Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shock Art Gets Boring

We’ve had many years of shock art getting all the attention. You know what I mean by shock art – just look at what’s been canonized in major international art magazines, and elitist Biennales. Shock Art is work that uses shocking imagery (usually sexual in nature) or bodily fluids combined with religious icons (sound familiar?) Now this trend is finally losing steam and allowing a deeper art to shine through. In fact, I believe the entire era of shocking, mysterious, incomprehensible, and elite art is coming to an end. Let’s get real. How many decades can something that was once shocking still have the power to create any emotional response except boredom? There has always been throughout history a human need to make art, to share it, and to experience it. Art has always been important while trends come and go, circle around.

Great art for me, is work that offers an experience - an experience that goes deeper than intellect, deeper than a surface shock, evoking emotions that connect to the human experience. When I look at an artwork, my immediate response usually tells all. The work, if successful, will draw me into it deeply, invite me to peruse its elements, enjoy it on many levels, and keep me rooted in my viewing spot. I hesitate to leave it, like a new lover. Work that has these qualities is usually work created un-self-consciously, with no agenda to report, with joy and a certain ease - not trying so hard. Great art is hard to find, and takes guts to make.

At recent artist gatherings, this topic seemed to come up quite frequently. One of my friends recently wrote about this phenomena in her blog:
Then only days later, a curator friend wrote something very similar on her blog:


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Joys of Working in Series

Having just completed a group of 12 paintings for my latest show, I am ruminating on the benefits of working on many paintings at the same time. Having a show or exhibition already scheduled not only gives incentive to working in multiples, but also helps to push artists into new heights with their work. I highly recommend trying it if you haven’t already. First of all you need to book a show. If you don’t have a gallery representing your work, then consider picking a date to have an exhibition in your studio. A few days before clean it up, hang your work, get some great food, and hopefully you have already invited friends, and put a posting in the local paper. You can also easily get shows in restaurants, banks and other venues that enjoy the public, art and someone else putting in the labor and expense. For more information on getting shows check Art Calendar,
a great monthly informative artist magazine.

So, now you have a show booked, and hopefully you scheduled it a few months away (at least) to give lots of time to paint. I like working in stages. First I decide on how many paintings I think I can do in that time, and how many will be needed to fill the space. Then I make all my supports (canvases and panels) at once. I make a third of them large sized, another third medium, and the last third small. Some are vertical, some horizontal and don’t forget squares. I stretch canvas, seal it, and gesso (prime) them all at once. Doing everything in stages saves a lot of time, and is easier to focus on each task at hand, because each stage requires different tools, products, and a different way of working or energy/focus. Once I have all my supports ready to go, I allow a few days (at least) to sit and think, going through favorite images I collect in folders, flip through books in the library, write ideas down, and sketch. Eventually a vision begins to form – not specific finished painting images, but a general “feel” or look that I want to attain.

For my latest show the paintings are all acrylic on gold leaf, so I first gold leafed all 12 supports. That took over two weeks, but it was great to be able to just focus on one thing at a time. Then I began to paint on each one of them. Since I work in layers, each layer takes less than an hour to apply, but needs a day to dry. So I can put one layer on 6-8 paintings each day. This is the fun part for me. I get to try different things for each one, and watch them all grow together.

A real benefit for me is to have all the paintings fueling each other. If I am not working on a show, then each painting leaves my studio as its done, and doesn’t get the chance to influence me and the next one as much. This time I had them all hanging as I worked on them, and each one played off the next. By working on many at the same time, I was able to go deeper into an idea, and have it played out more fully than if I had just worked on one at a time.

Here is a link to preview my latest exhibition, Afterglow, acrylic on gold leaf paintings.

And now a nice break from my routine, and then on to another series for my next show in October.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Ask a Question to Jumpstart Your Art

I recently received an email inquiring how to create atmospheric effects in a painting, similar to historic masters such as JMW Turner or Ryder. The student further defined his interest in “atmospheric effects” with obtaining a sense of mystery, “soft energy” and an ethereal look to be used in his abstract works. Before offering some technical methods on obtaining these effects I offered the following advice that I thought might be of interest to others as well.

When you ask a question about art - any question - regarding techniques, effects, ideas, you have a gold mine of opportunity. Asking is a great way to begin a series of paintings. Almost every series of paintings I create begins with an investigation into some sort of aesthetic question. My favorite starting line is to ask myself “What would happen if ...” or “I wonder what it would look like if I ....”.

Instead of searching for "the answer" or "the perfect method" before you put paint to canvas, my advice is to search for the answer through the act of painting. Create paintings using the question as a starting point. This is what, in my opinion, art is truly about. Its not about how perfect your technique is, its more about the discovery of techniques through your own investigation while creating. In other words, no matter how many technical tips and advice I can offer, it is the searching (in paint form - not in the mind or books or writing) that you will not only find an answer, but create a valid body of work. It is through this type of investigation that adds a sense of integrity, meaning, and soul into your paintings.

Now that I’ve said how I really feel about this question, I will offer some technical tips on getting these effects just so you know I am not avoiding the question. However, if you want to try some of my methods below, they must still come from your own inspiration. Following someone else’s “recipe” only works when you feel free to keep reinventing the process.

(1) “Atmosphere” usually has a rich sense of space, or has the illusion of many planes in space. A figure on a flat background would only be 2 planes (figure and ground) - while a painting with a variety of forms that vary in size, edge, color, and overlap will create a richer depth - or many more planes. See Jackson Pollock, for instance, or Mark Rothko.

(2) Look at real paintings in a museum (or photos as a last resort) and find some that have what you would call "atmosphere" and write down any mechanisms you can identify which are helping to create that.

(3) Acrylic that is made matte generally contains matting agent, which looks like talcum powder, or very small white flakes. These white elements create a veiled look when used generously over an Underpainting. A layer of matte gel or many layers of matte mediums can push a painting back in space, creating a sense of depth and atmosphere. Make a painting, then cover it with a generous amount of matte gel (at least 1/4" thick). Then repaint some of the forms again from the first layer on top of the matte gel. Repeat, repainting less and less forms. This will give your painting many spatial planes, and a richer atmosphere.

(4) Using compositional and aesthetic tools (edge, value, chroma, hue, etc.) and their oppositional counterparts, (edge has soft and hard edges, value contains light and dark values, chroma involves bright and dull colors, etc.) will add richness to a painting. But it is the PROPORTIONS of these opposites or counterparts that are used that create certain moods. For instance, every painting usually has sets of opposites (this creates a dialogue - without which no illusionary space exists, and it is more like wallpaper than a “space”). If all the opposites in a painting are in equal amounts, it lessens the visual tension, and also creates wallpaper. The key is in the proportions of opposites. So for a Turner or Ryder you may have 85% muted tones, soft edged forms, dark tones while lesser percentages would be intense colors, hard edge and light areas.

I DO NOT recommend using formulas to create art. Yet, sometimes it is helpful to take time out to give an analysis of the tools that are used, how and where they are used.