Thursday, November 15, 2018

If You Build It... New Work

If You Build It
20" x 20" Painted acrylic papers on canvas
collage/mixed media

It doesn't happen often that a piece springs fully formed, so to speak, from my mind to the canvas. I had been watching the news and of course saw the group of refugees trying to make it to the US. I was so struck by this idea, of a mass of people on the move, that it stuck with me for several days. On my walk several days later, I literally saw the finished piece in my mind. I wasn't sure though if I could do what I wanted. This is probably the first time that I have really felt as if my reach has exceeded my grasp. (For the record, I aim low every time so I won't be disappointed in myself.) I just felt that the piece could look like a kindergarten project if I wasn't careful, especially with the writing that I wanted to include and the star stickers at the edge of the seal. I really did though bring my regular skills and thoughts to bear on this one while putting it together. I worked hard to get some value and color gradations along with differing sizes. I wanted to give some depth to the piece to underscore the idea of a large group of people gathered together.  And I wanted Trump, front and center, ensconced behind his presidential seal, hiding from the humanity that is necessary in dealing with so great a problem. The piece looks simple I expect because of the basic shapes. It does say though what I want it to say.

The title of this new piece is of course taken from the movie with Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams. I liked the many ideas that the title conjured up in my mind as I was working, chief among them that a wall to stop immigrants from entering our country would only cause a greater influx of people wanting to come here; trying harder in other words. I also wanted to include some specific imagery, namely the fenced enclosures that I had seen on the news a while back. Refugees were being held (still are I believe), separated from one another by these fences and the law. It seemed awful to me. 

Immigration is a very complex issue. I admit that I don't know a lot about it. A cursory search turned up lots of information of course. I like this site here. During the course of making this piece, I read a book by John F. Kennedy, titled A Nation of Immigrants. It's a very careful and idealistic view of our nation's history of immigration. Our former president reminds us all, in a kind way, that we are a nation that was built on the idea that people could come here to seek a better life; that our country has always valued the skills and contributions of immigrants; and that our country is what it is today because of this beautiful blend of people from many nations.  He calls for reform to a broken quota system and makes some suggestions for how we can improve as a nation. 

As I worked the piece, I realized that I very much wanted to include a portion of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is at the base of the statue of liberty. Are the words still relevant for us today? And I included the portion of Matthew 25: 35 (RSV) that was quoted by JFK in the above mentioned book. Those words, I believe, are absolutely relevant today. Regardless of how one feels about immigration and immigrants, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that we are talking about human beings, people just like you and me. These are people that are hurting and at a real disadvantage, caught in the cross hairs of our political system. If our President was listening, I would tell him to keep his eye on the ball.

Alright, thanks for reading. Feel free to comment.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

New Work: In The Meanwhile...

In The Meanwhile...
12" x 12" acrylic and paper on board-collage

Did you know that "in the meantime" and "in the meanwhile" mean two different things, roughly? The former denotes that you are waiting for something to happen or waiting until something happens (and doing something else in the meantime) and the latter means that there are two things happening at once. It seems like they are fairly interchangeable but I chose the latter phrase to say what I mean. What I wanted to call this was While Rome Burns but I learned that that expression is not based on fact. The violin had not been invented in Nero's time so it seems unlikely that he would have been fiddling. (God knows he was likely doing something else as the city burned around him.)

Anyhow. I have written before about bringing snippets of thoughts and ideas together to create a piece. A couple of weeks ago as I was watching the news, I was astounded by the string of stories being reported. Seemingly all in one breath, the newscaster reported that Trump declared Google was skewing its search results in favor of the Democrats; there was more news about election tampering; and lastly, (but surely not least), North Korea was once again testing missiles (or whatever it is that they are doing to try and exercise their might). I could hardly believe it. All news does not have equal weight of course but I thought that the nonsense about Google coupled with the more serious items of election tampering and the missile deal was just a crazy juxtaposition of stories. I wrote it all down and over the next week or so collected images in my mind. The piece came together quickly and represents what I love to do best: bring ideas and images together that are unexpected and maybe not even related but just are things that I was thinking collectively, if that makes sense. It all means that I am tuned in to my own thoughts which is very good for art making, in my opinion.

By the way, I looked in to that Google situation. The original story used to support this claim is based on a faulty interpretation of statistics. Goes to show you.

Oh, and just to explain about the image. I used Google's colors for that line of squares. The green check mark and ballot box go together along with the question marks and percentage signs. That's Kim Jong-Un at the top with a bomb for his head (no love lost there). The North Korean flag's colors have been reversed (accidentally on my part but I like the idea of it) and those are U.S. colors in that target site. I used the nuclear waste symbol in the gray area, kind of an underground feeling. And those are missiles above ground, not crayons as Rich suggested. Anyway, let me know what you see!

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

New Work: College Material

College Material
12" x 12"
acrylic paint and painted papers on board
As I work along through the day, I tend to write things down in my sketchbook which is really a kind of diary as well as a place to doodle shapes. Generally, when I am in between pieces I am kind of gathering my thoughts. The sketchbook is a useful place to corral those thoughts where sometimes they turn into ideas or images. Ultimately, after some consideration, I have found that the sketchbook notes and these pieces go hand in hand. Whatever it was that I was thinking and wrote about or sketched tends to show up in the finsihed collages.

 As an example of that synchronization, the blue square in the lower left corner came about because I read about something called "the blue wall." Trump has asserted that the Electoral College is skewed towards democrats. There is a political theory dealing with contiguous red and blue states and the uphill battle faced by Republicans. (I am really crying! Boo hoo! Read about it here.) Anyhow, I got interested in whether or not a solid blue shape, which is how I envisioned the above wall, could start out my collage. The blue is very dark in value and a solid square. What else would I need to add to balance that out?  I began to think in terms of opposite ideas and then that gray grid thing showed up. It's very open and is lighter in value and larger. It works nicely. 

The whole piece took a while to get off the ground. I struggled after the first couple of moves. I started layering on solid shapes which didn't work. I don't like a "collection" of shapes. In my mind and to my eyes everything needs to be tied together somehow. So, I was kind of stuck for a few days. Eventually, I cut out one of the solid shapes, added the pink line shape instead and at that point things flowed more smoothly. I hit upon the idea for a group of colored lines acting as one shape. The rest became easier.

What does the piece mean? You tell me. My notes in my sketchbook reflect what I was thinking about and as I mentioned above, those ideas frequently show up somewhere in the collages. The red line is sort of an antithesis to the blue wall idea. My friend's stepson is going off to college at UCLA. I pictured those megaphones used by cheerleaders (sort of old fashioned 1920's rah-rah type stuff) and a giant sock kicking some balls. The sock was kind of an argyle sock in my mind (very collegiate somehow) and I imagined children everywhere being booted out of the nest to go away to school. I chose a sort of reverse image infinity sign to symbolize some parent paying forever for their child to get a degree. Gray clouds for gray days and I even added a UCLA inspired bear! Why not?

Alright! Enough silliness. I am going to start on another piece this week, I hope, and I will see what happens. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

New Work: Pants on Fire

Pants on Fire
20" x 20" mixed media-acrylic and paper

I am not even sure where to start! I couldn't say which thing got me so pissed off to begin with but whatever it was it has manifested itself in the above piece. 

It's no small thing to think someone is a liar let alone to say that to someone's face or to use that term when talking about that person's actions.  Growing up, I don't remember my parents specifically telling me not to use this word but honestly, I never called anyone by this term. I may think someone is lying but I would never call that person a liar. It's a very bad word (and this from someone who loves to use the "F" word liberally). It's right up there with saying that you hate somebody. (My mom expressly forbade me from using that word-it means you wish someone was dead.) In any case, the word "liar" is a very strong term and not one to be thrown around casually.

But wait! Am I a hypocrite? I voted for Bill Clinton twice. And Hillary? Several times, it seems. I have told many a fib myself from time to time. Sometimes the truth just won't do. I guess what I want to say is that everyone bends the truth. It's human nature to do so for any number of reasons. And while overlooking a lie here or there is OK, in a politcian or other person in power, I think we have the right to expect the truth. Voting involves a lot of trust and to abuse that trust really undermines someone's integrity.

Anyway. Enough of that. The above peice was very fun to make. It started out just as a regular sketch and then morphed into this poilitical idea. I wasn't totally sure I could just paint the piece. Painting curves is tough for me and much of what I do involves taping to get clean, straight lines. So, it seemed like a good time to test out the paper/paint combo idea. I really like it a lot. I had to think in terms of layers, painted areas first and then painted paper to finish. It was a challenge plus I had forgotten how much I love the methodical process of cutting and pasting.

I used lots of personal symbols in the piece. Some of them, such as the Twitter birds and Trump himself, were very much an ad hoc thing. The colored blocks on the right side remind me of a child's xylaphone. The square in the lower right corner is based on the Monopoly game board as is the idea of that red arrow and the black and white "jail" lines. The gray and pink traingular shape in the middle is based on an hourglass that my parents used to own. I feel (and hope) that time is running out on Trump's presidency. And one of the most spontaneous decisions I made was to add the white lettering. The children's rhyme of "Liar, liar, pants on fire" seemed to fit well. (I tend to think of Trump as an overgrown baby.)

All in all, I am pleased with this piece. It's more "theme" driven I guess than some of my other paper pieces which are a little more "design" driven. I like too that I have circled back to the paper. I hope to try some other things soon using that medium combined with straight painting. 

Thanks for reading,
PS- I hope this goes without saying but the above reflections are my opinion. As such, they aren't up for debate. It's what I feel. If you would like to comment on the piece itself, colors, design, etc. that is fine but don't leave a political comment please.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

New Work: Up, Up and Away.

Up, Up, and Away
20" x 20" acrylic on canvas
It's hard to believe but I have been picking away at this painting since the beginning of June. One thing and another has taken over working on this piece. I tend to lose track of things when this happens and sometimes forget my original intent. I know that I wanted to utilize the color yellow more. I have a terribly hard time working with it, trying to get just the color that I want. Yellow can really have a lot of blue underneath it making the color appear as a yellow green instead of something warmer. I have found a good trick is to add a little quinacridone magenta. It warms up the yellow just enough and seems to neutralize that greenish cast at the same time. Very effective. 

I will say that most of the time I am grasping for colors that will do something to one another when placed next to each other. What happens most often is a difference in values-light against dark, same value against same value, that kind of thing. Sometimes I get what I call a "chroma" hit. A very chromatic color, something very intense and bright, will be highlighted against a more neutral color, sometimes a tint. And sometimes I get what I call a "direct" hit-two chromatic colors right next to each other, possible opposites on the color wheel. It makes a powerful, larger shape. Lots of times I set out to highlight a particular color, say maybe I want to use a lot of red. Red could turn into the dominant feeling. I hardly ever though stick with this plan. At some point, the painting starts to tell me what it wants. I find that most often, it's this kind of dialogue between me and the painting that ends up turning the piece into what it eventually becomes. There is no real sense anymore in trying to plan stuff out. I start with a plan but that quickly gets put aside. It's taken me a long time to get to this point, creatively speaking. 

The title is sort of based on a hike that I had this week. I was slogging up a longish hill to reach the top. Slogging is the right word too, make no mistake about it. All the triangles in the above piece remind me of mountains. I had the idea that I would have liked to sail gracefully up that hill, kind of an up, up and way feeling. No chance! Feet of lead! Hopefully my painting feels lighter.

Hope that everyone has had a good week. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Monday, May 28, 2018

New Work: Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?
Acrylic on canvas 20" x 20" 
This last week I picked away at this piece in what might be termed a "desultory" way. I gave it half as much attention as I could have. I did start with a vague idea of wanting to work in sections. This is risky for me since normally I work the whole canvas at once. I got around this by making a bargain with myself. Typically I mix up one color and apply it in several areas at once. Once that color is gone, I don't repeat it for fear of not being able to match it. This time I told myself to just mix the color and apply it and if I wanted the same color again, well, I would get as close as possible or maybe mix up a different value of that color. In other words, I would stop worrying about matching the colors. 

I did pretty well in the freak out department. I didn't have any kind of a meltdown and the painting world didn't come to an end. I mixed colors as I went along and I am happy with the results. The differences from one blue to the next, for example, are subtle but from a distance they simply read as blue. Which is important to remember, to view your work from a distance as well as up close. And remember the painting axiom of "your work has to work from every angle", meaning you should be able to rotate your painting and have it work upside down as well as right side up? Guess what? Too bad! I originally had this going in another direction and it simply wasn't working. I turned it upside down and it works much better. So there!

Alright. I am taking a day off today and I hope everyone else is too. Enjoy the holiday. Thanks for reading,

Saturday, May 19, 2018

New Work: Mountains of Strawberries; An Article

Mountains of Strawberries
20" x 20" acrylic on canvas
I almost titled this piece, Where to Next?  For some reason making color decisions just didn't come easy this time around. And although I am happy with the results I am just not entirely sure about what I will do next. 

The pieces are all started the same way. I have a design and it is drawn onto the canvas. I have a loose idea of the colors that I want to use.  I start placing colors and pretty soon, I am off the grid! I have deviated from The Plan. Generally this is fine but sometimes it produces a crisis of faith. Should I be doing something else? Will I always produce this type of painting if I am always starting in the same way? Are my color decisions stale? What if I just completed one section at a time? Would I just have 5-6 different sections that didn't relate to each other? One of the things that I think makes these pieces cohesive is that the same color is scattered throughout the piece-I vary the position, size of the piece, and chroma/value. What if I didn't do that? Ack!

I really like the random outcomes of these pieces. I have no way of knowing what the final piece will look like. No idea how the shapes and colors will look next to each other and in the context of the piece as a whole. If I change my process then what?

Anyhow, this is what I was thinking about as I made my piece. The bottom line is if you think you are having some success (or having failure) should you switch things up? Have I mentioned The Helsinki Bus Station Theory? It's from an article titled The Proven Path to Doing Unique and Meaningful Work by James Clear(It's OK, I didn't know who he was either. Take a minute to read about what James Clear does.) The Bus Station Theory is a good one. It addresses the question many of us artists have about doing unique and meaningful work and what can happen when we let the work of others lead us astray from doing that work. It's a good read for anyone thinking about copying someone else's work and how NOT TO DO THAT! It's also a good read for those of us who feel insecure or doubtful about our creative paths and look to others for guidance. Honestly, a person needs this article (and the theory). 

What about it then? The upshot of this article is that every time I think about switching up what I am doing or if I look at someone else's work and think Could I do that too? I remind myself about staying on the bus. My bus. My own bus line. (Hint, hint. James gives the answer about how to make your own work unique.) I specifically ask myself if I am about to get on a different bus. Lots of times I can answer no, I am not getting on another bus. But, I know it was a close call!  I almost did.

So, read James's article. He is a good writer with a reasonable and measured voice. The theory is sound too. And good luck! 

Thanks for reading,