Monday, March 6, 2017

Rapt from the Fickle to the Frail

This painting is pretty obviously a tip of the hat to Edgar Degas, the subject is my sister-in-law who has been dancing for most of her young life.  For Degas, the ballerinas may just have been a beautiful subject that allowed him to capture wonderful lines, dancing attire and movement in his pieces.  But a ballet is about the coordination of elements that must be synchronized harmoniously  in order for the piece to work.  The dancer acts as a visual element in the work of art that is developed by the director, and they play the same role in Degas' paintings.

On a formal level, this painting was about my role as a director of visual elements for all of my paintings, and if you look at the landscape of contemporary figurative painters, you see several that think of their work in cinematic terms, that have said if they didn't paint they would make films (notably Vincent Desiderio and Bo Bartlett).  For a narrative to emerge from a static image, the artist must imbue the scene with context, and part of that context is the history of painting itself.  That is why I find it fitting to reference artists that I revere or are more significant to society at large.  

I felt as if my paintings had become too busy and wanted to make something a little bit quieter, with a lot of resting space above the figures.  I also knew that I wanted to use the mirrors to distribute space in a more interesting way, so that most of the figure would be cut off at the shins, but the subject would not be.  I also like the fragmentation of the image that happens with the subtle shifts in the angles of the mirrors.  It was important to me that the photographer be visible, and I loved how distorted her figure appears, and it was also important that I appear, acting as a kind of director of the scene. Part of me wonders if this painting would have worked better as a simple composition with three figures, I essentially lost my confidence in it's simplicity and created a more complex digital collage, which marked the first time that I've really incorporated digital media into my process.

This was the original photograph, featuring (L to R) myself, my wife, and her sister.  Part of me wishes that I had just painted this scene, but I am happy with the final piece, so I don't question myself too much.  This painting took a really long time to paint, for several reasons, but mostly because I just wasn't confident in the simplicity.  I kept wanting to add more and more to it.  Having the completely blank wall from the top of the mirror to the beginning of the ceiling was very bizarre to me, but the funny thing is, having all of that blank space is part of the reason that I wanted to make this painting in the first place.  

This is basically the image that i worked from, changing much of the information to fit my aesthetic sensibilities.  This painting was started in November 2015 and not completed until January 2017.  In addition to the reasons stated above, I also had other projects that took importance to me, this eventually just became a fixture in my studio, which I had to work around.  Eventually I decided that I was relatively close to finishing it, and just needed to dive in and complete it.  I still feel like there are some things about it that I'd like to adjust, but for the most part i'm happy with it, either way I learned a lot while making it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Self Portrait from Birthday Number Thirty

I took the photo for this drawing on my 30th birthday, two weeks before my son was born. I looked at the sink and countertop as a kind of metaphor for my life. At the time we didn't have a dishwasher in our kitchen and the sink was constantly filling with dishes, and it seemed like no matter how many dishes we cleaned there were always more.  This captured my wife and I because we had met and tied the knot, moved and had a baby in such rapid succession that it seemed like we couldn't catch up with our lives.  I also like the idea of my attributes being personified by the objects that I own and use, and the idea of illustrating a human presence without a human form.  I made the drawing with graphite and white colored pencil on toned paper, which is the same medium I used for my other drawing that illustrates human presence without form, "Mine Eyes are Homes of Silent Prayer".  I love creating drawings because I really get to push the relationship of flatness and form in a way that I wouldn't feel comfortable with in a painting.  Anyway, here is an example of my newest drawing "Self Portrait from Birthday Number Thirty", which I completed right on the cusp of birthday number thirty three.

 "Self Portrait from Birthday Number Thirty"
graphite and white colored pencil on toned paper
22" x 29"

"Mine Eyes Are Homes of Silent Prayer"
graphite and white colored pencil on toned paper
22" x 27"

Monday, January 30, 2017

Born to the Storm Progress II

I was extremely excited to begin this painting, but progress has been slower than I would like for a few reasons.  I was teaching a new lecture class which took an extraordinary amount of time, I went home for several weeks for the Christmas break, and I took a brief break to finish a different painting that I had started a year before.  Despite that I have made progress on the piece.

Essentially I have continued to block in colors, in several areas, while making adjustments for the color relationships as I move through the painting.  I have also began to paint in some of the toys in the foreground, and have decided that each of those toy tableau's, or toybleau's I guess, should be painted completely in one sitting.  But before i get too far into those I will need to figure out what i'm going to do for the floor.

Once I finished the other painting (Rapt from the Fickle to the Frail) I was able to use both of my easels to support the canvas.  This has been helpful in the process, and I am starting to hone areas to completion, the lower middle right side of the canvas for example.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Born to the Storm Progress Part I

I thought it would be a good idea to note my progress with this painting.  I've been wanting to begin this piece for such a long time that it was kind of surreal to actually start preparing the canvas.  I place a grid on the surface to help me place the drawing correctly.  I work from photographs and use a digital projector to transfer the drawing onto the canvas.  However, there is always some issues with lining up the photographic source with the canvas perfectly.  So I use grids like these to help place the imagery in the best possible manner.  Then I draw the contours and value information from the photograph onto the canvas.  

The next step involves blocking in the colors.  I really like beginning with a warm underpainting, with transparent iron oxide or burnt sienna.  Then I wipe away the light tones and establish the darks with burnt umber.  But for this painting, there is too much information to start that way, I am not able to spend enough time in one sitting to affect the entire painting effectively.  So I'm establishing some of the colors to establish the abstract color relationships that will help me balance the over all image.  This is where i'm at at this point, which is only a few hours into the painting process, but it feels so good to begin to see color emerge and the image start to make sense.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

60 Americans Exhibition

I have a painting in an upcoming exhibition in Los Angeles CA.  It is the 2nd Annual 60 Americans exhibition which features... wait for it... 60 American Artists.  It looks like a really interesting survey of contemporary American art, I wish I could attend the opening on October 22nd.  If anyone is available to attend it is at the Makeshift Museum on 1855 Industrial Street.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Did I Know of Love's Austere and Lonely Offices

This photograph for this painting was taken on my 30th birthday.  It was just over two weeks before my son was born.  I am seen here with my wife, at this point in our marriage we had only known each other for a year and a half (we met at the end of September and Got married at the beginning of June 8 months later, and got pregnant a month after that). This painting is meant to capture the heaviness of the situation and the conflicting feelings that I was experiencing at the time.  A new child was for me exciting and terrifying, it marked a new chapter in my life and in many ways spelled out an end to my freedom.  So I was filled with both eager anticipation and a sense of regret at the situation.  A bizarre dichotomy but one that is common to many soon to be parents, at least the one's that understand what parenthood entails.  Just to clarify, I love being a father, but I think the trepidation before becoming a parent is common and something that almost no one talks about.  The title of this piece was taken from this poem by Robert Hayden called Those Winter Sundays about a father's acts of thankless love.  This makes me reflect on my relationship with own father and think about what kind of father I want to be.

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he’d call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Though I've experimented with, and even taught classes in watercolor before, this is
the first time that I've actually created a fully realized painting using watercolor.  I've documented the process to show the evolution of the piece.  I began by painting all of the shadows on my body blue.  Much of this was covered up in the final image, but I was careful to leave much of it around my neck.

As a quick update, this painting was accepted into a nationally juried show at an art center in Golden Colorado.  It was exciting, however, when I turned in the framed piece (shown above) they said that the frame was unacceptable and if I wanted to piece in the show I would need to reframe it.  Though this was disappointing I opted to just retract the piece from the show, instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars to have it put into a frame that I didn't like. 

I only bring it up to highlight part of the stigma that surrounds watercolor as a medium. The reason that my frame was deemed unacceptable wasn't because it was unprofessional, it was because it didn't fit their ideas of what a frame should look like. Many practitioners are mired in the traditions that have kept the medium from being relevant.  I say this, because at the very same time that this frame was rejected I had a drawing on display that was framed identically in an Internationally Juried Drawing Exhibition at a more prestigious art center in Denver, which was by far the most impressive show that I've ever been involved with, and they had no issue with the professionalism of my frame.

I know it sounds like i'm complaining about not being in the show, and yes, I am doing that a little bit, but after that experience it really made me want to make more watercolors, to push the medium into the 21st century.  There are a lot of amazing contemporary artists working in watercolor, but they really don't get much recognition.  It's a beautiful medium and I hope that it becomes more prevalent in the landscape of contemporary painting.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Those Born to the Storm Grow Weary of the Calm

I have begun the process of creating a new large scale painting, that was made possible in part by a grant from the Puffin Foundation.  I will be writing more about it as the process continues, but for now, I wanted to introduce the concept.  I was always struck by Francisco Goya's Disasters of War series.  This notion of revisiting the Disasters of War is not a novel one, Jake a Dinos Chapman did a large series directly related to the Disasters of War (sculptures below).  


My idea has been developing for about eight years, but I really began to hone it down into a solidified concept in 2014.  Since then, I have been moving, and unemployed, and a new father, and moving again, so my progress has been stalled to say the very least.  However, I am on the precipice, looking into the near future.  About to begin.  It's very exciting.  

To briefly explain, my concept stems from the notion of children (particularly young boys) that represent the sensibilities of those who wield great political and military power. Young boys have a habit of turning everything into a gun, or pretending to commit mass murder while emulating a cartoon character or hero of theirs.  Not to mention how they casually practice torture using their action figures.  We all remember how the vicious neighbor Sid tortured his toys like Combat Carl in Toy Story.  

This insight was partially awakened by the birth of my son and my realization of the nature of man.  But I had wanted to create painting from an epic battle scene with action figures since I was in graduate school.  I even went as far as to buy a giant box full of off brand GI Joes in the hopes that I would get around to it while I was there.  I never did.  The issue was that it didn't mean anything to me at that point.  I had no purpose to make such a painting, other than creating a battle scene, but it seemed like a far cry from my work.  It wasn't until my son was born that I really thought about how little boys play, or at least how I played when I was a little boy.  And how Sid from Toy Story wasn't especially sadistic, he just had a great imagination for toy torture.  When I thought about Sid I thought about Goya's Disasters of War and essentially knew immediately how I would handle it.  

The process has been kind of slow going.  Again, partially due to many major life changes, but also because of the practicalities of making such a piece.  I have to make it much larger than I normally work.  The vast majority of my paintings are 35" x 42", which wouldn't be large enough to communicate the toys in the proper pose.  I also had other artworks that I had already had planned to do, and some that just kind of came out of nowhere.  But the main reason it has taken awhile to really begin is that I don't want to rush the process.  My wife took the photograph that I am working from over a year ago.  Since then, I have edited into the photo the scenes from Disasters that I will be referencing.  Once I put those in place I recreated the scenes using action figures and other toys and then edited that into the picture in place of the original print.  I am taking time to make the composition works how I'd like it to.  I'm going into this project with the understanding that it will take a year to create.  It is the most ambitious painting I have made up to this point in my career.  

At this point I have made the canvas stretcher, stretched the canvas, and applied three coats of gesso.  I only have three more coats to apply and i'll be ready to begin.  The canvas is about 5 feet by 6 feet and BARELY fits down the stairs to go into my studio.  I plan on keeping this blog updated periodically with my progress, so here's the first shot.  Just waiting to be drawn on.