Friday, May 26, 2006

Blew Me Away

Today Chris R and I did the Chelsea Trudge. We saw a lot of stuff, and Jennifer Coates at Feigen Contemporary. I stood in front of this painting for like, ten minutes. Or fifteen.

I take small comfort from the fact that Internet digitization mauls her work as badly as it does mine; I wish I could adequately describe to you the subtlety of the color treatment, the transitions, the exquisite detail set off by scrumptious, sweeping color fields, the way the surface is glass-smooth in places and built up in humps in places where, on this screen, it just looks white. Particularly the fact that when you stand in front of it, an inaudible symphony tinkles in the ether all around you.

I stole this detail shot of the above painting from another guy's blog--I hope he will forgive me. The images on Feigen were disgracefully dim.

Lots of times, when I go gallery-hopping, I see plenty of Neat Stuff. I see things that make me laugh, make me groan, make me turn away in depression and disgust. Sometimes I see things I adore, like the Tara Donovan show at Pace Wildenstein, but that have little or no direct relevance to what I'm trying to do in my own work. As much as I enjoyed Tara's twenty-by-twenty-foot topographical landscape made entirely with plastic cups, I could not apply any of her methodologies to my painting-in-progress, except in a very abstract and indirect way.

And folks, I have looked long and hard at a LOT of painting. At this point, I pass by a Van Gogh at the Met and my mental painting-schemata is so highly developed that I can pretty much take in the whole thing in about eight seconds. So that when I say that I stood in front of Jennifer's painting for many, many minutes, this is not idle praise.

In fact, I'm going to have to reconsider my entire way of working after seeing this show. I admit it frankly--she's doing what I'm doing, only much, much better. And in ACRYLIC on CANVAS.

Time to turn some paintings wall-wards for the nonce, and ponder.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Technological limitations

This will probably be of no interest to anyone but me, but I did my first forearm stand in yoga class this week. This is a notable event because I have a mild phobia about being upside-down. I can manage a headstand against the wall, and a very brief, kinetic handstand in the center of the room, but the idea of falling over backwards from an upside-down position is so deeply terrifying to me that I can't even do a handstand against the wall. This would require falling backwards of vertical far enough to hit the wall, and something in my reptile brain will not allow this.

So I have been theoretically working at forearm stands for about eight months now. It looked fairly easy when the teacher first demonstrated it, but when I got started it felt impossible. You put your arms on the ground, elbow-distance apart and rigorously parallel; your head is lifted, your back arched, and you kick your legs up so that your feet land against the wall over your head. Then you hang out and whistle. This is the theory, anyway--my forearm stands, up until this week, have consisted of getting arms into place, hopping like a wounded penguin attempting flight, and eventually freezing in a panic and retreating to Child's Pose.

We generally practice forearm stands after about 45 minutes of sweaty vinyasas; thus when it's time, I'm sopping wet and shaking with the effort. My strength and will for turning upside-down are at a low ebb, particularly when you include the slippage factor. This week, when 'okay, do a forearm stand' was announced, I traipsed blindly toward the wall and prepared to humiliate myself once more.

Then I made myself stop. For a full minute I sat there, and visualized myself doing a perfect forearm stand. Then I did it. It was easy.

Intention is a powerful thing. I practiced it the next day at the co-op, too. Being low on funds, I decided that I wanted to spend $40 on the week's groceries. After that I didn't count, just focused on getting the most balanced meals at the best prices. I was sure I'd gone over, maybe as much as ten or twenty dollars over, but when they handed me my receipt, it said $39.96.

So, on with the art.

This week I intended to finish, and finished, the current painting, called "Fireflies."

It was thrilling to get it done, and horribly disappointing to get it photographed. It seems that the palettes I use are irreproducible with the technical equipment I've got. If the blues and purples are more or less accurate, the yellows, reds and pinks are washed-out, and vice-versa. I talked with some experts about it this weekend, and the solution involves either purchasing some more expensive equipment or hiring an expensive person. So for now, you get an inadequate JPEG and a long-winded explanation.

In person, this painting is three feet high by four feet wide, oil on linen. The deep blue/purple hills at the bottom make a sort of deep, grounding, peaceful 'hummm' in the space in front of it, while the lighter blues, purples and pinks in the sky create a shimmery energy that seems to rain down over the hum. The baseball-like bubbles appear to glow with a light that is simultaneously incandescent and fluorescent, including as it does a wide spectrum of yellows, ochres, reds and pale viridians, and the bubbles themselves seem to lift your heart up with them and carry it into the deep blue of the twilight.

The detail shots aren't much better, but hopefully they give a slight idea of the texture, and the number of layers of color. The surface is extremely matte, given the large amount of beeswax medium in the paint.

I wanted to convey a number of impressions with this painting; the way the sky is still so full of shimmery light long after the sun has set; a sense of whimsical movement in the active lines, loosely representing fireflies, each encased in its own bubble of light; a suggestion of infinite journeys up ahead, conveyed by the abstracted 'river' flowing into the sky between the two hills; a pervasive peace that is still not entirely devoid of wistfulness.

Or perhaps this is all bullshit, and it's a childish painting of yellow floating baseballs. Only time will tell.

For those of you who are still wondering, this is how the Endless Painting ended up. I'm calling it 'Plexus.'

This one makes a very powerful cone of energy, radiating out from the spiral. There's a certain amount of tension created by the fact that the paint is so thick and rough on the 'rock' part, and relatively flat and smooth in the 'sun.' I wanted to convey the impression that the light is in the process of shattering the rock.

Again, the colors and details are utterly horrible on the computer, and Photoshop will only take me so far.

So, what are y'alls intentions, this week?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sharing the Feeling

Hello all you nice new people! Thanks for visiting my blog.

Bsch has some wise things to say:

Even the the most deeply felt painting may end up as someone's wallpaper. Your effect upon them wasn't the reason you made it. We make the work to fill a need we have. To fill a space that was going unfilled in the world around us. To paraphrase an old teacher, "we paint to have something to look at."

I am always pleased when I get a positive response to my work but the pleasure is moderated by the fact that what the viewer gets from the work is so different from what I see. Communication is always uncertain and visual forms are less certain than most.
I'd like, however, to address that issue of 'deeply felt painting.' We could wander into some sticky territory, if we're not careful.

As they say, "All bad poetry is sincere." This goes equally for bad painting. If the only criteria for assessing the artistic merit of a work is whether or not it is 'deeply felt,' we might as well all hang up our smocks and open a pizzeria. I can recall many, many nights in art school where I played the Cure at top volume till 4 AM, rent my veins, and bled all over my canvas; the resultant work was certainly 'deeply felt,' but it was still awful. The process of maturing as an artist requires the ability to separate from one's feelings, particularly those ego-based feelings that say "This work is Great Art because I made it," and honestly assess how the work measures up in the world.

And I am not sure that I, personally, necessarily paint to have something to look at. The world as God created it is a hell of a lot more amazing than anything I could possibly produce; most people, indeed, seem to be blind to it. When I walk up my block and see a thunderhead approaching, with the sunset behind it, gingko trees lashing in the wind and the unearthly pinky-gold light reflecting off the towers of Manhattan, I am not only astonished, but floored by the fact that I seem to be the only person staring. Whenever I get maudlin about lack of artistic recognition, I pause and consider how God must feel about that same issue.

No, the reason I paint is 1) because I am instinctively compelled to do it and 2) in order to create a certain, specific set of vibrations, to be placed in specific places, toward a specific effect. These vibrations are partly visual, but partly not. The best I can describe it is that I am creating an aura.

Part of what I am doing involves movement, as well. Recently I attended a lecture by Thomas Bennett, a really splendid Brooklyn painter, and we discussed the fact that some painters relate to the world kinesthetically, that is, with the aesthetics of movement. You can see this clearly in Bennett's work; he paints figures and animals that are not only obviously in motion, but leaving clear evidence of the type of gesture he himself makes while painting. The resultant images have a spontaneity and aliveness that would not be reproducible by a purely visual, precise, stop-motion type of painter.

"Flicka," 1999 by Thomas Bennett, oil on styrene, 40 x 72

Motives and feelings about painting aside, I fervently believe that there ARE such things as objective, or semi-objective, standards for deciding what is Art and what is ego-indulgent crap. Sometimes it takes a generation or two for the crap to settle to the bottom, and sometimes Great Work goes unrecognized and lost for all time. But I don't believe that solipsism does any artist any good.

Over the years I have put a lot of thought, research and study into the notion of what makes a great painting, great. I've schlepped through the Met, the MOMA, the Louvre, the Kimbell, the Art Institute of Chicago, the SF MOMA, the Tate, as many of the major museums in Mexico City as I could before the smog and the thugs took me out, and innumerable galleries, and less-notable museums. I've bought the art books, and read as much criticism as I could stomach (which isn't all that much, honestly.) After all this earnest looking, I cannot come up with any better description than the one Lucio Pozo gave me in my first semester at SFAI: "It has to be singing. Every bit of it."

The difference between a great painting and a second-rate one is that the great one, in some way, transcends rational thought; it is more than just a symbol denotating an object or a concept or a feeling. It is actually doing something very cohesive to the space around it; you can literally almost hear it, almost feel the punch in your solar plexus. Rembrandt does it; Vermeer, Manet, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Pollock, Tamayo, Kieffer. They all do it in their own, highly individual ways, and it doesn't matter whether or not their paintings are literal, representative, polished, messy, or abstract.

A second-rate painter gets permanently mired in depiction, even the abstract ones. They're taking an intellectual concept and painstakingly representing it on a surface, without allowing any space for the breath of spirit to take over and lift it up.

Ahem. I didn't intend to go so far into that; please excuse.

But all this to make the point--that there comes a point when I've done enough work, taken enough long looks and resignedly done another scrapedown, thrown enough whole bodies of my own failed artwork into dumpsters, that I know when something I've done is good. I can still acknowlege when another artist blows me out of the water; I can still see where I've got a long way to go toward realizing my vision. But when I got the paintings for my show last year out, all together, and sat with them, they were singing. It wasn't just my ego. They succeeded.

You are right, Bsch, that communication is uncertain, particularly with visual images. But people do pick up on them, at least subliminally; they do and did respond to that show.

The problem was, quite specifically, that the people in the gallery did not take the time or the trouble to point out to the visitors what they were experiencing, name it, and acknowlege it as something worth recognizing and, ultimately, paying for. As the artist, I did my job. As artists, we desperately need dealers who do THEIR jobs. I've been a dealer, briefly; I did the job of pointing out the poetry, the songs, the feeling of the paintings I sold, and it was a crucial one.

In closing, I feel the need to address a piece of Pointless Spite that popped up recently, despite the fact that my general rule is to ignore such unprovoked rudeness.
just stick to massage and writing-don't bother with painting,you're not talented enough to drive yourself crazy over it-sorry,but thats the truth

Hello? Who are you, again? Didn't catch the name. Obviously this is a person who knows me quite well, has taken the time to visit my studio and my shows and knows the work intimately in person; they also evidently have my psychology pegged, and know me better than I know myself. Obviously they have nothing but concern for my happiness at heart. Obviously they also need a lesson or two in basic grammar, but that is not my job, being too busy as I am with my crazed bashing of talentless head against a wall.

But, as Danny points out below, talent is not, and never has been, the issue. You can call it whatever you like, but we ALL have talent. Some more, some less, in all sorts of different arenas. The issue is commitment, drive, and honesty. I've been a committed painter for eighteen years, and that is not going to change because some idiot thinks I'm not talented. Maybe I'm NOT talented. So what? There are a lot of schmos out there with less talent than I've got, having shows in galleries with equally un-talented dealers, selling to collectors with no taste.

I chose this life, craziness and all, and I have no regrets.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

All KINDS of stuff

My apologies for not having posted in yonks. The creative Block finally Broke, and I have been filling the apartment with fumes in preparation for the Park Slope Studio Tour, which you may attend by following the above link to BWAC, downloading a map and coming on 'round. Or, in case you just want to visit ME (I'm thinking mimosas and homemade oatmeal cookies), the secret is: 16th between 3rd and 4th avenues, middle of the block. (718)768-3236. I'll have a sign up.

Also, Oculus Arts is coming in from Philly to debut some of the very first prints in my living room. They will be gorgeous.

I have discovered some very very awesome NYC art blogs, thanks to Oriane. They are:

Edward Winkleman--some of the most insightful commentary on art, politics, social philosophy and random issues that I've ever read. I am in serious danger of Wasting Even More Time.

Painters NYC--an anonymous painter posts a JPEG of a painting by a different artist every day, and commenters rip it to shreds. Fun, fun, fun. I imagine that some of the snarky flames suddenly appearing on my blog are due to the fact that SOMEONE doesn't agree with me. How we suffer for our art.

Anonymous Female Artist--Oriane says that this girl is the girl we all were in our rebellious art-student youth. I haven't probed it too intensely yet, since I suspect it will make me wince, but the current post is quite entertaining.

My studio will undoubtedly be a Mess for the tour. The key to breaking the block turned out to be Radical Simplicity, and these things take a while to resolve themselves. I imagine this new series of paintings won't be resolved for, oh, a year, five years, a lifetime, but that's the fun of it.

However, I feel compelled to briefly re-state my Artist Statement, due to the abovementioned snarky flames, and just to remind myself. What I am doing in my painting has more to do with reaching a certain kinesthetic affect than in just inventing an image with an intellectual, political, psychological or aesthetic agenda (though these can certainly all be part of it.) I know that the painting is done when suddenly something clicks into place, and the whole thing starts singing at me.

This is the kind of thing that does not translate well to Internet-quality digital images. The vast majority of the content in my work has to do with subtlety and relationship of color, form, texture, medium, layering, and luminosity, all of which are thinly conveyed in a photograph. And when you see them in person, either you get it or you don't. If you don't, that's fine. I do what I do.