Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Revealing the Hidden Image

Michelangelo is said to have remarked that when sculpting marble, he viewed as a matter of simply freeing the image he saw from the stone.

I feel similarly when I'm approaching my 2D work. Whether it's a panel of wood, a scrap of mat board, or a piece of watercolor paper, there is something subliminal leaking out, in several layers of discovery.

It may surprise many, but I rarely have a definitive plan for what I'm going to do when I sit down at my desk to make art. Instead, I keep a running list of ideas: my "stock" arsenal of creatures and concepts, new inspirations, suggestions, and anything else that runs across my brain. And then I consider the potential of the "canvases" before me.

My wooden panels are cut down from a single larger sheet - which is carefully selected for its grain, texture, and overall "feel."  I'm sure I confuse the heck out of the hardware store staff as I'm pulling out sheet after sheet (most as big as I am, or bigger), and looking over each sheet, front and back. (I always put them back after I've chosen the winner.)  Then after they are cut down, I select which side to gesso (paint primer).  Depending on how many layers of gesso I use, the grain may still be slightly visible or totally obliterated - so even the coolest grain patterns get hidden.

My "tiny originals" are rescued mat drop-outs. (When you cut a picture mat, the drop-out is the beveled center left from the newly created picture window). Picture framers are notorious for saving mat board, especially if it's still big enough to be re-cut - because good mat board is expensive and it's important to both minimize waste and save money.  These pieces, at 3.125"x 4.625" were too tiny to be machine cut into anything else, but they were so damn cute (and acid-free) that I collected them. They don't need to be prepped like the wood panels do, but whenever I have leftover acrylic paint that is going to go to waste, I wash it over the faces of these little mat boards to give them an interesting surface.

Anyway, so when I sit down to make some work, I have a small pile of prepped panels in front of me.  And I carefully go through each of them and see what they "say" to me. I wouldn't compare it to trying to figure out what shape or image an inkblot or cloud is, as "asking" them what they want to be. If I do have a general idea I want to paint (like an owl, or a custom portrait) it's a similar process - which panel works best?  Is that the face of a cat peeking out at me? A swish of a tail or the shape of wings in flight? Then I work to bring that image to the surface.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Doing it wrong, doing it right.

I've been producing enough work lately that I should be blogging about each piece on a daily basis...we shall see how that goes next week.

What I want to write about NOW is something that has been circulating in my brain for the last several months - the meaning and purpose of art.

When you go to art school, particularly a very good one like RISD, you learn a lot of things - provided you luck out and get the right teachers.  I certainly did have such luck my very first semester of freshman foundation with instructors Wendy Seller for 2D, Ed Oates for 3D, and Tom Mills for Drawing. From Wendy, I learned to really push color in new directions, regardless of the media - and as her teacher assistant in the later years, I got an in-depth look at artists of especially the 19th and 20th centuries - pulling slides for presentations. From Ed, I learned how to make something out of nothing, and to have a sense of humor about it - including constructing a violin out a single piece of cardboard, without using tape or glue - and it had to remain one piece. From Tom, I stretched my drawing abilities to new heights and discovered the value of layers, as well as a few other life lessons.  All three instructors especially excelled at pushing you to make your work stronger, more developed, better technique and construction. (Second semester with a different group of instructors was unfortunately more about what not to do (by example of teaching) but the optimist says there is value in that as well...)

Looking back, if life had only afforded me that first semester at RISD, it would have served me exceedingly well, as those lessons I learned are still things I utilize now and have sculpted the look of my work. Sophomore and junior years were more focused on learning a specific craft/area (Printmaking for me), and an introduction to the never-ending struggle to justify your work, which seemed the majority of the focus for senior year. Important for sure, yes, but I think it also tends to put the brain into a state of mind-fuck for the fine artist.  What does my work mean? How does it relate to others? What does it need to say?

And now, as I peruse listings for various grants, awards for artists, and calls for work, I get the feeling that unless my work has some sort of deep political or social message, I need not apply. Even if I suspect the majority of the words surrounding such work is mainly lip service (and the fine art of bullshitting).

To which my brain responses with "OMG! I should be creating work with Meaning." Capital "m" implies that art should have a greater "intellectual" purpose to pique the social conscious of society.   Despair! Angst! I'm doing it wrong!

Meanwhile as I'm working on getting back on track to doing fine art again, I'm making these little drawings, paintings, and works of mixed media. Each one focuses on a different personality/icon.  I have a list of ideas, and a sea of small panels in front of me.  I select one panel, examine it, and whatever speaks to me from it, gets pulled out of it. They happen quickly, with broad strokes and tiny details. And I'm amazed by the response from people as I post the in-progress shots.

Revelation. I finally get it.  These little images - they touch people.  There's a connection, a sense of conversation and engagement from each. They talk of sacred spaces, familiar memories, and shared experiences. Somewhere between the viewer and the work, a merger of ideas happens that excites the brain, evoking joy, bliss, and inspiration.

So when I pull back and think about it all, I'm more than happy (thrilled even) to make work that touches the psyche and makes people feel good. It is a form of magic. I am plenty fine with leaving the socially and politically-soaked activism to other artists.

And my undying thanks to Wendy, Ed, and Tom for truly developing in me the skills to put me on the path of being an artist - nearly 20 years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Truth of Myth Series: Getting Started

 Last Fall, I was selected to have a solo show at Pioneer Square Saloon for April 2014.  For those of you not familiar with Seattle, Pioneer Square is known to be one of the major areas for fine art in the city.  So OMG! 

I got to choose the month, and April seemed like a nice long ways away - plenty of time to work on lots of paintings.  I had a stack of 1 foot by 1 foot birch panels, and months to work on them...

Which of course meant that suddenly it was March, and I had 16 paintings to get done.  Anxiety and deadlines are great motivators, so I actually managed to get all 16 paintings done (plus some additional work) in 
10 days.

So I would like to talk about the overall process and each of the resulting paintings in turn.  

First the panels themselves started off as a massive sheet of birch plywood, nearly 1" thick, which was then cut down into 1 foot squares. I sanded them, gave them each several layers of gesso, sanded them again, then started to lay down fields and washes of color on some of them.  

Then I stared at them.  I moved them around the studio.  I added some more color, moved them around some more, and then....stared at them more.  Then, as I mentioned in the previous entry, I got inspired - actually it was a sort of anti-inspiration - it's what I knew I did NOT to do with my work that got me moving.

I generated a list of about 30+ deities, archetypes, and women from myth who have been "done wrong", and then asked the internet for their favorites.  From that, I selected about 18 of them, created a post-it note with each name, and paired up panels with names.  The pairing process wasn't random, but was a rather involved process where I considered each panel, the color it was (if any), and what I "saw" in it.

It's a bit hard to explain the "seeing-without-seeing"'s more in my mind's eye, rather than something I physically see.  The color of the panel, possible shapes in the brushstrokes or grain of the wood - these all have a feeling to them. The same is true for every personality/persona I had selected, so they needed to match up.

However, not every panel stayed paired with its initial designation.  By the time I was done, at least two panels switched, and another two wanted to be completely different concepts, so they went to my other two remaining selections.

I also worked on several pieces at a time - not at the same moment, but working on one panel, setting it aside to dry, and using my remaining paint to work on another piece, and so forth.  I chose to use acrylic paint for these - which is both a blessing in that it dries quickly, and a curse that you waste paint if you don't use what you've squeezed out right then and there.  So working on several pieces per session allowed me to not only switch gears mentally and not overwork any one piece, but to also make good use of my paint.

The paintings "lived" on the floor of my studio when I wasn't working on them, so I could easily look at all of them at once.  This placement allowed me to make stylistic adjustments, and evaluate the strength of each piece.  When I was satisfied with the entire collection, I used a high gloss varnish on them, which brought all of the colors and detail to life.  
I tend to use acrylics unconventionally, alternating between watercolor and oil techniques - so the varnish transformed the pieces, giving both translucence and depth. 
In the upcoming posts, I will discuss the story and symbolism behind each piece on its own.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beautiful floating heads....

A little while ago on facebook, I remarked on what I thought was one specific artist's work, actually was a whole bunch of different artists creating similar-looking work - the depressed/sad, big-eyed gothic dolly paintings.  Learned that a lot of it was possibly influenced by the "Big Eyes" art of the 60's-70's, but I was specifically referring to modern-day work I was seeing at festivals, stores, etc.  Not my particular cup of tea, I didn't really retain who did it, I just noted the style/look - so my surprise when I'm at a show and I see a table of it, and then another, and then another, and realizing they all have different names attached.  And well, that's nothing new in the art world - subject matter and styles tend to mushroom in certain peer groups (think about the Cubists or the Impressionists, etc) and with the internet, it can spread even more.

Another similar group I've been noticing more and more in alternative circle as well is what I will call "the beautiful floating heads."  The subject matter tends to be some sort of beautiful woman's head, against a mostly empty background, with decorative and natural elements.  There was a show of these sorts of paintings at a cafe my husband and I stopped at the other day.  I found the paintings beautiful, but something bugged me.  And it felt like the same thing that bugged me about the big-eyed dollies.  

I came to the conclusion that it's the emptiness of the figures...that the eyes are empty, and that the female bodies seem to be just vehicles for beauty.  That they seem plastic, without power.

Maybe that's the point? I don't know, I'd have to ask each artist to find out why they do what they do - but then again, shouldn't the art tell me that?  And what it makes it different from all of the nudes and figure drawings from the last few centuries, or any part in any culture's artwork?Again, I don't know.

But I'm pretty sure I don't want it in my work. I want my figures to address the viewer, and to have something to share of their experience.   I want them to have power. I don't want them to be just pretty design elements.

Yes, I see the irony of me being a big fan of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, but I also strongly feel that Mucha especially breathed life into his figures - that they had something to say beyond selling a product...especially his mural work and other paintings.

I think, in the bigger picture regarding the dollies and the floating heads - it's not the trend or similarities behind all of the works that bugs me, or the crafting of the work, which is usually very good to very high quality - amazing execution - which could be a big root of their popularity.  So my intent is not to dis the makers of these works in any way.  But rather to address the way they make me feel, and inspired my work. 

So the inspiration/plan for this series of paintings I'm working on - is taking at least 16 women from myths/history who have been reduced or flattened into a stereotype, and give them back their power.  We shall see how it goes. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Floodgates Have Opened

Some people would argue that I never stopped making art in the decade following my graduation from RISD.

That creating digital collages, the occasional small drawing/painting, designing websites, cards, costumes, patterns - and DANCING, that's all art. I made over 1000 corset belts, hundreds of bras, vests, and other costume items, from hair pieces to headdresses.  I definitely produced a lot of items. Definitely a lot of stuff people would define as wearable art.

So I can see the truth in that argument.

But compared to now? It feels different.

In the last year, I finally managed to create my first arts-only space, separate from my dance space.  Where I can paint, draw, design, craft, sew, etc - and that is all that space is for.  Combined with the idea of letting go that everything I make, must somehow make money -while also acknowledging that art is a major part of my income - this is new territory.

From my earliest memories, I have always made art.  There is something that happens in the art-making process that accesses and appeases a part of my brain in such a way that no activity - not even dance- can.  The procedure of making art is a trial and a conflict - I am simultaneously at peace, in a wrap of silence and solitude, all the while the voices in my head discuss/argue/comment every step of the way. And it's also about the way I can be totally immersed in some unrelated activity (watching a movie, dancing, making love, creating a meal) and suddenly have a vision of something I must draw or paint.  Then being able to just acknowledge whatever that vision is, sketch it, and come back to it later without questioning the how, what, or why.  That I can be out somewhere, and wish I had my sketchbook with.  (So I need to start bringing it with me everywhere.)

That, for me, is true art-making. I think the last few months, I have been warming up.  That I have awoken the beast - the one that lay dormant, hibernating, perhaps starving a bit (or a lot), and now is ready to create, that MUST create.  And the universe has seemed to have responded with a variety of open doors and windows.

Has it been waiting all this time?