Thursday, February 4, 2016

You Will Conquer Obstacles to Achieve Success

I went to lunch by myself today, a Chinese American restaurant. I was kind to myself and ordered off the menu instead of indulging in the buffet. The regular menu is too much food as it is, but my will power does not match the power of a buffet. All I wanted was some lo mein and that, I am proud to admit is what I got. When I received my tab, my fortune cookie was a lift that really epitomized my week. "You will conquer obstacles to achieve success," it read. This week has definitely presented its obstacles, a visit from the fire department and their ensuing ire, a trip to the emergency room with my son, but these events paled in comparison to two talks with old art colleagues who I am again working with and a new routine, which has been life changing. 

I have always been a morning person. Even when I would stay up late working, it seemed I would be up early and ready to go. I have, however, seldom attempted to go to bed early to account for the sleep a body may need. I have been doing this for the first few days of my adult life this week!  I have been going to bed at roughly 10 pm and getting up at 5 am. 

The first hour I spend working on my  on my Draw 366 project, a bug a day. Then I have been taking a walk around the Eastern Promenade Trail. Each morning I've been taking a picture of the sunrise. I intend to do a number of these as watercolors. I did so the first two days. Today was so beautiful I will have to do it sooner or later. 




Drawing the bugs and allowing myself to make landscapes has really felt like a yoke lifted from my shoulders. I can draw whatever I like and it doesn't need to be cool and it's fine if old women think that is cool as long as it is for me. These landscapes are amazing, because for the first time I am allowing myself to fail disastrously at attempting to match colors and subtleties in the morning sky. I feel like I am again learning how to paint. 
It is hard though. I admit that I am working on things that make me feel very uncomfortable. But this is good. It's time to grow. 

You will conquer obstacle to achieve success. 
Peace
-Mike

Friday, January 29, 2016

Death, Extinction, and Painting like your Mentors

I've spent some time trying to figure out what it is about extinct birds that has me so intrigued. For a little while I suspected that it had something to do with an environmental consciousness; sort of an extrapolation of the climate crisis that we aw experiencing. But to be honest, while I am very concerned with our climate, the effects we as a species have had on it, and most prevalent in my personal world, Maine's complete lack of winter thus far, I have to admit that this series is not because of sense of responsibility to the environment. It's the same sort of trope I would find myself falling into while I. Graduate school as for the reason that I prefer found materials. 

I realize now, coming off from a baseball season where the Mets made it to the World Series, and in my continual interest in the idea of race conflicts, and my perpetual views of land ownership, that I always cheer for the underdog. It is something deeper than that though. It is more this sense that I need to pay close attention to that which my fellow human beings may miss. I want to notice the insignificant, the under appreciated and remember the things that it seems we as a populace feel it may be better to forget. 

While it is true that many people when approached with the concept of species who are no longer with us will most definitely act the part of caring. I suspect that there is the idea of what a conscious, responsible, empathetic human must be; a sort of simulacrum of the ideal human being that so many of us aim to be. We put on that face as a populace. We are brutally affected by celebrity's deaths, terribly concerned about the welfare of the manatees, quick to throw up a #blacklivesmatter, but how many of us live the actuality of this "ideal human?"  I know I don't. I am anxious about my family, my job and my current lack of wheels. It would not surprise me if most people fell into this frame of mind. What I'm getting at here is that people don't pay attention on a daily basis. The extinct birds are as much a reminder of the fact that our planet has been through a world of change overseen by humankind as it is a reminder to hold dear to you the concept of life and a soul. It is fragile and likely to disappear. 






Today was a very good studio day. I'm starting to hit this stride with my focus. Like many people say, having a family and expectations at home will often make you more focused she you are at your work. I wasn't prone to believe this before, but now I am finding it to be true. 


I can't wait to get going on these panels. I have been doing simple portraits of Hawaiian birds that we have lost in a transparent acrylic style which I learned from an instructor at Syracuse, Trey Gallagher. I feel like these pieces pay a nice compliment to the work that feature bird and pattern. Also there are so many species that we have lost in Hawaii alone that it makes perfect sense to a mini series on the extinct Hawaiian birds. 


These were my jams today. Carted for life. Hope your day was amazing. 

Peace
-Mike

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Insects, The Lagoon, and a Daily Creative Thing

Over the past several years I have watched many artists working on a drawing or painting a day sort of projects. They always seem so fascinating. The very idea of maintaining an idea or theme throughout the entirety of a year seems downright daunting to me, but here I am on day sixteen of doing a watercolor of an insect every day of 2016. 

It started with the idea that there is such a multitude of insects. I have been reading Armand Marie Leroi's "The Lagoon," a history of Aristotle's scientific observations on the animal kingdom. The book is fascinating, well written, and stresses an attractive idea of study through observation. (At least to an artist this certainly sounds attractive.)

Before I had reached a full week into the project, however, I became aware that it was not merely important in order to maintain a theme (which I suspect I may not be able to do) but also to set aside a half hour or so a day to myself and my own creative endeavors. As a father and husband, often my time is shared time. This is mine. I'm hoping I can make it through the whole year. 

Here are a few of the highlights so far. 






The project has been really fun and I'm optimistic that I may be able to make it all the way to December 31. If all goes well I plan on drawing mushrooms next year. 

Peace
-Mike

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Cuban Macaw, Extinction & Whatnot

I've had the Vestibule Gallery lined up for a couple months now. The space is prime; located right on Congress Street in downtown Portland, ME. I haven't even had a solo show in Portland since 2005 and that was in a coffee shop. Needless to say I've been trying to put something good together, to the point where I'd have to say I was overthinking it. 

Finally, I started to think about my life a bit more, and my career a bit less and realized that I've burned a bunch of bridges this year. Maybe this isn't a good thing, but maybe it isn't bad either. I've been able to focus my attention on my family and my work. I've started to think of friends that you can keep and maintain without a whole lot of effort to maintain a persona as "rare birds."  

Concurrently, I realized that I really wanted to make some work about our dying habitat. I pulled back a bit and started to work with extinct varieties of birds; species upon which we've burned the bridge. To speak more specifically on our impact on these species I've started to work with man-made patterns which take over the picture planes. 

Here are a few images of the piece I've started for the Cuban red headed macaw. 





The show is coming up in March and the work needs to be completed in the next month and a half, so I should have a few updates between now and then. 

Peace
-Mike

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving and Painting Still Lives at my Parents Kitchen Table

It seemed like a natural act. I pulled my travel paints out on my parents kitchen table one by one. Austin and Courtney lay asleep in my old bedroom. We had gotten to my folks house at about 8:30 Thanksgiving night. It was the first Courtney was able to come with me. I felt so grateful for her, the time she spends sewing for our family, the way that she carries my anxieties just as I carry hers. She had left a spool of Guterman thread out on the table and as I looked at it and the way that the lines and shapes crossed and crossed and the feeling of the shadow on that object it felt like it was indicative of everything. 

I settled down to a painting of the thread, fairly unaware of the metaphor but arrested by the power of that object. I couldn't help but think of the connection between my mother the knitter and crocheter and my wife creating dish rags next to me the night before. My home town and my parents house always brin me pause, not as much comfort as I feel at home but a few quiet moments to live without the need for motion. 


Later that day, my wife had left out her thimble and her shears and I felt compelled to start another piece. I felt the need to live the things that were her. 


Then last night as we were waitin to go to dinner I started one last piece of the scissors open. 

It is interesting to find these still lives all of a sudden. I feel like I am drawing in a way that I haven't in years and am learning what it is to actually be a painter instead I a pusher of ideas. I wonder too if my ideas are not more accessible by doing these still lives to begin. Time will tell. 


Everything is feeling groovy right now. I think in ready to finish a couple things that I've been dreading and I am pleased that that is finally the case. 

Peace
Mike. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Slowing Down

My wife a and I have been slowing down. After two years of chasing our tails we are starting to settle into what I can only assume will be our life going forward. To maintain the illusion that everything will calm down and we will catch up, feel less stressed, or find our pot of gold seems less an less plausible. However, the joys within that rushed an stressed schedule are becoming more intense. People talk about the ability to focus when you have that time to yourself, whatever the time may be. 

I've always found that I am more likely to find my peace through organization and through my work. I am not very good at organization, but it is a battle I like to fight. My work is always there, but what I've been realizing lately is that I haven't been using it as a tool for my own self medication quite enough. When producing at the right time I feel that I am able to steady myself. One of the big steps in steadying myself is to ignore the outside voices; the voices telling you about marketing, success, the way to make it. I feel more steadfastly than ever before, even with my marginal bit of success, that no one ever makes it purely by following other peoples paths. Even if you do follow someone else's path, success is only reached if you own that path and make it yours. I am not the people from Red Lemon Club, CreativeBoom  or Illustration Friday.  I am something else. I am me. You're you too. 

I have lived my life creating work for galleries. There has always been that voice telling me I need to create illustrations, because I went to school for it and I am fairly good at it when given a project. The white elephant that I have chosen to ignore for so long is this; I spend so much time working, creating art, drawing and painting, but I do not spend this time creating illustrations. It is not a matter of discipline and I don't want to feel guilty about it anymore. I simply want to follow a different path. I am a painter. That is the life I want to live and teach.  There is nothing to feel guilty about in that. 

I have been working more with my studio mates under the moniker, Freehand Armada. We have a small show of remixed still lives coming up. It has felt so good to focus on still lives. It has allowed me to enjoy my use of color and arrangement of shapes. It has helped me create that order out of the mathematical chaos that roger Allard talk about in The Blue Rider Journal. Here are a couple of my recent pieces. 






It's nice to find the things that are slow. Life will always be hectic if you let. Drama begets drama. I can't do it any more.  I have to she'd the things that don't work an embrace what does. 

Peace
Mike

PS Courtney, it's all for you. 


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Queen City Piano Project: Creating Art with an Audience

Creating art with an audience seems at once both daunting and inspiring.  Even the most casual visitor to the studio often breaks my concentration for hours.  At the same time, I have long wanted to create a mural or some other piece of public art.  I enjoy the idea of artwork that is immediately accessible to a broad audience and not simply limited to gallery visitors and the sadly endangered creatures we know as "art collectors."  I have had some limited experience with viewing my work in a public environment.  In 2011, I participated in the Billboard Art Project in New Orleans.  It was incredible seeing my work at that scale with the actual earth and sky as the backdrops to my representative imagery.  That experience left me wanting for a more permanent experience, however.  While I was able to see my artwork on a grand scale, I did not experience the process of painting in the midst of the public; creating under observation.

It was with great pleasure, then, to be approached my Meg Shorette, of Launchpad and Central Gallery, to participate in the Queen City Piano Project.  Meg and her crew of volunteers placed 5 pianos in parks throughout Bangor, ME.  Each piano was to be hand-painted and designed by a different artist.  I immediately could see my random and spontaneous patterns working their way across the body of a piano.  It seemed to me the best opportunity I had had thus far to paint on a piece of found material and to create in the public.  Coupled with this excitement was also the fear of becoming some sort of natural history exhibit or feeling like an animal penned up on display in the zoo.  I imagined greetings from the public a la Steve Irwin.  "Well, look 'ere, mate.  I's an a'tist in 'is natu'al habitat.  Let's poke him, eh?"



I have always envisioned my favorite artists, like McGee and Jasper Johns to be impervious to an audience, capable of focusing on their artwork at all times, while conversing with visitors or not. Jackson Pollack seemed dependent on an audience while painting, to validate his creative act, his performance.  Alternatively, I was reading a blog post by Janice Mason Steeves in which she claims that she needs a space to herself in order to create work of consequence and quotes one of my favorites, Franz Kafka, who apparently couldn't bear an audience.

"You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write.  Listen, in that case I could not write at all.  for writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind…That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough."

In a blogpost on painting a hallway, writer, Paul Kleiman, talks about Stanislavski's "Circle of Concentration," the idea to choose your area of focus.  He suggests that when you are painting you are able to reduce your area of focus to the spot right in front of you on your painting, noticing its irregularities and the movements of your brush only.

In truth, my studio practice is very much like this.  It is all about solitude and the zen sensibility that a paint brush, palette and surface will elicit.  It is about rhythm an motion and being in tune with the surface.  I felt that this was a very private endeavor, but when I made it to Pierce Park to paint my piano, I found myself able to shrink my focus, to still create like I was in private.  For all intents and purposes, I was by myself.  I was unaware of the world around me but for the surface in front of me, but only using the idea of the "circle of concentration."

I dove into my piano without a clear image of what I wanted it to look like in the end.  I stuck with the locked box set of rules that I have been using in many of my patterns recently.  The shapes of included in the patterns are all rectangles and vary only slightly within my locked box vernacular. The patterns grow spontaneously; one shape at a time in relation to the previous shapes.  I was thinking about Thelonious Monk and Ahmad Jamal while drawing and painting this project, trying to solo using the limited locked box rules as jazz scales.  The result seemed to be the most mature realization of the pattern making that I have experienced thus far.







I had relatively few visitors while finishing up the piano, but the people who did visit were interesting to talk with and seemed pleased to have a piece of public art available in the small city of Bangor. Due to my thoughts of jazz soloing, the experience seemed performative even when there was no one there.  Ultimately, I found it compelling to create in an arena where people could see me working, enjoy the progress of the work, and take ownership of the process.  I hope to create more work in the public sphere in the future.  It felt as though the work was co-authored by the community that I was working in and that the work had a purpose to a wider audience.

Peace
-mike