Exhibition of Sketches open, Reception today!

May 2, 2014

Sometimes little things are really quite important. Certainly the smallest thing can be extremely satisfying.

I have a new show opening today in Charlottesville, Virginia at Angelo (on the downtown pedestrian mall). It is a wonderful small venue. The show itself is also small, just 14 pieces. All the work is quite small too!

After my big shows of really BIG drawings earlier this winter, it is really a nice treat to put up these smaller, more intimately scaled pieces.

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And these works are interesting and exciting to me precisely because they are more personal, intimate, and quick in terms of the art making. All of them are landscape sketches, most started and finished in one session … with the simplest of materials. There are a few that are almost panoramic in vision despite their very small scale.  A few are really close-ups of landscape details. Most of them though are fairly typical landscape images … at least they are typical to my eye.

The best ones are done very quickly and quite simply.  A few have a hint of Demuth or Marin (not so much Homer or Girtin this time) … and just maybe the quickness (if not the sublime quality) of a Turner watercolor.  The less successful ones may help me create better larger works but, of course, I don’t share those. They are now “working” sketches. You would have to come to my studio or one of my classes to see those.

The ones at Angelo for the next two months are, I think … pretty good.

If you are near Charlottesville sometime between May 1st and June 30th, please take a look and tell me if you agree.

(PS It would be wonderful to see you at the opening too … sometime between 5:00 and 7:30.)

 

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Sketches!

April 26, 2014

It has been a busy Spring.

Winter hung in there and made it a longer chilly start to the spring season than usual. That means the garden and plants need some extra care, some extra work this year. I have not gotten all the gardening tools properly prepped for the season yet either.

Instead, I have made lots of changes to my classes at the college. (I do so hate to get stale in the drawing class studio!) At the other end of the professional duties, my exhibition schedule and speaking engagements have kept me hopping. The traveling was fun, even as we dodged the worst of the snow and ice storms!

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline, watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Now, at the core of my artist life, the making of artwork, things have again settled into a pattern. Yes, a slightly a-rhythmic pattern … but one I am trying to keep moving along. Not in the studio very much; I have been working outside whenever I could … wielding pencil, ink-brush pen, and watercolor. So much so that my students have remarked that they have seen me along the roads close to campus and further afield. They think it is quite funny (¿amusing or weird?) when they spot me sitting on the cold ground in 40 F/5 C degree weather; standing at my sketching easel in 30 mph/50 kph winds.

But it is part of what I do to prep for new work; my version of hunting and gathering … seeking out new images, interesting visual material.

I have other ways of generating visual “primary sources”, but working alla-prima, en-plein-air … is so mentally refreshing.

It grounds me.

preliminary sketch for "South, Off Jarmin's Gap Road

preliminary sketch for “South, Off Jarmin’s Gap Road

Sometimes the work comes out totally fresh and clean. Almost sparse/spartan in its finished state. Other times they are labored, even overworked. Unclear. Those are not as exciting, but they still teach me something, challenge me to think, re-think their source and what it is I find engaging and exciting about it.

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap, ink & watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Whichever one it is, clear, clean, and well executed … or overthought and overly fussy … I am happy to be seeing, reacting, and thinking about images outside. Just pass me my hat and my sunscreen!

 

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Two shows Delivered … resetting the studio for work!

February 3, 2014

Installion, of a large drawing

Installion of a large drawing

Excited and exhausted; to say the very least.

During January I installed two large exhibitions in two weeks. The installations went well. I was really quite happy with getting to see the works up on the walls together!

One exhibit had an opening reception that was very well attended, I got lots of questions and discussion, and folks seemed to have a splendid time. So I walked away with good feelings … relieved, happy and even a little euphoric.

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view of part of the exhibition at Mary Baldwin College

Answering some questions at the reception

Answering some questions at the reception

To be honest though, when that kind of scheduling happens, my studio and my life tend to get pretty … no … really messy.

As the two shows loomed on the horizon, I began to focus more and more on the logistics of finishing, prepping and packaging for transport. At the same time I was continuing to make the last few works for each show. This left me a bit crazed and frenzied at times. I was switching back and forth between production mode and thinking about logistics. I wasn’t putting supplies and equipment back in place at the end of each session.  The studio got way out of hand!

Normally, once a show is up, I start to wind down.

Even the prep table and storage areas became really messy

Even the prep table and storage areas became really messy

When some of the exultation and weariness begins to abate, it is usually time for that reflection to begin … to take stock of where my work is/is going, to decide if I need to shift directions, alter my course, or adjust my strategies. That is usually a very good thing for me but I have to admit that more than once I have let myself fall into some type of post-show stupor and have had a hard time getting back to a steady working routine.  This time, I really couldn’t stop … the other show had to get out the door in less than a week!

So I kept moving.

Now the second show in Pennsylvania is up … and I am noticing an interesting turn of events. Even while working on and installing the Pa. show, the heightened analysis process that I use after completing milestones/projects had begun. So, instead of collecting my thoughts while I was puttering through the studio doing some straightening up … I was already in full reflection mode when I walked back into the studio upon returning.

All the drawing ables, supply tables and chairs are full of stuff!

All the drawing tables, supply tables and chairs are full of stuff!

The practical tasks seemed, this time, to jump into sharp focus and to hand. First, the studio needed re-organizing and cleaning. Working in mixed media, if everything isn’t put away after a few sessions, it can leave the materials in a disheveled heap. It was a bit of real jumble as you can see here!

One messy wheeled table (sort of a mobile taboret)

One messy wheeled table (sort of a mobile taboret)

There were transportation and packing materials to properly store. And I have to make some sense, some order out of all the resource images, sketches and photos … as well as pieces of plants, dried seedpods, maps, and other studio materials to file away or re-evaluate for use soon. (I am not sure I have ever really gotten a good filing and storage system for doing these items!) I usually look about and see if there is something that I think that I need from old resources or need to go get/create at this point.

While I am getting things in order … it is good time to do a materials inventory too. Whether there is any income from these shows or not I’ll need replenish my stock, to order some fresh supplies and repair/replace any damaged or broken equipment.

So as tools, supplies, resource images/objects, are sorted out, the periodic cleaning MUST take on a high priority! I expect that it may need an even more intensive version this time ‘round. I would call it a “spring cleaning” but we are still in the depth of winter.

As I said before, I usually build to all these tasks as I reflect on my direction. This time, the practical/logistical tasks are happening at a quickened pace. It sort of reminds me of my German colleague and friend Brigitte Weyer, who moved into a new town, home, and studio … and was painting within two or three days. Even with some of the boxes still packed.

It seems as though I am resetting for new work already!

The studio is getting back to a workable state!

The studio is getting back to a workable state!

There are two medium size drawings that I need to switch out the glass for sheets of Plexiglass (aka: Acrylic glass, Acrylite, Lucite, Perspex) so they can be shipped. And I have already prepped two large Mylar sheets … because I’ve set some ideas into motion for several large drawings

I am also feeling the need to be working on my aqueous media painting … the works on panel and paper. I have a major multi panel painting in the works and three or four smaller single panel pieces roughed in. I need to start applying some color layers. That feels exciting just thinking about it!

Look closely, I have already started laying in the first color passages!

Look closely, I have already started laying in the first color passages!

There are some large watercolors on paper in the pipeline too. I am also really chomping at the bit, anxious to get outside (even in spite of this much colder than average winter) to begin working on new small sketches and studies.

Once I have really gotten all these moving … I will, as is my praxis, let the work lead the way; letting each of these strands of working weave themselves into an organic and fairly seamless whole.

There is a good lesson to take-away from this experience. I have known for many years that I need reflection time … but I do want to avoid the post show let-down and stupor induced paralysis it can bring with it. My scheduling of these two exhibits right on top of each got really messy. You could ask my wife. Perhaps though, it taught me again to NOT completely stop … to not let rethinking and re-ordering become a false reverie.

I have new works up and running. The studio is coming along. And we are planning a few trips (combining art and personal fun) and a vacation too.

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Going from study to “finished piece” … and back again!

January 9, 2014

Earlier this week I posted about a work (the working title was “Vixen”) that I finished a bit before the end of 2013.

Voxis Vulpis, mixed media on Mylar, 2013

Voxis Vulpis                                                            (the previous working title was “Vixen”)                                                         60×42, mixed media on Mylar, 2013

That piece is part of my on-going Natural-Family-History series; a group of large to installation sized mixed media draws that incorporate and align images from nature/natural history and from my family history as well.

Most of the time I work up the constituent parts of the drawing’s content pretty fully; If for no other reason, it becomes necessary to do so because of the size of these works. Most of the time though, I don’t plan the entire composition. It isn’t that I can’t. I certainly have worked that way in the past. I taught my students how and why it can be such a great practice.

Instead, I have been using a modified, jazz influenced praxis. Utilizing a hybrid hand-digital sketching process for the parts of the drawing, I can then create digital enlargements. Then I work up multiple sizes of the visual elements. With these and projections, I can experiment and improvise … sliding the pieces around as if in a collage.

Now, that has been the practice of late. But ever-so-often I do back track to a more traditional way of working and produce some  1/4 to 1/2 scale studies. In fact, the mylar drawing, Voxis Vulpis actually began as just such a study on paper. I thought it might be interesting to look at how I tried  to work up the image/idea. And how the study went so very badly … and made a come back … as a very different work!

view of studio wall with study, sketches and visual resources

View of studio wall with the 36×27 inch study on paper after I erased the fox image.                                          Notice the red pencil sketch of the seated fox looking leftward and also the visual resource photograph of a fox as well

early stages of a study for "Vixen" 36x27 mixed media on paper

early stages of a study for “Vixen”                                                             36×27. mixed media on paper

To the  left is a view of the studio with the study at an early stage of the process. Note the visual resource photo and the red sketch of a seated fox pinned to the wall. The messy, playful, nearly random staining underlayer is visible … as is basic drawing of the Hawthorn branches, leaves and thorns that had been begun for the top section.

detail of the study, using a raking light to reveal remnants of the erased head of the fox

detail of the study, using a raking light to reveal subtle remnants of the erased head of the fox

If you look carefully in the lower right hand area of the study, you can see remnants  of the drawing of the seated fox planned for this section of the of the composition. The B&W image to the right may help you see the erased head, snout, and nose of the fox just a bit better.

Upon reflection, I made a pretty massive change in the direction of the image. I thought the scale to be all wrong and I was also disenchanted with that pose. I even began to dislike the drooped head posture for this piece.

After erasing the head and body of the fox, I planned to add a different version of the fox. As I made that decision, I also began working up the additional design elements on the larger mylar piece this study was the preparation piece. As I worked on the larger work, I made the decision on the version of the fox I wanted to use; one that was in a standing position with the body oriented towards the viewer’s right … but the head still looking left.

I also altered the idea of the Hawthorn branches and thorns from being done in tonal dry media … into creating them with a rich black ink.

At this point I abandoned the study.

A bit later, as I was working on another large mylar piece, I looked across the studio and saw the unfinished study still up on a wall mounted drawing board. Whether by serendipity or some internal decision making process that I was not aware of, I decided to give that sheet of paper another go.

Since I was working on a 10 ft drawing that was going to need a bird known as a Tufted Titmouse, I figured I would try adding one of those to the composition. I had drawn some before … as studies for the larger work … but had not yet included one in a composition. So here was a chance to do so despite this piece being very different than the mylar one.

My First Encounter with the Wild 36x27, mixed media on paper, 2013

My First Encounter with the Wild 36×27, mixed media on paper, 2013 

Once I added the perched Tufted Titmouse work needed some more darks through the middle section. After working up the darks in the middle and some additional changes to the top register of the page, I backed off. I let a couple of days go by … looking from time to time while in the studio. After some small adjustments … I stopped  “tinkering” and decided it was done.

Now that it is complete, I realize that it isn’t really like either of the finished works it helped me prepare for anymore. That’s ok. The “study” went it’s own way and is now an independent work. I like it enough that I think that I’ll include it in my upcoming exhibit at Mary Baldwin College.

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So far, it is just called “Vixen” …

January 6, 2014

I am sure about one thing in this drawing. I was really, really scared to work up an image of the fox.

I often use bird images in my drawing for the Natural-Family-History series; I see lots of birds everyday. Even if and when I have to do research on the look and habits of a particular species or the visual differences between genders of mature/immature birds … at least I see many, many birds all the time. I have been watching birds, their behaviors, and trying to understand their relation to their habitat since I was about 12 years old.

But foxes? I seldom see a fox.

Studio view, with Vixen at first stage mixed media on Mylar

Studio view, with “Vixen” at its first stages
mixed media on Mylar

In this series animals are used symbolically (Purely visually? Not so much). Here the fox is a totemic image … a stand in for someone very important in my life. When the subject and I talked, we discussed the images that I could  use; I wasn’t surprised by the suggestion of the fox.  I was Just unsure how to incorporate the image. And I wasn’t used to drawing this four legged creature … an especially shy and reclusive little predator.

Vixen (a working title), unfinished, detail 1 mixed media on Mylar

Vixen (a working title), unfinished, detail 1
mixed media on Mylar

Despite my trepidation, the fox is, frankly, the perfect totem for this person. Shy and reclusive I have already mentioned those; audacious, agile, quick witted, and tenacious are other common attributes that people throughout history and across cultures have seen in the fox. The one I think of most though is … graceful; especially when the word is well used to denote a natural combination of power and beauty.

The other imagery falls into into basically two categories: intricate, abstracted geometric structures and evocations of autumn. The scarlet hawthorn with it’s late summer to fall bloom and fruiting, the heart of an apple, and the fiery coloration are all appropriate, just like the fox,  to communicate, through visual analogy, the temperament and character of this family member.

'Vixen', detail A3, WEB

You can see I have also included some text. It is a bit of a wordplay actually. Vox. Vox ≠ Fox … and it was an unexpected, almost quixotic metaphorical turn in my head. And it is beginning to suggest a a more “finished title to me. I’ll leave that one for your imagination.

'Vixen', image A1, WEB

Well, this one seems to be about finished. Other than the fact that I like the intensity of the parts but I am uneasy about the “crowded” nature of the composition … I am not sure what I think about it yet. I do know that I have worked on it enough for now. Maybe I’ll come back and alter something about it later.  First, I am going to go back to the study I did on paper and eliminate the fox in that one. More about that in my next post.

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Of Tattoos and Miracles

December 9, 2013

about “Tatoos & Miracles”

First, NO, I don’t have any tattoos of loons or anything else. No, I don’t want one either. But, in recent months I have sometimes posted about the art in my Natural-Family-History series. Those large drawings on mylar are created to give me a place to connect my ideas and reflections about family and place. The drawings are a sort of multi-voice dialogue between scientific and totemic, mimetic and poetic imagery. Sometimes I have been hard pressed to articulate what I am doing … or at least why.

This blog (published by Muddy River Muse), at first seemingly unrelated, is on target; so on target because … better than anything I have written thus far … it hones in on a major part of what I am doing.

I too am looking for, trying to create, “outward signs.”

(I have some new Natural-Family-History series drawings progressing through the studio right now; more on them in the next few days.)

Muddy River Muse

Like all good little cradle-Anglicans of my day, when I reached the age of 12 I signed up for Confirmation class. We met crammed into a too-small but oddly symbolic “upper room” off the church balcony. I remember exactly two things from my weeks of Confirmation prep. The first is the lesson where we read and discussed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The minister who taught the class took it upon himself to challenge us with some liberal theology, and pressed the point that perhaps there was more than one way to make a miracle. Perhaps Jesus didn’t conjure extra loaves and fishes out of thin air after all. Perhaps when the members of the crowd observed one person sharing the provisions he had brought, they were inspired – or shamed— into digging into their packs and bringing out their own secret stash of snacks to…

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Stanley Spencer; Modernist & Realist

November 24, 2013

Self-portrait, Stanley Spencer, 1914

Self-portrait, Stanley Spencer, 1914

Some Realists make work that reminds me of wonderful and simple sugar candy; a rush of pure visual excitement, easy on the eyes, and nothing complicated. (Yes, I know it isn’t easy or uncomplicated to paint that way; just try to create a delicate and sensual confection like Fairfield Porter’s work!)

Then there are Realists so enigmatic that their work creates all kinds of quandaries which rattle about in my head for a long time. Those are the Realists that I love most.

In the States, I immediately think of the works of Andrew Wyeth or of Raphael Soyer. The former stretches credulity and design into a wonderfully complex matrix. Soyer, seemingly effortlessly, pushes you towards his subjects personal space … involving you, almost uncomfortably in their lives somehow.

In England, I am entranced by the life and art of Stanley Spencer. His work, to my eye at least, stands as a very modern type of realism. Maybe not the rough, even harsh newer realism of Lucien Freud but still modern and engaging. (I haven’t yet read anything to tell me that L. F. was influenced by Spencer, but I suspect that he was.)

Terry's Lane, Cookham circa 1932 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

Terry’s Lane, Cookham, c. 1932

Spencer, as an artist who matured within sight of the first World War nearly a century ago, certainly had access to both the grand traditions of the past and the visual ideas of the new century at his disposal. He continually experimented with elements of both in his art.

We can see in his drawing and painting that he had the training we would associate with that tradition. We also see in his work that he had an eye for composition that was not traditional … he crowded the viewers perception, pushed his subject into our world, dragged us into his equivocally desolate and lush visions.

So to, in his life, he experimented and fumbled … ending up in a bit of a peculiar place when it came to relationships. That may have been why he lived so much of his life in and around the village of Cookham; midway between London and Oxford, a place where he could work out his own direction.

nude-1935

Nude, 1935

In the end his work did not seek refuge in some safe and comfortable romanticism for days gone by. Neither did he unquestioningly embrace and advocate everything that was new. Instead, he engaged in the tumultuous negotiations between past and present, internal and external … that we all carry within us.  You can see current events of his day in his work and timeless subjects. Not the same old take on those subjects … rather he looks upon them with a very personal perspective, and giving them a modern if sometimes quavering and enigmatic voice.

Spencer’s work and his life are not quickly or easily understood. He is not “pure and simple” unless by that you mean he is himself. That is possibly why I keep wanting to look at his work so much. To get a better insight into his work try taking a look at the site below: http://modernbritishartists.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/stanley-spencer-heaven-in-a-hell-of-war/ Rickett's Farm, Cookham Dene 1938 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

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An Imperfect drawing! Leonardo?

November 3, 2013

Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci,                        “Head of a Young Woman”, 1480s (Study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’)

Imperfect? A Leonardo drawing? Yes. Thankfully and beautifully, yes!

(Notice the imprecise … the MULTIPLE misplaced imprecise lines in this drawing. This is Leonardo! What is up with this? Is it a forgery? Why are we forced to look at imperfection and call it great art? Why is it even in a museum if it isn’t perfect?)

You know, we humans often get it wrong. We work so hard at doing something perfectly. We assign so much prestige and even power to creating art that is “perfect!” Have you ever looked at a work (perhaps your own) and praised its mechanical, photographic precision? Or perhaps you remember bemoaning or besmirching a work that wasn’t precise enough to your eye?

We praise the precision and ignore the perfectly wonderful. I have a surprise for you and all the folks who read this … Perfect is not spelled P-r-e-c-i-s-e.

(I can now hear some of my former students chuckling in the distance, colleagues snickering around the corner, my own illustrator daughter rolling in a fit of raucous laughter.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love precision … I have taught that it is a virtue to be sought after. In the right time and place, it can be gloriously beautiful. It can also be boringly mundane.

Somehow the human hand, the human heart, the human mind creates beauty without being precise. Maybe a hint or a heaping helping of precision is there … sometimes none at all. But compelling images and beauty can find ways through with or without precision!

I could go on and on, droning through this idea. To understand/solve this quandary, we are going to have to really see what is going on here. Perhaps a better course would be to steer you to a better source. If you are of a mind, try this blog …

http://hyperallergic.com/91475/single-point-perspective-the-most-beautiful-drawing-in-the-world

Realism … in Drawing; Life and Politics too

October 28, 2013

Daumier was, for me at least, an acquired taste.

But having acquired the taste, I am now addicted. I would liken it to the taste of dark chocolate or smell of grinding freshly roasted coffee.

His line is so very descriptive; endlessly darting about the subject suggesting form and movement. Gesture drawing dominates the look of the drawn line; here and there alighting just for an instant to describe the physical reality Lunch in the Country (c. 1868) by Honore Daumier, part of the Visions of Paris exhibitionwe sense more than see. His drawing is so unlike some of the other masters of line from France around his time … excellent draughtsmen such as Ingres, Gerome, Prud’hon, and Degas.

Daumier was part of the French wing of the Realist movement in the early 19th century. He worked pretty prolifically in painting and drawing. His work in wax sculpture is not as well known but is quite exciting if a bit enigmatic. What he is perhaps best known for is his drawings on lithographic stone for newspaper illustrations and political cartoons.

I said that his drawing was different from his more well known contemporaries and near-contemporaries. So are his subjects. He depicts working class folks with generosity and compassion. He pokes a little fun at middle class folk when they key-55-24700seem pretentious. He really skewers the aristocrats and the arrogant wielders of cultural, political, and economic power mercilessly … especially so in his lithographic cartoons. More than once, he got himself into a bit of political trouble; especially so his famous print The Rue Transnonain from 1834 helped fuel political demonstrations and riots.

Daumier was well respected then by his realist contemporaries like Courbet, many of his works were smaller, more intimately scaled … and often more intimate in their conception as well. Because of that, his work may have overlooked when displayed in the lavish Salons Exhibitions of the day.

As an artist, I certainly like Daumier on many levels. I love his active use of line to describe form in movement. His pictorial design, while looking grounded in very 19th century concepts about picture making (at least to my eyes) has an immediacy and a rawness that presages much of the “in-your-face” strategies of contemporary work. There can be no denying that Daumier’s content isn’t compelling and forceful or intimate and nuanced by turns. But there is one subject in his work that I have to admit really gets my attention. It isn’t the thing he is most widely admired for either. To some, it may seem just a little to arcane, a little to precious a subject.

I really love the prints and paintings of folks perusing the folios in print shops. Daumier, who made a lot key-15-new-24696of his professional career
selling prints, must have seen these folks regularly. He needed them. They where one of his major clientele. At times he makes fun of some for their snooty or dandified attitudes. A few look like terribly disengaged shoppers, as though they just don’t see anything they like at all. Others, he really captures their rapt attention or curiosity. Whatever he thinks of the individuals depicted amongst the displays and racks of prints, they almost always seem very human. I suspect Daumier was too.

Well there is a new show of Daumier’s work that has just opened at Royal Academy in London. Apparently there are some art works that have not been seen outside of private collections in almost 200 years. If you would like a little more info about that show, I suggest taking a look at the blog listed below.

http://jollygoodnews.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/royal-academy-gives-daumier-first-british-show-in-50-years

If, on the other hand, you can’t make it to London and you want to see the most notorious print by Daumier you don’t have to go that far. A wonderful example of Daumier’s Rue Transnonain (1934) is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Drawing, more than process. Honestly.

October 20, 2013

For-Scythian Suite, detail #1

For-Scythian/Forsythian Suite, detail

Last time I wrote about the process of drawing.

I wrote especially about my process; what I assume echoes many others studio practice. But I didn’t even mention content.

When I teach, students always want to talk about content. When I am showing my work, I always get questions about content: “Why did you choose that subject?” or “What moved you to work with that image?” Even my fellow artists almost always ask a “What’s up with that?” kind of question.

For years, I didn’t answer that question well. If at all.

I could have been to young and naive, to unsure of myself to have anything to say. Maybe I really didn’t think that I should even talk about subject matter back then. Perhaps I was playing out the mid-20th C. art world game of being above the idea of image and subject. It certainly never came up much when I was studying in college during the mid to late 70s. I have heard a lot of artists, then and since, say that art should speak for itself … that they shouldn’t have to explain anything. When I returned for further study during the late 80’s, folks wouldn’t quit talking about content. But they were abuzz with deconstructing meaning, not talking directly about content or subject matter.

Formalist and Post-Modernist strategies are quite exciting; I enjoy discussing and using both. I also value direct, straightforward discourse, heartfelt honesty. Years and years ago, a director at a community art center/arts council called not being willing to explain my work in ordinary terms a form of snobbery. Intellectual snobbery and arrogance to be precise. (Guilty as charged Sally!)

Well, about ten years ago, I started this series of large drawings. The subject matter is, frankly, probably the most important part of the whole series. The subject is not just the process. It is not just the design. The subject incorporates all that … as well as the images in the pieces … AND the alignment of the images that I am bringing together.

I have come to title this series “natural FAMILY history.” It is comprised of images from nature, signs and symbols taken from weather, history, science, and culture, as well as totemic and/or visually recognizable representations of my extended family members. The drawings, combining/aligning such diverse … maybe even disparate … images into complex but approachable compositions … are about the convergence of personal history and natural history.

Vixen (a working title), unfinished, detail 1 mixed media on Mylar

“Vixen” (a working title), detail 
unfinished, mixed media on Mylar

I can not any longer avoid talking about the images. How could I; these are the people, the events, and the ideas that have brought me here. They are the family and the places that have sustained, supported, and challenged me. This is about love and pain, disappointment and total joy … a reflection of my journey and of my being.  These are the images I will carry with me to wherever else I may go.  So the drawings are hopefully … essential and intrinsically humane; an attempt to be honest about not just art … but about life itself.

So, yes , the design, process, and materials are fair game … so is the imagery and what I am trying to say or to trying to explore with the imagery.

And I will talk about them with anyone.

Ask away!

Drawing Close and Being Transparent.

October 10, 2013

Studio View, with early stages of Vixen (left) and For/Scythian Suite 1 (rt.)

Studio View, with early stages of Vixen (left) and For/Scythian Suite #1 (right)

Years ago, an artist friend, colleague, teacher, and mentor of mine, Clarence Morgan, noted that I really get excited about drawing.

Today there is still real truth to that. The rush of emotions … joy, surprise, and elation at the sight of marks dancing across the page … just feels SO right, so rewarding. As I work through the stages of a drawing, when it is really going well, it almost seems that the image is forming itself. It is almost like “we” are intimate friends, even lovers, leaning in close, whispering … suggesting, teasing and coaxing each other where to go next.

At other times, it is really much more like a wrestling match, as if the drawing and I are locked in a struggle. In that analogy, we are very close again … but this time pushing, pulling … working against each other in an attempt to get the “other” out of the way, out of some unseen box, across some unknown finish line.  Frustration at the lack of understanding, cooperation, or completion. A contest of wills. You see, I tend to be the stubborn aesthetic arbiter; sometimes insisting on being in conscious control. Now that can be a problem … a big problem!

detail, For/Sythian Suite #1 Mixed Media on Mylar

detail, For/Sythian Suite #1 (unfinished)
Mixed Media on Mylar, approx. 84×40

This image is part of one of my large mylar drawings. It is one of several pieces from my Natural-Family-History series that are in the studio right now.  It has had moments of struggle as well as those quiet moments of intimate partnership. I hope it finds it’s way to a good, maybe even an ecstatic conclusion.

Every once in a while it makes me think (feel … might actually be a better word here) as though my job as the artist is to become transparent (just like the Mylar I am drawing on!) and let the drawing come to life all on its own.

Seeing may be a form of thinking (Arnheim). Even so, I know the physical act and the materiality of drawing isn’t thinking; but that doesn’t preclude that I want to understand something of the ideas, the wisdom, imbedded in the materials and the images themselves … wether they are my projections on them or something inherent within them. (Watch out there  … I seem to be channeling the shades of Santayana and Aquinas both with that statement!) Nor does it mean that I will be immediately satisfied by the wisdom presented to me, pushed into my grasp by the drawing process. I will trying to bend it, somehow, closer to my will, to my thought … to an outcome that I had expected, that I want/wanted to accept. I may or may not get it all the way there. I could lose the contest. Just as often though … having to give in, letting the work have it’s own way … I am enlightened by the image, by the process, and/or the materials. I am transformed by the work/working as much as I have created the art work.

Whether like lovers or wrestlers, in either case really exciting things can happen.

As I said, Clarence noticed that I really get excited about drawing … at times even above and beyond my deep attachment to/involvement with painting. So, YES, Clarence was right. It is the balance of intimacy and power in the acts of drawing, whether in the small scale sketches or the larger works, that I love.

Thanks for the insight old friend.

For-Scythian..., detail E2

PS: if you want to find some of Clarence’s newer work, you might start with …  http://www.clarence-morgan.com

Visual Confections

October 6, 2013

Sometimes, an artist confuses me. That is what Sara Lutz’s work does. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

1. We all know some artists WANT to confuse us … it is part of their way of working, the very reason for working. Fine.

2. There are other artists who just don’t get what they are doing … and confuse us because they are, themselves, confused. I have done that. Come on, let us be honest, most of us have. Way to often.

But Sara Lutz’s painting do not seem to want to confuse us. They are richly layered, dense visual experiences. There are multiple thin veils of hue and tone washing over shapes. These are broken by thicker, viscous skins of color and value that barely cling to the surface or gloriously, happily, run and drip across it. There are shapes, created with dense slabs of paint … thick skeins, skittering across the thinner layers, globular masses lathered on with serious joy. On this level, I like them, love might be a better word.

detail Lutz, Pavlova

I see the tradition of Titian, Hals, Manet, Vlaminck, and Pendergast.  Looking at the surfaces it is evident that there is a mind at play with paint. It feels good, rewardingly good. Ms. Lutz’s work is a textural feast!

Then I get confused … confused and conflicted by my reaction to the color.

Yes, there is much here that reminds me of the serious and beautiful work of Kandinsky, Joan Mitchell, and maybe something of Niki de St.Phalle. But there is also something of Philip Guston in this work. And the decomposing fleshiness and wilting, sugary emulsions by Gusten have always repulsed me. Ms. Lutz has even named some of her work after frothy, sweet creations from the candy shop (Confection and Nonpareils). I am conflicted, caught between one structure that I am drawn to, another I am repulsed by.

Don’t get me wrong, 1) I like sweets. 2) On the art-history side, I have grown to admire much of  Rococo art (despite some of my teacher’s best efforts). My work sometimes plays along the with the joyous coloration of that period. 3) Certainly, on the painter’s craft-side, I like almost every variety of  the slippery, scruffy, gooey, lumpy, abraded, liquidity of painted surfaces.

Why can’t I embrace a painting that is structured like a Kandinsky or a MacDonald-Wright …  but with a color palette that could be from a licorice all-sorts bag? What is it that causes my confusion; why am I so very conflicted?

(Why don’t you check out this site (http://hyperallergic.com/86795/beer-with-a-painter-sarah-lutz/) … and see and read a bit more about her work. It is well written. Decide what you think for yourself. See if my visual sweet tooth has decayed or not.  And, please, let me know what you think.)

http://hyperallergic.com/86795/beer-with-a-painter-sarah-lutz/

You Have Not Seen Installation

September 16, 2013

Here is a new work …

… one that is just now being installed at Bluffton University (Bluffton, OH). The artist is a former student of mine, a skilled website designer (she created my main website!), a talented artist colleague, and a friend. She has been working on some large ideas for some time now. Taking a look at the paintings and other works on her website and blog will give you some background on the prior genesis of her ideation/images. They seem to be coming together in a way that gives her the space to really let them run … to play out in an appropriate manner (and scale too) …  to get a chance to really clash and reform into some new synthesis.

I wish her the best.

Arting

You Have Not Seen Installation

Opening is Sunday September 22, 2013. Everyone is invited…

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Before color? Yes! (Well, at least sometimes.)

September 8, 2013

Ok, you want to start a painting?

There are lots of ways to begin … almost as many as there are artists out there.  It helps to see some of the ways that artist have worked before.

One way that was used in the Renaissance involves the use of a “underpainting.” The underpainting method used most often back then was to create a full fledged rendering of the image in value.  This technique, known as grisailles … creating a black, white, and grey painted image, was used to establish the image over which layers of color would be applied. Some of the upper layers of color might be opaque … but for the most part the new layers were translucent or even transparent. When opaque layers were used, the value of new upper layer was matched as closely as possible to the value established by the lower underpainting.

a grisailles underpainting Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery,, 1565

this is a grisailles underpainting       by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.        (Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1565)

While this method of underpainting fell out of favor (many early 19th C Realists and the Impressionists would complain that it was like painting on brown gravy), it never went away in art schools that favored what they term “traditional” art.

As artists have sought out ways to use the western figurative tradition (either as “traditionalists” or as Post-Modernists) this technique has had a resurgence in popularity.  The example below is an “in-process” detail of a painting by the contemporary artist Joe Forkan. It is  in fact a modernized re-working of not only this technique … but also a visual re-interpretation of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus.

detail-dude-Supper copy

You can see the image on the left is mostly in grey and the image to the right has brighter, richer color added over the layer of underpainting. While a comeback for this method has been seen in recent years, many artists today, preferring a more direct and immediate technique, don’t use the full fledged grisailles underpainting technique. And unless we are lucky enough to see a demo of the process or happen upon one in a museum, art viewers seldom get to see what is under that imagery.

There are other interesting underpainting traditions … and also quite a few direct painting techniques that do not use any under-painting at all! While my usual working methods fall into that latter category, I do enjoy the results my students get when we use grisailles for a while. Sometime soon I will show you a some other underpainting techniques used by a few of my artist friends.
PS: To get a look at the whole painting by Mr. Forkan, connect to his blog: http://joeforkanblog.com/?p=623
More … later.

Back to “bigger” paper …

September 4, 2013

I make images.

Duh, I make images. Sometimes though I make images that you could almost call objects; like my shaped panel painting. Most of the panel paintings are just that, paintings on panels. But the ones I bolt together into non-rectangular shapes might qualify even more as “object” than image. Other works that might be considered as “objects” are the larger of my mylar drawings. the ones that cascade off the wall or ceiling and onto the floor.

But for many years, I worked on paper. Sometimes pretty big paper.

I regularly worked on paper that was 40×60 or 30×90 or larger. Starting in the 1990s, I usually worked on paper sheets that were a bit smaller … measuring around 30×40.

Abundance,-26x40,-watercolor-and-pencil-on-paper,-2012-13,-WEB

Abundance
Watercolor and pencil on paper, 26×40
(as of September 1st, 2013)

Well every now and then I return to that 30×40 way of working. I am not sure if I do it for comfort? … as a self-diversion? … or if there is a deeper reason?  I just KNOW that sometimes I want to work on a single large uninterrupted sheet of paper. The expanse of the surface excites me; the response of wet color or dry mark to the paper entices me. More easily than any other medium, working on a beautiful sheet of paper with materials I enjoy, I become entranced. Reverie!

This piece, Abundance, had it’s genesis a while back, late in 2011 if I remember. It began on a crisp, cool clear day in a narrow glen of western-central Virginia, below a mountain ridge known for it’s ski resort … Wintergreen. I was with my wife and “mi mum” and we had stopped for lunch when I spotted the wild looking group of bushes and a gnarled tree. The grey, nearly leafless bush was full of red berries. There were so many good vantage points with this subject. But … I was with family … so I made a quick sketch and several photographs. The little finished sketch was exhibited in a show during the fall of  2012.

Group-of-Sketches-on-the-wall,-WEB   Below-the-Ridge,-Nellysford,-WEB

This larger painting I began while that show was still up. I even showed it, in a less finished state, in December and into January of this year.  But, when it came back to the studio, I just wasn’t sure that it was done.

I set it on a drawing board in my studio and I looked at it. I looked at it from January to June.

Let me explain my quandary. I am frankly always leery of overworking a piece but I want to create a visual feast as well.  I do subscribe to an esthetic common in traditional oriental painting … leaving white space in a work, going for an understatement. It is also at the core of early western classicist’s and early modernist’s desire to seek and to express what they view as the essential in an image/object. Probably that is why I am so very drawn to the works of Charles Demuth and Paul Cezanne. They made lots of marks and layers (visual feast) … but always seemed to leave room for the work to breathe, for the viewers eye to roam, and the viewers minds to complete the image (essence). To me, it seems rude and silly to beat the audience into submission by rendering every single detail.

Even when I was young, the end results of demonstration artworks in “how-to” art books felt disappointingly over-done. (I usually liked the work at step #3 or #4 better than #6+) Well, with this one, I feel like if I take it much farther … it will be overworked. Can’t have that!

For now, I have moved it to a less active corner of the studio. I will look at it for a while again; just like I did from January to June. Hopefully I will decide more quickly than that if I want to return and do something else with this piece.

Yes, I do think it MIGHT be finished.  What I am asking is … is it essential? … is it a feast for the eyes?

Respite on a West Coast Beach …

July 1, 2013

This past March, while it was still snowing and freezing here in the mountains of the Mid-Atlantic, we visited our son out in S. California.  When we arrived it was in the 80’s … but dropped back into the lower 70s and even the 60s. It was a welcome interlude, and on one of the warmer days we explored the area around Point Dume. We trekked over the rocks and, after getting to a less visited side of the outcrop, we settled down for a respite on the beach. Everyone else soaked up some sun, sat around relaxing and chatting … or played a bit at the edge of the water.

Me, I needed some quite time. So I walked over to and climbed up into the next set of rocks and relaxed. Looking back across the sandy beach, the rocky point, and up the coastline, I was quite happy that I had brought a small set of sketching materials and my camera. Quietly drawing and laying in a few quick patches of color was a really enjoyable way to spend my time. I could have spent several hour making a few more sketches … but it was almost time for lunch. So, after shooting a few dozen photos of the surroundings, I packed up my gear and went in search of seafood and some more delicious family time too.

Point Dume, Zuma Beach
(a watercolor and pencil sketch, 5 x 11)

When we returned home I decided that I wanted to do a three to four foot multi-panel piece based on this experience. I even promised my son that he could have the piece if I felt really good about it when it is completed.

Well, this week I made the one of the first steps in that process, a larger study using the sketch and the photographs I created three months ago as resources. So far I feel pretty good about it … though it looks a bit more like a “tinted drawing” than the “painting” that I had envisioned. It may also be a bit to timid in comparison to the sketch. The first sketch had at least a few subtle hints of Demuth’s delicate control and something of Marin’s energetic brushwork. But that is why we do studies, to work out the kinks in our ideas ahead of time … to get back to some of the fearless joy of our first encounter.

Here is the study I finished this Saturday. I will keep posting the progress over the next few weeks.

(watercolor on panel, 12 x 12)

Point Dume, Santa Monica
(watercolor on panel, 11×14)

New Paintings, Watercolor on Panels

September 13, 2012

I am happily exhausted. And the studio is a raging mess. I delivered a solo show Monday and yesterday … a show with 44 pieces.

Lately I have posted images of the quick sketches … wash and brush drawings and quite a few of the watercolor and pencil pieces too.

Creekside Ferns
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

But I have been working on some paintings as well. Each of these pieces are aqueous media on (Ampersand) panels. As with the two images below, most of the pieces for this show are done in traditional transparent watercolor. I will admit though that a few also have a touch or two of gouache; what the English waterclourists referred to as “body color.”

(Actually, using body color IS the older traditional method, but it had fallen out of favor for many painters during the last 100 years or so. For me, if it was good enough for Richard Parks Bonnington and Winslow Homer … I can use it too.)

Misty Mountains, Crozet
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

Asian Dogwood Pods
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

As is usual for me of late, there is also a little bit of a twist. In some of the paintings I have employed the strategy of including blocks of color; color passage that both obscure parts of the subject matter in the painting … and which actually set up some type of color harmony within the composition. Those pieces are single panel images (like the Creekside Fern one at the start of this blog) and also multi-panel works. These paintings are actually mixed aqueous media; making use of watercolor, gouache, acrylic and even a latex based paint.

The show is open today and  I have just seen the installation. Quite pleased is an understatement; I think it is really well done. The front gallery, where all the paintings on panel are displayed, is a large, open, and airy space. Most of the smaller watercolor studies and sketches are displayed is an intimate little gallery, a space flooded with soft light. In this smaller space about 20 works are arranged and clustered rather pleasingly. And in the transition space between the two galleries there hangs two very large watercolors on paper and a grouping several of my small works too.

The exhibition runs through November 9th at the Staunton Augusta Art Center. For those of you who are local, the opening reception is Friday, September 14th, from 5-7.

Now, about that messy studio …

Quick Color …

September 1, 2012

While I often draw and paint monochromatically outside, I also like to do small color studies. Many have a full range of color. Others, like the first and last one below, have just a few hints of hue … not enough to carry the full weight of the original scene … but just enough to give me a hint when I take it back to the studio. Or maybe enough to send me back to the location later to work up a painting on site!
For my color sketches, the work is done with pencil and watercolor. In some sketches, I rely mostly on the watercolor, in others the pencil work is more important. Usually though, I let them play pretty much equal roles. That isn’t the “accepted” way to work with watercolor. But it is the way I like to work.

This, of course, this is just a preview of a few pieces that will be in my upcoming exhibit in Staunton, Virginia. Let me know if you liked one of these. It is great to get a little feedback.

This, of course, this is just a preview of a few pieces that will be in my upcoming exhibit in Staunton, Virginia. Let me know if you liked one of these. It is great to get a little feedback.

More than twenty of these sketches (and to be sure … the larger paintings too) will be viewable from September 14th (reception 5-7 p.m.) at the Staunton Augusta Art Center. I hope you can come … I would certainly love to see you there!

For more exhibit info … check out:  http://saartcenter.org

Landscape Revelations: Watermedia Paintings & Watercolor Sketches”, (John A. Hancock, Watermedia Paintings and Drawings)

Sketches, for Painting’s Sake?

August 24, 2012

Well, not always.

Artists have been drawing pretty much ever since humans made their first marks in the sand or on rock walls. After the discovery of pigments to create a wide range of colors with … some artists relegated drawing to the preparatory phase of painting or for designing other forms of art. It was as if color had completely trumped monochromatic art work of all kinds. (Sort of like how color TVs eventually replaced almost all the B&W sets.)


Throughout the Classical and Medieval periods European and Middle-Eastern artists used drawing in just that way. And while China and Japan had a tradition of monochromatic ink painting that stretched back for centuries, drawing was mostly ignored by non-artists. (Well, I am an artist!)

Around 1500, some folks began to think that drawing, even unfinished sketches, were actually interesting in their own right. If a drawing was a sort of “first edition” of a visual idea … a pre-painted image … then it might be fascinating to see the image at it’s very earliest stage. Fresh off the press as it were … straight from the mind of the artist. Tentative, quick, bold, or intimate visions … even incomplete images, began to be seen as having valuable qualities.

As this “novel view” of the 16th and 17th centuries became more wide spread, drawings even began to be thought of as independent works of art. And as artists became more interested in exploring drawing, materials with extended ranges of hue and texture became available. It was possible to draw with rich hues, subtle tones, and deep values that rivaled paintings. At the same time, many artists and viewers were intrigued by the profound beauty of simplicity that drawing could achieve. (Just like my love for the classics of the B&W film noir movie era … or the rich value range of the best black and white photographic prints.)

Well, here you go …  a few of my sketches; ones that I have been working on during the past few months. Some were completed with no intent of ever painting the subject. Most, however, were part of the preparatory process. For me, all are just as complete as the paintings they helped me create. Different, yes … but complete in their own way.

Here I am showing you the B&W ones; the sketches using pencil, ink and/or ink washes. I also sometimes make monochromatic sketches. You can see one of those on an earlier post (It has been a bit SKETCHY, so far, from July 25th). While I was working on that one outside, the extra color information seemed to provide a little better clarity. Hey, anything to help jog my memory if I decide to use it in the studio! (Besides, for me it has the same sort of appeal as a sepia-toned or cyanotype photographic print!)

I hope you enjoy getting a preview of them here. Let me know which ones you like, which ones intrigue you.

More of these sketches (and paintings too) will be part of my upcoming exhibit at the Staunton Augusta Art Center in Staunton, Virginia. Exhibit info at:  http://saartcenter.org

Landscape Revelations: Watermedia Paintings & Sketches”, (John A. Hancock, Watermedia Paintings and Drawings)

Color, like water, comes sprinkling down

August 15, 2012

Summer’s end; it may be fast approaching but the heat hasn’t broken yet. To refresh yourself when you were a kid, did you like running through a sprinkler to cool off ?

I loved it.

I loved it so, so much … it was the perfect antidote to growing up in the intense sunshine, heat, and humidity of Florida’s seemingly endless summers.

Now, sometimes as a grown up, I get a kick out of racing past a sprinkler trying NOT to get wet. And, admittedly, as a grown-up kid … I sometimes like to race past a sprinkler secretly hoping to get soaked!

Well, in that vein … the vein of secret and maybe silly passions … I have an artist I would like you to get to know. (Ok, it is NO secret that I have passions for: 1) Color, 2) Water based paint/aqueous media art, 3) Performance, Kinetic, or Installation art. [#3 might surprise some of you actually.]

Edwin Deen is a Belgian artist with a wonderfully simple idea: combine watercolor, a common yard sprinkler device, some water, a paintable space and a little time. It lacks the utter seriousness of the early sixties works of Jean Tinguely. (Remember his automatic kinetic sculpture/drawing machines?) For one, this work is much to colorful. It is more like the work of Tinguely’s wife and artistic partner Niki de Saint Phalle. (Perhaps you might remember her riotously colorful “shooting” based performance/kinetic art-paintings?)

And this idea may not appear to be highly significant or profound in the traditional, historic, conservative, or the neo-academic art sense. (But they don’t like much art after William-Adolphe Bouguereau … well, OK. maybe Edgar Degas and Andrew Wyeth. PS: I like those guys too.) So they wouldn’t be interested that this work has an echo of the Fallen Painting series of Linda Bengalis.

 But Deen’s idea, and the work he creates with it, is so physically playful, so visually refreshing. It makes some beautiful and joyful spaces. It might even remind you of delightful moments in your childhood … colors puddling, dripping, and running during elementary school art classes … or running through sprinklers in the summer.

Wait a moment. Feeling our joy … through water and through color. That IS profound.

You can access more information about Deen’s work via: http://en.paperblog.com/edwin-deen-rainbow-sprinkler-275827/ http://www.dezeen.com/2012/08/06/liquid-rainbow-by-edwin-deen/


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