in and of itself, but it is sadly not a question that I find any interest in.

We definitely agreed that paying for the costs of being an artist were vital.  In regards to that we began to talk about creating a hashtag: #rentpainting.  Hashtag rentpainting refers to that painting which is created at the end of each month in efforts to raise rent money for studio.  Here's the first #rentpainting from the Mighty Lark.

It is priced at $200, just enough to pay my studio rent.  If you're interested, simply send payment through paypal to Mike@lewisacrylics.com.  Please spread the word.  Thank you.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Sacred Geometry & Agnes Martin

Last week I substitute taught a class on minimalism for a friend of mine at Maine College of Art and I couldn't be more grateful, as without her, I never would have stumbled across Agnes Martin's Grid Paintings.  In a Charles Darwent article in the July, August issue of Modern Painters, Darwent says, "the artisanal slowness of Martin's paintings - each canvas stretched and gessoed by the artist herself, its gridded lines worked out mathematically in her head and then drawn freehand onto the surface with a short ruler - calls for us to see them slowly."

It was on a crazy morning that I reviewed this material for Angela's class.  My wife was in need of a greasy breakfast and my son was not having it.  As Austin lost his kit and kaboodle, my dreams of understanding the nuances of a class on minimalism slipped away into an endless void, seemingly never to be found again.  But as Austin drifted off to sleep in the car and little wife ran into a bagel shop for a second go round at breakfast, I settled in to an article about a woman who worked during the fury that was the American Abstract Expressionist movement; a movement characterized by the testicular forces of Pollock and Rothko, a movement which could overshadow someone with something quiet to say.  I thought it sort of like trying to think with an infant screaming into your ear. While reading about her grid paintings I began to see the similarities between the origin of her quiet lines drawn with a small ruler, and my bic pen lines drawn with my square.  The measure is incredibly important, but really not important at all.  The patterns require a geometry, but where they fall apart oft becomes the most interesting part of the piece.  

A good friend visited me today in studio and showed me a video on sacred geometry and the number 9.  It is incredible how ordered the entire world is on a physical and theoretical level.  Still, when we consider our social interactions, cultural differences and general racial and caste warfare the order falls apart.  The micro view begets The Lord of the Flies while the macro view looks more like Huxley's Brave New World.  We are wired for disorder but built on geometry.  Therein lies some of the meaning that I've been seeking for my sudden compulsion to paint patterns in the last year and a half.  That's not all that I realized today, however.  As I was chatting with Melissa, it dawned on me, that when I was creating animal characters I was responding to people that I would see out and about town, combining features and personality traits, finding patterns within our human experience.  When I stopped working as much with the characters, I commenced creating patterns.  I began my own hermetic process, a holy endeavor, like a monk, holed away in my studio seeking a holy equation, but accepting that life is more about flaws and variances than exactitude.  That is my truth for today and will stand until a newer, shinier truth takes its place.

Time to head to bed with a sketchbook, my journal, and a book of Von Humboldt essays.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

This Song is Sung for Anyone That's Listening

I have been working in the same studio space for about a year and a half now.  I just verbally agreed to a new lease for 2015/2016.   The reason I bring this up, is that for years I claimed that if I had the time to dig in and actually develop my work I would be able to be so much more productive and more successful.  While it is difficult to see beyond the immediate time period, either into the future or into the past, I think this still to be true.  

My May show at the Central Gallery draws near, and as it grows closer, I am left with this amazing thought that while usually my focus is narrowing within two months of a big show, my focus this time seems to be broadening.  My work seems far more free than it has in the past.  I don't feel like the result needs to be the greatest thing in the world.  It is unlikely that it will be.  It will be the best thing that I can complete within these next two months, but there is no guarantee that it will be work that will gain me any recognition, be meaningful to any audience, or for that matter even be remembered in a months time.

While in studio today I was listening to Uncle Tupelo.  As Life Worth Livin' was playing, I began to think about my audience.  Essentially it doesn't matter to me if people see my work, though in the past I have claimed that I strive to make work that makes people happy, but with my recent work, and especially with the work for this show, I realize that it is no longer about that for me anymore.  They lyrics to Life Worth Livin' cut sharp.  

This song is sung for anyone that's listening
This song is for the broken-spirited man
This song is for anyone left standing
After the strain of a slow, sad end

The work has always been for anyone who is listening, anyone who wants to see it, feels moved by it in some way.  It doesn't do these things for everyone.  For the longest time, I felt like it should, like if I was successful, suddenly everyone would understand my work.  Everyone would like my work.  I would become an international art star over night.  I would change people's lives for the better and the world would be a better place.  I am thirty four now.  I do not live in this land of make believe, but much like Cezanne who was super critical of his own work and himself, I still maintain this feeling that there is something in it which is vital to the art world, or at least vital to me and a number of people who do genuinely enjoy what I make.  

I began to think about my work in these terms.

Question the process.  
Let the result stand as a record.  
Rethink the process.  

I've decided that the finished products that I create are not actually finished.  While there is perhaps an end goal, I am unaware of what it is.  I have a vision sometimes or sometimes a question or topic that I want to ponder for a while.  I make an initial statement and then the dialogue begins.  When the dialogue is through for the time being, I have a "finished piece."

Cezanne has been very important to me as of late.  His color palette was enough to make any painter drool, but I think that his career arc is one that provides me with inspiration.  He struggled for such a long time and had moments of complete brilliance while in solitude and peace in the country.  Despite any struggles which he may have suffered, he is considered one of the key figures in painting in the past century and a half.  He provides me with hope, but the hope isn't for some illusory sense of success but rather he provides me hope that I may find what I am looking for one of these days, or perhaps someone else will realize what I am looking for.

I started working on this piece after Cezanne yesterday.  I created my own still life of tangerines.  I am obsessed with tangerines.  They are by far one of my favorite things.  Oranges come in a close second.  When I think about these fruit I cannot but help of thinking of Cezannes still lifes of fruit.  While he did not use a lot of oranges in his work, he did use peaches quite a bit which fit, color wise, with what I've been working on.  I began my piece by drawing the tangerines in my normal ink style, but as I've been choosing the color and layout for my color grids in the background I am selecting colors that are used primarily in each section of a Cezanne still life.

The process is allowing me more time to think about the color choices that I am making.  How do they fit into the structure of the piece?  This way they become less random and more about empirical shapes within the work.  

Yesterday I also finished one of my bigger mechanical pieces for the show in Bangor.  I was very pleased with the way the color interacted with the drawing in this piece.  I think it one of the more successful pieces of this nature that I have created thus far.

I feel like I am in a good spot with my work and with my progress on this show.  Hopefully the progress continues and I install something I can really feel proud of.  In the long run I really just want the work to reach a point where I know that I've learned something, presented the best thing that I am currently capable of and, most importantly, that there is still obvious room for growth.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

One Short Blast

The other night I felt really frustrated with life, more like I was a witness than a participant. It is a feeling that fatherhood has regularly left me with. The pressures of being a good husband and father leave me straining my psyche to place my wife and my son before everything, my job, my social life, even my work. Where I thought this would grow easier with time I realize that it may never be anything that is easy for me. I am on a schedule constantly. It is difficult to be creative in this manner, but I've found myself pushing in different directions, seeking different blocks of time, trying to retain my creative freedom and my creative space.  

Today I painted between classes I was teaching again. It has grown easier to carry a studio in a bag. It has proven necessary if I am to find the time to paint that I desire. 

This piece came a long way today. I'm extremely pleased with it and very confused as to where the yellow and purple piece fits with the rest of my work all bedazzled in earth tones. It is a good dilemma to face. Here's to some vibrant retention of self in the near future. 

Keep up and I'll keep posting. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Henry Miller, Apollinaire, Louis Armstrong, and Changing Courses

Last week I sat down with my journal in studio while listening to a Louis Armstrong tape that I've had for many years.  The course of thought that struck me was that a tape cassette is an imperfect, temporal object.  Much like the human memory it is crisp in the beginning but as time wears on it becomes less and less comprehendible.  It becomes distorted, disintegrates and depending on care falls apart.

The journaling method is becoming more important to me.  I have determined that the process and the finished product are one in the same.  This years finished product is next years building block to next years finish.  Everything is a work in progress.  There is no real finish.  As such the journal becomes a way to organize the thoughts and chronology of creative decisions.  I am not as good with it yet as I would like to be but I am hoping with a little work it becomes something that I am more capable of doing.

I have been reading Henry Miller in tandem with working on this show of works for Bangor, ME.  I appreciate how his work is individual accounts of events which seem more or less disparate of one another but build into an elaborate account of his life on Big Sur.  It is this same interrelation, I think, that my work depends on, much like my "finished" pieces all adding together to make the newest finished pieces.

Currently I am working through some smaller works to go with my larger cross hatched pieces in the upcoming show.  I am mostly trying to find the connection between the moths and the tape cassette ribbons.  It is out there, or perhaps in there, but I have not been able to make any concrete connection as of yet.  Here are a couple images of the diptych which hopefully helps me find these elusive relationships.

I have also started to work on a couple more studies, like the studies of foundry buckets that I was working on before I started my large drawing of the bucket with ascending moths.  This piece of technology that I am working with is the train whistle.  There is something in function to the train whistle that seems very much connected to this whole process.  It is mechanical and creates sound.  That may be all that it needs to be to create the connection, but I suspect that there is another nugget of meaning in there somewhere as well.  Sorry for the crummy picture.  I took it in a room fully lit by 60 watt bulbs.  I'll post a better image later this week.

Lastly, I finally found a book of Apollinaire's poetry.  He was incredibly profound and I feel very pleased to be accompanying this body of work with some of his poetry.  There is a romanticism in his verse crossed with a literary playfulness which I attempt to create between drawing and painting proficiency and witty imagery and visual references.  Hopefully reading more of his work will sharpen my wit.