Monday, October 29, 2012

Work in Progress

Since beginning my triptych tentatively titled: "House of Cards," I have been rummaging about in what you might call my 'mental attic,' kicking over boxes, flipping through faded photo albums... remembering. 

It feels masochistic to me. In some cases, as I open one Pandora's box after another, reliving moments I had all but forgotten, I can almost feel the ground beneath me crumbling and falling away. 

I've said this before: Psychology is merely a "dull reflection of carnival fortune telling." I still think that. How is excavating all this hurt a good thing? For years, I have been adopting Zen philosophy into my everyday life. Zen teaches us to "let go" and "eliminate the ego." According to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi: "Renunciation is not giving up the things of the world, but accepting that they go away."

Can I do both? Or do I dig it up, relive it and face what comes? Or maybe I should just let it pass like a kidney stone?? For now, it seems, I am to face these evils. Perhaps, by facing them, I can then finally let them go? It gives one pause. Right now, as I write this, clarity feels impossible. Nonetheless, I am progressing with my project. I'm helpless not to. I got caught in the undertow...

My MFA experience has been, on the whole, marvelous. The newness of the space, the furtive atmosphere... where I get tripped up however, is the critiques. As an artist who has been professionally producing and exhibiting for twenty seven years (and with higher notoriety in the last eight) I have become fairly accustomed to criticism. Usually though, it's a critique on a certain piece or series or body of work or even just style and presentation, not the process itself. I don't know how to really give feedback on someone's thought process... I certainly don't know what to do with it when it's about me. I get an idea. An image flashes in front of me and I give it form. To me, it's a simple issue of production. There is no guess work... no need to "try something out" because I already know how it's meant to be. I just need to get it done. Right?? 

When an idea presents itself, the first thought I have is: is the image a sculpture? A photo?? A drawing??? Do I realize it through performance? Is it only meant to be a doodle in my journal?? Should I write about it??? Mostly, the work says; "paint me.The thing is, recently, I have been feeling the need to change. Sure paint it,  but how? I like my work but I'm stuck. It feels somehow played out. Routine. I'm not sure what to do now.

I found my 'voice' a long time ago. It was around the same time my work started "taking off," so the only way I can see myself evolving, is through technique. But recently that voice seems muted. Perhaps, at this point in my career, it's about amplification. Transcendence. 

It all comes back to honesty and clarity: allowing myself to be more honest and being bold enough to challenge my status quo. On a technical level, I want to expand my skillset: do things with my surface, for instance, that cannot be recreated digitally. something more tactile, more visceral. After a long, matter-of-fact conversation with Michael Goodson, I can see now that I have to, as he put it, "kick in the door." "You're at the dock," jump the fuck in.

It's maddening to be so close to discovery and yet be completely blind.

What I don't want to change, is this drive in me to connect. I want to reach out to people... Invite them into my work... help them see beyond themselves... maybe even bridge some social gaps? Of course, with this particular project, the point is to heal. I've been in ruins for far too long, it's time to rebuild.

I keep getting asked; "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" "who are you looking at?" "what is informing you?" It's all I can do not to start screaming:


In 2010, when my wife and I were blissfully wandering around provincial France, I read "Dear Theo." Being Bi-Polar myself, I completely identify with Van Gogh. His work makes sense to me. His passion is infectious, even now after so many years. To a point, being inside his head was informative, but not in how I do my work so much as how I think about it. The same can be said for any of the work I admire. Michelangelo, Botticelli, Mucha, Lichtenstein... At best, I look at work to study an artist's technique... to better understand WHY they painted what they painted and to listen to what the work says to me, if it says anything at all. I've tried looking at more contemporary work but most if it sucks. Of course, by "sucks" I mean it's terrible. There's a whole lot of crap out there and it always seems to find representation. On the other hand, I have specific tastes and I tend to hold other artists to the crazy standards I hold myself to so I won't name any names here...

There have been some great artists emerging off the streets; "Misk 1," and "Mars" come to mind. I spent a good five years running with this crowd and really got into the ferocity and spontaneity of their work. Coming from a more academic background, I'm also a big fan of Chuck Close, Robert Betchle and Edward Hopper but I also love Stuart Davis and Rothko. Many of my favorite artists have been illustrators: Mucha, Leyendecker, Sargent and Frazetta. But I love photography, too... Rodin is my favorite sculptor as well as my primary source of artistic inspiration and theory.

Misk 1

R. Betchle

S. Davis

F. Frazetta

During the summer, I read up on Matthew Richie, Nancy Burson and Kehinde Wiley... but as I said, since starting the MFA program, with the exception of my classmates, I haven't looked at anyone. Aside from the essays in our Theory and Criticism class, I haven't been reading anything either. Though, I guess you could say that my thoughts and ideas about identity and personal turmoil have been influenced by the other artists that have been discussed in class. 

What I have been doing, is listening. I listen to the work. What is it telling me? What does it need me to do?? It wants to be something and it's my task let it. As to what is informing me or more precisely, what has been inspiring me -- getting my head where it needs to be for this project, has been music. I have been listening to hours of dark, atmospheric trip-hop and crunchy, angst-ridden industrial: Massive Attack, Portishead, Thievery Corporation, Nine Inch Nails, Lords of Acid, The Crystal method...

In this last critique, I got asked; "What do you want from us?" I've had to think on that because at the time, I didn't have a good answer. Sometimes, getting all the extra input on work that is still in the process of becoming confuses me. In truth, I just don't know. I came into this program because I had hit a wall. I have been doing the work I do - what I have become known for, and doing it well but It's become stale to me. My work wants to be somewhere, but I don't know how to get it where it wants to go. It's very frustrating and I just don't see how looking at other artists work is supposed to help me. I don't want to do someone elses work, after all.

My work is my work and it comes from within... Of course, it has occurred to me that maybe I am not understanding the question. In which case, kindly disregard this entire post.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Crit 2: Crit's Revenge

Meh. Blog.

I've been on a series of art benders, where I sequester myself to the studio for sixteen and twenty hour blocks alternately sketching, conceptualizing and curled into a tight ball.

Put simply, my current project is kicking my ass.

I expected this. When you set out to confront years of emotional clutter, you open yourself up to reliving moments once thought forgotten and as it turns out, there are an awful lot of moments in my life worth forgetting.

I find that tragic. Our moments are finite and therefore precious. I am comforted, however, that in recent years I have amassed a disproportionately large amount of memories worth remembering. 

There is value in obsessive persistence. 

Anyway... Triptych. Yeah.

I was looking at this as one big piece - which it is, to a point - and getting overwhelmed by the complexity and sheer size of the thing. I find that working on three separate, stand-alone images that each tell the story of the other and somehow pull together as one, is much like assembling a thousand piece puzzle of a solid color with no edge pieces. Even as I type this, I can feel myself breaking out into a cold sweat. 

Fun times.

So, early last week - in mid panic, I eeny, meeny, miney, moe'd a panel and got to work. Inevitably, I began with the portrait of my father. To me, he is the most abstract element of this project, as he was not present for the majority of my life. Only until the last decade, have I ever thought of him as anything more than a symbol. A concept. 

I was surprised at how easy the drawing of him came.

It's as I envisioned however, while I worked, I began recalling some of the most early memories of life with him - memories I had all but forgotten, and these spawned some alternate ideas... Since he is not a person to me, only and idea, why do a true portrait when I have the freedom to do something more interpretive? 

That's when I drew the angry dog.

To me, that's more close to how I remember him... more than any photo could ever show: an angry, violent, unpredictable, snarling junkyard dog.

Yet, I like the irony of the portrait I drew. He seems so benign, almost like a sitcom dad from the seventies.

I stepped away to let that soak in a bit and went home to get some sleep and dreamed of a giant rabid dog tearing into me.

Dad, Sketch one
Snarling Dog

Dad final drawing, maybe

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Demon Creepy-eyed Pig of DOOM

Playing with 3D software....

Wordcloud! Neato Burrito!!!

This is a word cloud dealio of my previous blog post!!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This Train Don't Stop...

Ah... another bloggy post. 

There is joy, minion.


As I look out the window across the campus at the ginormous typographical "Art" sculpture   and sip at my second coffee in as many hours, I am captivated by a multitude of young, eager students -- some in capes, frantically scurrying against the undertow of an unwritten future. At last; the right place at the right time. Go them, go CCAD.

This is my first break in roughly nine hours out of... thirty. I'm glad for the daylight. Campus during the small hours of the morning can be such a lonely place. But I have my work, a nearly endless playlist of my favorite music and the internet to keep me occupied for days and days. 

My mind tends to wander when I work... The effect is not unlike meditation: the lisping whisper of the brush hurriedly spreading secrets and rumors across the board, the skritching impatience of my pencil... everything unhinges and I go deep within myself, relieved. Free.

I call this; "Falling into the hole." It's a happy place where I can let go of whatever societal norm is currently anchoring me to the here and now, and allow the madness of the creative process take me whole. In this place, with all my waking thoughts and observations safely swirling around me like a tornado, I can finally stop clenching and get to work ironing the kinks out of my Id.

Therein lies the 'Art Therapy' aspect of my process.

This last week, with my recent critique still ricocheting inside my head, I've set to the task of hammering out ideas and techy dealios for my semester one project, by way of the two remaining commission pieces that perpetually take turns on my easel. To those NOT in my head, what I am working out may not, necessarily, be totally obvious... 

None-the-less, I have been steadily obsessing over the parameters of my project with increasing intensity. (and loving every second of it!) Pallet. Composition. Narrative. The overall flow and presentation of what has taken a lifetime to overcome.

Ric, our program coordinator extraordinaire, had, during my recent critique, mentioned that he was wondering if my my graphic, reductionist style would carry the heavy theme of my topic or if it would somehow diminish it's communicative power.

I'm not sure that I can answer that satisfactorily, but I don't think it would, as both the sentiment and iconography are coming honestly. And while I can feel my work transitioning into what will be it's latest incarnation, I've begun to trust that my essential aesthetic will remain. That is, graphic, high-contrast imagery reduced to it's essential components. 

The difference here, I believe, will be dialectic; the tools, the materials -- the texture. Adding pieces and "relief" elements that break the fourth wall, if you will, while also adding a more tangible dimensionality. To illustrate, I present the following Rauschenberg:

I had made mention of preserving my essential aesthetic while still allowing the work to evolve. The best example I can offer you of an artist who did precisely that, is Roy Lichtenstien. In the infancy of his career, he -- like many of the time, reinvented the everyday by way of appropriation. In this case, individual panels from pulp "action" comics. This was only a starting point of the inventive, technical exploration I hope to emulate. The following four samples span the artist's entire professional career and show a willingness to grow and mature while still maintaining a"look" that was unmistakably "Lichtenstien."

The 1960s.

The 1970s.

The 1980s.

The 1990s.

I accept the possibility that this project may completely fall apart in my hands but am encouraged by the new direction this journey is taking me and what wonders lie ahead. 

In that sense, failure cannot exist.