Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaching, Reading and Feverishly Working

I am not the Bohemian I once was.  I have changed immensely.  My social demands have grown slack.  I seldom hang out with people in the evening, seldom meet for beers, and have a more regular schedule than I've ever had before.  I am matured, married, settling into a profession.  I don't really understand how all of this has happened all at once.  I do know that I have little desire to return to the party or to the sporadic schedule.

The fall semester is drawing to a close.  This last semester I taught two sections of 2D Foundations in Design.  It seems as though life has come full circle when you end up teaching the class that you had the biggest struggle with in undergrad.  I've also begun to settle into my teaching.  This semester I assigned a 3000 word essay on the formal aspects of one classic and one contemporary artist.  The process of grading these papers was intriguing.  There were some students who really gave me a window into a new world of artist while others rehashed ideas that I have heard for ages about the heavy hitters, like Van Gogh, Monet, and especially Keith Haring.

Teaching has helped me in my own art making.  I am reminded on a daily basis of ways to improve my images.  It is like developing a sense of zen with my work.  I am more present with the work than I have been in the past.  I am making more conscious decisions, whereas before I had been falling into a set of visual tropes that I had had success with and settling for compositions as they popped into my head.  I was much more concerned with getting to the paint and not so concerned with drawing.  While teaching has made me more present with my visual decision making, it has played a much heavier influence in helping me establish changes within my work.  I have begun to experiment as I have not done in the past.  I have attempted watercolor, worked in micron pen, worked on paper, played with scale in a more fulfilling way, and relied on my conscious decision making, not style, to make it all work within my overall body of work.

I have also spent this last year, truthfully since I was married a year ago August, feverishly reading.  I have been reading non-fiction about art, mushrooms, music, history, and physics.  I've also read a fair share of fiction.  My favorites have been by Saul Bellow and Haruki Murakami.  Reading has granted me more empathy.  I feel less exasperated when people don't understand my work.  Also, I feel like I have been making more work that fulfills a universal feel.  A friend of mine, Shirah Neumann, told me that one of her old professors spent a good portion of his career painting the interior of his studio.  Stuart Davis spent nearly a year working on Egg Beater paintings.  I've been developing empathy for the objects around me, the ideas that I have in my head, and the icons that I have utilized over the past decade to communicate my point.  I have simplified a good deal of my work.  Rather than showing a complicated setting of cloud constructors, or a world of audiophilic birds, or robots conducting human acts, I have been focusing on stereos, trains, city skylines, and tape cassettes.  I have been drawing and painting these objects and scenes and learning how to paint, how to express myself via the application of paint rather than worry about the big plot to pull people in.  It feels more natural.  It feels like my drawing and painting skills are improving again.  It feels like the challenges that I am presenting myself with are no longer based on production levels but more on experimental and quality levels.

Additionally, I have not been using this blog space as my sound board.  Most nights I sit across from my wife and we chat.  Often we chat about things that I am not wholly present for as I am still trying to find the calm after finishing painting work, reworking pieces in my mind, questioning where to go next.  I have not had that time to remain possessed by my work.  I have had to compromise with my wife and find a more inclusive manner of working out those post studio energies.  Perhaps I just need to refigure what my goal is for this space and that will help me determine how to proceed with it.  I have started to use instagram in the same manner as I used to use this space.  I never did cull many comments on this platform and I get a whole lot more feedback with just the image.  Maybe I ramble too much.

I had intended to share a couple images of current projects that I have been putting together.  I will attempt to post some more work from each soon, detailing the process behind each series.



These two images detail a recent series of miniature city scapes that I have been putting together of Portland, Me.  I thought that perhaps by looking in spots which were not quite so obvious I could find a certain kind of beauty in my surroundings that I cannot find by paying attention to the everyday things that I find in front of me while walking around the city.  I began the series with watercolor on wooden blocks and have since switched to acrylic paints for archival purposes.




This second pairing is from a series of works for a "soul train."  I have been listening to nothing by John Coltrane while I've been working on the piece, not because he did soul music, he obviously didn't, but merely for the tenuous connection between his nickname, "train," the "soul train," and regular trains.  The work is about music and repetition, about defying the left to right structure in music and letting the form of the instruments create the direction of the printed page.  The work is for a show in Illinois.


The last work pictured is from my small series of deconstructed boomboxes.  The work is spontaneous in the drawing so it made a lot of sense to color the work with watercolors rather than the more meditative acrylic paints.  The drawings are based in the roots of Malevich and Kandinsky but picture an archaic but more modern device.  I thought that by giving myself the rule that I was only allowed to draw the stereo, I would take my work to the level of abstraction which Braqcue and Picasso achieved with their violins and pitchers.  It has been a good experiment thus far.  I have even lined up a small show of the work with The Studio in Laconia, NH.

My life is different. I have had difficulties accepting this in every facet.  We hope, at times, that one thing or another will stay the same so that we may have something to depend on.  The fact of the matter is that as soon I was married the expectations of my time became different.  There were suddenly two people determining what I was going to be doing with my time.  It is a good thing, but it is very difficult, even a year and a half later, to get used to.

Peace
-Mike

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Remains of the Day

I don't read with any great speed.  I am prone to filling my schedule with art projects and leaving myself exhausted, trying to muster a little bit more effort to keep working.  Tonight, after nearly a week of dragging my feet, I finished Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.  The story follows a high class butler reflecting back on his years in service of a dignified  British Lord who fell from favor amongst British subjects due to his ties to German aristocrats. 

It seemed like an important book to read.  I have been left with the impression that I am not unlike this butler.  The man was constantly at work.  So much so, that when it came to the end of the day his head was filled with reflection and not with a sense of relaxation.  I often suffer from this same affliction.  As I was chatting about this with my wife, she suggested that my work is really a source of meditation for me.  I am more relaxed when working than I sometimes am sitting still or attempting to pay attention to a movie.  All I have wanted to be in the past 15 years is a painter.  I have made myself that.  Now that I am teaching instead of working in a restaurant, I feel like there is very little about my life that isn't devoted to the goal of being a successful painter.  While I do lose focus at times, I do think that that has more to do with a lack of understanding of what kind of painter I want to be, where I want to show, how I want to show.  My head runs too many different ways at once.  Perhaps it doesn't though.  I really don't know anymore.

I have spent the last three hours trying to let the remains of the day settle.  It is Saturday.  Today is a day for relaxation and enjoyment, but these things are sometimes confusing to me.  I am fortunate to have a very understanding wife who helps me work through some of the weirdest doldrums.  Painting in miniature has been a great source of comfort for me and I think provides something unique that I have not yet seen from many people. 

I've been asked to show in a group exhibition at Waterfall Arts in December.  I realized that I was going to have to come up with a lot more pieces than I had started.  The beauty of the miniature is that I can view the same spot from a slightly different vantage point and completely change the subject of the work.  I had my studio assistant walk around town with me the other day taking just shy of three hundred photos which I will be working from in the near future.  The city is bigger than I give it credit for.

Here are a few of the drawings which I started using those photos.

 This second image is from the back window of the Time and Temperature building.  I took maybe five photographs from the same vantage point focusing on different areas of the neighboring rooftops.  I'm feeling much better about my ability to find different sorts of shapes.

Ultimately what remains of the day is my goal to be a painter, my love for my wife and son, and the realization that I am human.  My brain must find pause.  I need to create time for said pause even when it doesn't seem necessary.  Only by doing that will I be able to retain focus on my goals.  If I get too lost in the work, too heady in my ideas, then I will lose touch of what it is to push paint.  The act is enough in itself.  It doesn't seem overly necessary to complicate the work.  As I calmly delve into this set of miniatures, I realize that there is more time in the day than I thought and more ways to see than I was willing to accept.

Peace
-Mike

Friday, October 31, 2014

Grid and Raining House Assemblage

The Holiday Season always carries with it the pressures to create small, hand held, handmade, locally inspired merchandise to sell at various local craft fairs and art walks.  Coupled with that desire is the desire to do my own holiday shopping and gifting to family members.  Inevitably I feel trapped by this process.  As a reader of this blog you will recall the cycle.  In response I started working a large piece with seemingly less commercial value. 

A couple years ago I became obsessed with a vast quantity of six by six panels which a friend had gifted me.  I worked myself through a variety of ideas which had been nagging at me, matriculating, and operating in their own unique spheres.  I took all of the ideas that I was working with, pipes, a crude house, power lines, and drips, working the motifs into mishmash of random, semi-surreal pieces.

During this time period it occurred to me that I wanted to make a few larger pieces with this imagery worked into it.  The first piece of this nature was made on boards collected from a neighbors dilapidated deck.  They ripped the deck off the side of the house and left the wood stacked out front, so naturally a good portion of that wood came home with me.  As I started to think about this level of ruin that resulted in my new found wood, the logical imagery to apply to these boards was the falling house imagery.  The falling houses have always been a kind of response to the American Dream.  They are a sort of desperate cry for a normal life (in the sense of what is sold as normal,) one free of huge student loan debt, the fight to obtain healthcare, and trying to find enough time to work on my own career while negotiating a number of odd jobs required to pay back the massive student debt that my career has incurred. 

Here are a few of the first images using that imagery.

The found wood is obviously much rougher than some of these panels.  That seems to affect their feel of falling and how they occupy their space.  I've added some atmospheric color around the new houses in the big piece in order to control the environment that the subject is in a little better.



I'm not certain how well the grids are working with the more organic feel of the atmospheric brush strokes.  I will have to find a resolution between the two elements before I continue much further.  I had originally thought that I would just add a splash of grid here and there but it doesn't seem to balance well and the space looks rather empty.  The other grid pieces that I have put together have been so dominantly grid, however, that I definitely want to avoid that.  Perhaps another piece might involve the falling houses over top of a grid, but I think that there is a wildly different attraction to this found surface in opposition to the structured surface that the grid will create.


This last juxtaposition seems the most successful to me, however, I would need to at least change up the scale of the different grids a bit more than what I have thus far.  I'm still working with it.  It's in that good frustration stage right now.  At any rate, hope you dig the work.  Keep up.

Peace
-Mike

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Family Day and a Significant Break in Walking

Saturdays, since I quit working in the restaurant industry and found myself married with child, have become family day.  I often find myself reluctantly leaving the house to go do something social when really I want to hole up reading or head to studio, but all in all I am a fan of family day.  Today we ventured out for a walk.  After leaving the house and taking a left turn, we walked all the way up the hill and down the Eastern Prom to the water.  We then turned left again and walked along a bit of the Back Bay Trail.  The Back Bay Trail features a free wall where folks are legally allowed to paint graffiti.  There was a fellow working as we passed today.  As we walked past I started thinking about how I've always wanted to do work in public.  The problem is that I've never wanted to leave that lasting mark on a space.

I have often wondered, however, if the act of subtraction within a landscape might work the same as addition in a landscape.  Both Leave a lasting mark.  No matter how we look at it, the environment that we see is the environment that is.  What I mean is this, we cannot exclude the detritus of society in favor of a bucolic sense of the pristine landscape.  Our landscape is just as much our trash as it is our carefully tended shrubberies, raised beds, and lawns.  If we are to remove that detritus with the cognitive desire for visual change cannot that act make just as much of a mark as adding ink or paint?

The discovery of such an object, Gascoygne contended, is accompanied by an emotional experience “of an aesthetic nature . . . as the finder discovers an unrealised significance in the object” (p. 170). A new boundary is formed around the object by the finder through removing it from its found environment and placing it in a new one, thus empowering the finder in the role of creating a new reality for the object.  - Paul M. Cacim

I would argue that a new reality is also created for the space which the object formerly occupied.

After my wife and I had passed the free wall, we needed to stop to feed our son.  As we were sitting on a short fence, I noticed a stray piece of driftwood.  It struck me that it would be a good piece of wood to take home to work on, possibly to make another totem.  Then it occurred to me that the object had its own beauty that didn't need to be removed from its environment.  Perhaps the drawing which I would make would be stronger left annonymously right where the found object was.  I decided to draw one of my totemic whales on this piece of wood, sign it, and leave it.  It was, I think, the first time that I have ever detached myself from the collecting process.  The collecting process encumbers my ability to distribute work in a manner that allows the necessary level of anonymity required to be successful in street art forays.

I was very much pleased with this piece and surprisingly felt fine creating something that only really exists on this blog and on my instagram page.  I feel like this fleeting level of connection is more appropriate than the attachment that I usually endow these objects with.  The act was more about that space than a gallery space or an art store.  It was that object AND place AND moment that I was attracted to.  Rather than attempting to render that level of excitement in a setting by making a bang up piece, maybe it is better to create and leave that piece?

Also, I wonder, as this act settled with me throughout the day.  I was able to show my discovery by creating this work and leaving it where I found it.  The tiny cityscapes project that I have begun is much the same.  I am excited about my discoveries.  I feel like not many people are concerned with looking up as they walk or drive about a city.  Things can be hidden in plain sight just by placing them above our field of vision.  I have been obsessed with looking up at these splices of Portland.  The pieces that I've been creating have just been the equivalent of a view finder showing others how and where to look to see these segments of society which are right in front of us.


My work is getting very exciting for me again.  Between the things I am reading and the theories that are starting to grow on me and the family that is constantly rooting for me and providing me pause, I feel as though I am becoming a much more mature artist.  I feel like I am actually chasing my dreams again.

Peace
-Mike

Monday, October 20, 2014

Experimentation

When I was in graduate school there were whole classes devoted to experimentation.  Over the past 11 years, however, I have sometimes viewed experimentation as a waste of time, preferring a model of production over a model of improvement.  To be sure, I've spent a good deal of time attempting to get better with my medium, but I think that over the course of the years I found my self rather pigeon holed.  My website name is Lewis Acrylics and while I still use acrylics almost every day, not all of the artwork that I make is acrylic.  In fact, even the pieces that make use of acrylic paint often bear Bic pen marks as well, making my work not acrylic in nature but mixed media.

I have also not been a fan of moleskine sketchbooks for some time.  The paper is so thin and the hype so oppressive, but a few people whose images I've seen online make me a little bit more excited about them.  One of these artists is Mattias Adolfsson.  He makes me want to draw all of the time.  With some of his work in mind I started putting together some sketches of boomboxes and cassettes and later some abstractions of the two.

 These were four contour drawings of cassettes which I put together while my class was drawing cross contours of their hands.  I drew them over top of some other random sketches so I'm not sure how well the information is translated.
These boomboxes were more as research than anything else.  I wasn't that pleased with the quality of the drawings from the get go.  However as I was sketching boomboxes it occurred to me that I was interested in the shapes within the boombox and how they might break down, which led to this series of drawings.

I felt very much influenced by Wassily Kandinsky later Supremacist pieces.  The color is very much meant to be viewed in the same manner and the shapes are much the same as well.


It feels odd to be working in watercolors.  I keep fearing that I am using them incorrectly.  I layer my color with them a bit more than I remember being taught in school.  I do, however, like laying compliments and near compliments over top of each other.  I think it gives a particularly vibrant pop to the shapes.  I am surprised at how good it feels to be experimenting.  I don't feel as though these pieces are particularly precious which helps me make some more rash and spontaneous color and shape decisions.  Perhaps I finally understand what my professors were getting at.

Peace
-Mike


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Warm Grids and Cool

In response to the large gauge piece with cool grids as the ground, I have started two smaller pieces which are to function as a diptych. 

I had my studio assistant, Marc, trim the edge of both boards; one by cutting and one by ripping. He then sanded both edges down a bit. I knew generally what movement I wanted to feel from the edges of the boards but I wanted the actual shape to be left up to a bit more chance. 



In the piece that I've started, I drew a boiler with the gauges in a similar spot In the composition as the first piece. However, the smoke in this work became more intense and splits into two shapes which start to convers with one another. I began working the grids with warm colors as the ground to see how it changes the read of the illustrated object.  
The object itself is not painted at all so I wonder how much I can push the read without painting the object. 



As I have been workin with the warmer grids, I've become more aware of the shapes that I am making. Previously with this work I had made decisions on shape and color both from my gut in a very spontaneous manner. While I am not abandoning this I am asking myself after the shapes and colors are in what they are actually accomplishing. As I was suggesting to my baby in a moment of clarity today (mind you he didn't seem to care much about painting knowledge but was more interested in his bottle) I think I should relate the shapes more to form and the color to emotion, content. The feel of the piece idea come from the color but to what extent depends on the shapes and the shapes scale. 



I have plans for several more of these pieces and I am feeling quite excited about this method of working. Perhaps I'll be able to answer some of the questions of content that I have been stuck on soon. 

Peace
-Mike

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

All Small

The fall generally means invites to Holiday sales and group shows.  This year I was asked to participate in the Sohns Gallery Show, "All Small" this November.  Each artist has been given three 6" X 6" panels to work with.  We were instructed to "paint, draw, collage, print, assemble on our panels.  Anything goes as long as the panel is still able to hang on the wall.  Normally when given these types of group shows I have tried to make cute works involving characters that I think will sell.  I've been trying to steer clear of some of the character work recently.  I don't think that I am getting out of it what I once was. 

Instead I decided to make a small series out of an image that I had been obsessing over for some weeks.  A while back I found myself sitting at a coffee shop called Crema, here in Portland.  There are several chairs and a couch which face a massive window in the front which overlooks the harbor.  I felt drawn to the power lines across the street.  The light was dim that day as the sky was overcast.  It hearkened back to the days sitting in coffee shops in Seattle.  As I was sitting looking out the window I noticed a plane landing.  Suddenly I felt very much in tune with the aircraft which were taking off and landing far more frequently than I had ever noticed.  I thought back to living in my old house where I could feel the planes as they started to come into the runway.  The silhouette of the plane seemed so powerful to me and yet so small against the vastness that was the sky.  It's a simple image really, but one that I've been obsessed with since.

I started drawing the scene over and over again on small pieces of wood.  Several of the resulting pieces I then glued down to the surfaces of my three All Small pieces.

 The first piece I really wanted to add an element from a Jasper Johns piece.  For some reason the target pieces seemed to work with the airplane imagery.  I'm not sure exactly how the viewer will read this piece, but that's a good thing right?
The second piece started out very graphic.  I had several diagonals which opposed the wood block that I had glued down to the surface.  I was working with those geometric pieces for a bit until I realized that I absolutely loathed them.  I then started to lay a lot of paint over top.  The piece became one solid color.  I then started splattering and painting very gesturally over top.  I was quite pleased with the result even if I keep looking at the piece and wondering if there shouldn't be more to it.

 The last piece included the first image that I drew from my coffee shop experience.  I decided to work with the same type of imagery that I had used in my work for 10 X 10 Brunswick.  I determined that the painterly and the more graphic would balance out nicely, and I think that it does.

The pieces don't feel like my usual imagery or like they fall into my usual visual tropes.  It was an extremely liberating process to work on these pieces.  Hopefully I can loosen up even more in the coming months.  I feel like I am finally feeling more interested in the act of painting than I am in trying to push some false agenda on the work.  I wonder how that will effect the viewing experience of my work.

Peace
-Mike