Thursday, January 17, 2019

New Work: Ode to Ellsworth

Ode To Ellsworth
painted paper collage on wc paper
15" x 18"
Early on, when I was really investigating other artists and trying to learn about art history, I of course came across the work of Ellsworth Kelly. To this day, what really draws me to his work is the simplification of forms. I have read that his shapes and compositions reflected his perception of what he had seen, like shadows on a wall for example. The simultaneous simplicity and complexity of his work is really appealing. How just two shapes and two colors can be so profound is an amazement. 

He died several years ago but prior to his death, he gifted the concept of a building design, called Austin, to the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. The article link is worth a read if only to learn just how much faith and effort went in to completing Kelly's "chapel" design. It isn't a religious space so much as it is a space to contemplate spirituality, if that makes sense. He meant it to be aesthetic only but after seeing the spareness and beauty of the colored light coming through the windows, I can't help but wonder how anyone couldn't be moved by the non spiritual/spiritual experience. 

In any case, I was drawn to one of the windows in the chapel which looks like a rainbow burst of light. I made my own version of that window as a sort of centerpiece of the above work. I love any kind of a chance to use rainbows in my work and so my own "Ellsworth window" satisfies that need. 

As always, I wish I had another artist's sensibility. (I have my own which is fine but still.) Kelly's thought processes and execution of his ideas seems amazing to me: to be able to distill something complex down into something simple and pleasing. What a gift. 

This is my first finish of 2019 . It feels like a solid start to me and I am hoping I won't falter or stray too much this year from my own ideas and perceptions. Here's to a good year!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

New Work: The Here and Now

The Here and Now
18" x 18" 
painted paper collage on canvas
There isn't any one excuse for not having produced much work lately. I realize now that the bottom line is that I simply haven't made time to work consistently. Yes, I have disconnected a bit from myself but that is just a small part of things. There isn't really any one reason other than just not making time.

In any event, I did reconnect with some part of myself recently to come up with the above piece. I had been on a hike with some friends and saw something across the lake. What I actually saw was that bottom left blue shape. It was sort of the negative space above the hillsides that I saw in the distance. I held on to that image and used it for the starting point of the piece. Everything else flowed from that idea. I should mention too that all of the shapes and things have some kind of basis in reality; my reality, that is. They all remind me of something I have seen or they reflect some idea I had. For example, I follow an artist on Instagram named Tom Harold. He makes rolling ball sculptures and if you don't know what those are you want to hop on over to his site to check them out! He uses all sorts of marbles in his work that roll around on these metal tracks. His constructions are very inspiring. I love to think of lines and shapes and objects sort of traveling around, waiting to fall into place with one another. They are all independent but also interconnected.

The title of the painting comes from something that I just recently put my finger on. Subject matter for art is always an issue. What is the art about? I waffle between art that has some meaning or looks like something recognizable and art that is purely emotional or gestural, perhaps even without meaning. It's both ends of the spectrum and frankly, I don't do either of them well! I don't paint well enough to paint realistically and I lack the impetus and energy to get emotional on the canvas. I am just in the middle somewhere. I finally decided, that for me and for being in this middle ground between subjective and objective, the work is grounded in something, but that something is different for me and different for the viewer. For my part, I tend to deal with things that I have seen or ideas that I have. I am looking around me trying to notice things. Hence the title of The Here and Now. I wait for images and ideas to present themselves. I take those ideas and visual fluff and put them with the colors, shapes, lines, etc. Or it could even be in reverse. I might see a shape I like and it reminds me of something. It's just hard to know what is going to come up and be useful. I can accept that.

Alright, thanks for reading. Hope everyone is having a lovely and gracious holiday season.

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.