Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Mad Push For Picnic Begins

It occurred to me the other day that we are well into July.  This last weekend was a holiday weekend and the weeks preceding this past weekend accounted for the first weeks of my boy, the mini lark.  It has been super busy and I have been having trouble keeping track of much of anything.  That said, I realized that Picnic, which I will be showing in again this summer, is in a mere 6 weeks.  I need to get my work together.

I have re-thought the way that I wish to finish my totems, what they mean to me, what their cosmology entails, etc, but now I really just need to make a slew of them.  I would like to have at least a hundred miniature totems created for the Picnic festival.  Last year I did quite well with them.  I also wish to have a number of different jewelry options.  I feel like people will enjoy having the totems as pendants as well.

Tonight I found myself in studio able to putz around a bit and I started working through these three totems.  I am treating them all like pieces that work in the round.  I think that it likens the work to a more complete stage.  Here are the three that I was working on tonight.

I still find myself struggling as I know that I need to create a piece with a shark in it.  For some reason I having trouble translating a shark character into this vernacular.  My best attempt thus far is at the left.  I don't think it is very good as a shark, but it does appear to suit itself well as a swimming dinosaur.  Art problems.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Grids, Miniature, and the Longing for Multiple Dimensions

My work has been possessed by two separate impulses since I hung my last body of work.  Last week I gave an artist talk on the show which is up in Bangor, Me at the Rock and Art Shop, which really helped to focus my thoughts on what that work was about.  The talk allowed me to understand better what transformations the work had taken and how to explain those changes.  Since I put together that work I have have been working on a very large series of grid pieces on plywood that have since started to become the White Lodge project, which I discussed in my last post.  The second avenue that my work has taken is more akin to the route that my work was on when I created my thesis work back in 2013. 

I am becoming interested, again, in the idea of very small pieces adding up into an overwhelming mass of changing color and form.  Currently I plan to stagger a series of one inch square rods in the corner of a gallery wall.  I haven't figured out how to construct the foundation of this project but have been busy at work developing the surface level.  Here's an image of the drawn and staggered rods.

As I've been adding color this piece has been really taking a form that I am pleased with, however.  I can't wait to get these pieces accumulated in larger numbers so that I can understand better what this layout will do to the eye.

More to come later. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Artist's Talk - A Rough Draft

I've determined that I will share with you the rough draft of my notes for my artist talk on Friday.  I have been under the assumption that nothing has changed in me since before graduate school for the longest time, but I now realize that this is a fallacy.  My work has changed, as too, my voice has changed.  Let me know what you think of the notes.
noun: totem; plural noun: totems
  1. a natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and adopted by it as an emblem.

This body is really a culmination of several years worth of work. Tonight I intend to share with you the source of my interest in totems and native artwork, my love affair with found surfaces, the intersection between illustration and painting, and how we arrived at this point.
I have lived in Seattle twice. The Seattle Art Museum, SAM, has an extensive collective of Pacific Northwest Artifacts. I'd like to stand in front of you and say that my interest in totems was derived from my exposure to this work. It's not. That exposure did not hinder my interest by any means, but I can definitively say that it was not the source of my interest in totems.
Seattle, I think it's safe to say, is known for its coffee shops. I frequented many of them. One of these was Top Pot Donuts, which made a might fine donut and some mighty good coffee. One morning after a domestic dispute, I found myself seated upon patio furniture out front of Top Pot eating a maple glazed donut and drinking a large coffee. As the crumbs started to fall through the perforations in the wonky table, I realized that I had a visitor. A small bird was hopping from one side of my foot to the other, on top of my foot, around in circles and every which way, ecstatic over the falling crumbs of my donut. While in my vacant domestic doldrums, it occurred to me that there was something about this bird, something not quite like escapism and not quite like omniscience, but firmly placed in a realm of entropy. He, or she, I am not really aware of the distinction in colors of this particular city dwelling species of bird, was completely free to hop around and eat crumbs, or, to more importantly, fly away.
Let's fast forward approximately three years. I was working with a gallery called The Hive in Los Angelos. The curator of the Hive requested that the artist regulars in his group shows all create an avatar. It hadn't occurred to me at the time, although it now has in recent years, but what I was searching for in an artistic avatar, was anonymity, escape, dream seeking and freedom. I wanted a world full of choose your own art adventures, because I felt that my own world presented myself and my peers with such a limited offering of adventure. I immediately thought back to my tiny bird friend. He had the capability of all of the adventure he could possibly dream of. I titled him the Mighty Lark, and he was all of the things that I was not.
I followed the Mighty Lark with a multitude of characters, all of which I thought were just cute little creatures, but all of which actually seem to carry little bits of my persona. I carried them to graduate school, where they were dismissed and ridiculed and I tried to hide them, but they kept coming out. They kept coming back. I couldn't hide my little illustrative troupe. They were my in crowd that I could never attend to in my real world. I carried as well my desire for found and weathered surfaces, another key element to my work that I could never begin to explain.
As I kept day dreaming about and developing these characters and these surfaces, I kept trying to come up with what I thought of as “big boy” art ideas. I wanted to create work that would appear in major galleries across the world, that would make people go oooh and aaaah in the way that Jeff Koons' huge shiny things make all art snobs and A.D.D. kids go oooooh and aaaah. But what has occurred to me in the past year is that I didn't want to say anything that big. I didn't want to make the things that kept appearing in my art text books which were categorized as successful fine art.
And so this past year, I realized that I need to provide a frame into my day dream, some way to separate the viewer from my characters and illustrations. To this end I discovered the grid. It was mathematical, but avoided the rules, just as I did in high school so many years ago. It was about color and order. It was about framing. I determined that I would provide my viewer with the right side of the mushroom, so that they could shrink into my headspace. More importantly, however, I realized that my band of merry and mellow characters needed their own cosmology. I needed to separate them from this earthly realm and don them with the moniker of myth. I needed to make them a spiritual other. As I was attempting to create this more spiritual idea of my characters, it was then only logical that the images of Pacific Northwest Totems began to mean something to me.
The characters in the original totem poles and native art told myths which related the origins of that which was important to each tribe. As I began to breathe the vital air into the pictorial lungs of my illustrations I started to realize that these characters and machines were actually very vague representations and allusions to the ideas and beliefs of my own tribe. Like the artifacts of actual tribes, however, I have always wanted my work to feel old, to feel like it has its own history, and so, suddenly it occurred to me that, “hey, this found wood thing carries some history.” It carries age. It is the perfect medium for constructing totems out of. This is obvious. What were totem poles made of? I had my answers, for now at least. I have come as far as I have come.
And with that I will open the floor for questions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The White Lodge

I've been hard at work.  My son was born a week ago yesterday and after 5 days of sitting still, growing used to the idea of being a father, coupled with helping my wife out and about, I started to get very antsy.  I determined that I needed to create grids that were environments of their own.  I wanted to control the space, both from the point of how a viewer would be able to access that space and where that work could be positioned.

A little over a year ago, I adopted an image of falling houses as an indication of nuclear families surrounding me but never feeling terribly apart of me.  I'm now one child away from a nuclear family but that house image still sits with me.  There is something very profound to me about the symbol that indicates stability, family, good health, American Values, and prosperity.  I don't think any symbol of the American Dream is more accessible than the simple house.  Our children understand it and draw it from a very young age.  It is not so much the object which makes it important, but everything that it represents to the child.  That is where his or her family lives.  There they are, or at any rate should be, completely safe.  It is a symbol of the thing that they have come to understand from living in a space with the same people for a number of years, people that most likely have been with you since day one.

Ideas of family still appear far different in this 21st Century than they did in previous centuries.  Our families are not as close as they used to be.  College age people move all over the country, sometimes never to come back.  We are a trans-familial society if we are to use Baudrillard's logic.  When Baudrillard uses the prefix "trans," he refers to an item in culture which is experienced by the simulacra, or copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original.  In essence, our idea of family is what we see on television and in the movies.  This cookie cutter existence which is prescribed by various clothing, household goods, and technology companies is indicative of a happiness that never existed in that way to begin with.  It's similar to that saying "money can't buy you happiness."

During my wife's pregnancy and our ensuing birth, I began to lose myself in reading on cultures which stressed oral histories passed along through the bloodlines.  The indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest particularly held my attention.  The art work and mythologies which are so unique and specific to each tribe seemed a healthy alternative to the cultural sameness which modern America seems to prefer.  The design and pattern in the work seemed to speak of an order and a logic by which the people lived.  Naturally, as my social life changed, I sought out this same type of order through patterns of my own.  I also started to reincorporate characters into my work, defining them through mythologies that I steadily made up.  The final straw which cast me into this present work occurred while reading about Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.  Christian missionaries worked with the Nez Perce, who were a very receptive nation, to instill in them the ideas of Christianity.  After a time of adopting the Christian Religion, many Nez Perce returned to their owner dreamer faith.  The Nez Perce believed in spirits called weyekins which would, they thought, offer "a link to the invisible world of spiritual power"(1).

This idea of spirits linked to spiritual power reminded me of David Lynch's Twin Peaks.  I started to think about the White Lodge and the Black Lodge.  My brain leaped to the falling houses again; symbols of a lodge, a home where people congregated, a spiritual dwelling.  It suddenly made sense to create a lodge of my own.  It is the Lewis's White Lodge, where the Mighty Lark is omniscient.   It is a place of safety for my boy.

 The idea is still taking a little shape, but at least I understand how there is a context to mix these creatures and my more contemporary painting work.  There is a spirituality and a mythology brewing which I think will explain for me some of my dependency on this more illustrative method of communication.


(1) Hoxie, Frederick E.; Nelson, Jay T. (2007). Lewis & Clark and the Indian Country: the Native American Perspective. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0252074858. OCLC 132681406

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hey Man, I'm a real Fungi

When Shirah moved out of studio she gifted me 4 large pieces of panel.  Somewhere in hanging my show at Sohns Gallery I started to see all of the layers that I have been producing for years.  I started to see how everything was connected, not as though I made the same painting over and over again, but more that I was creating a body of work which all fit together, delivered different messages although always in the same tongue.  I started to see my language and my vernacular more than the limitations of an imagery.

I have been making several different zines over the past two months.  They have been reduced to making different patterns.  I have two different sketchbooks that are being filled entirely with pattern.  I feel as though I am seeking an order where there wasn't one previously.  From the library lately, I've spent a considerable portion of time reading about indigenous people of the Americas, herbs, and fungi.  I've balanced out these more academic subjects with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude and Herman Melville's Omoo.  I've been immersed in the identity of a pregnant couple.  I'm soon to be a father and now the head of a household.

These are all patterns.  We produce similar situations to the situations we have previously experienced because these situations are unique to the individual.  The individual most likely defines the situations due to the choices that the individual makes.  The patterns surround everything.  This all seemed clear to me as I was looking at the panels that Shirah gifted me.  I've been practicing in the zines, considering how different marks create different thoughts, how the different thoughts are then amassed to create new webs of knowledge.  When I was in school I was very much into the ideas of Guillez Deleuze.  I felt that the rhizome idea of thinking was how our brains worked, but as I read more about the fungi and think about the mycelium in mushrooms, I am understanding my brain differently.  There are things that I constantly see as my knowledge base.  I am going to consider this the organism that I am preying on.  As I delve into this knowledge base numerous angles dive into it.  These are like the mycelium web.  My brain works like a fungi, which in all honesty makes more sense anyway since human beings are more closely linked to the consuming fungi than the food producing plant world.

Here are a few images of the grid pieces that I have been obsessing over lately.  I hope you like them and that perhaps they have you making connections in places where first you had not suspected.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Work is Ready to Hang

This week has been really crazy.  Along with the prep work to get everything hung for my show at Sohns, I was called by a woman who I've picked up some shifts from at her restaurant for the summer.  She wanted me to start a week earlier than I had planned, so I was left with even less time than I thought I was going to have.  I sent my lovely wife to the hardware stores to gather the various hanging devices.  I ended up with seven packages of this and four packages of that and a blister on my palm from using my stubby screwdriver with screws that needed extra pressure to be seated.  It was an awesome week.

While I primarily focused on brand new work for this show, I was emailed earlier in the week asking if I could bring extra work because the folks who own the gallery do not want any empty space on the walls.  I really don't think that it will be an issue anyway, but I started to group some of the older work which fit with the newer body of work.  I think that this might have made the work a bit stronger on the whole. 

Here are a few images of older works with new hardware to improve their general appearance.  This level of finishing is one of the tasks that I have been forcing myself to complete, part of my internalization of some of my art practice. 

These three pieces look so much better without visible hardware.  It was really a simple fix which I just didn't seem to find any time for until recently.  I wonder how my patience will be after a couple months of an infant.

I'll post some more images soon after I have the show up.  I think that this one will prove to be one of my best shows as of yet.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Some Thoughts on Working, Websites, and Staying Afloat

It is unlike me to speak with words and not with images, but allow me to use this space to collect my thoughts.  I hope you'll pardon me in my verboseness.  This week I am hanging a new body of work.  Generally along with the excitement of showing new work comes this hope for public approval.  You hope that people will be enthused by the work that you do, moved by your incredible ability and at your mental depth.  I am not certain that I feel the anxiety building up for that emotion now.  I don't know that I need to please anyone in particular with this body of work.  It is new.  It is untested where so much of my work has become a bit more premeditated.  I figured out long ago how to make an image that I took to be good and then, regretfully, I tried to find ways to mimic that feeling.

After two years of graduate school I could sense that I wasn't feeling altogether confident in my work.  I wasn't sure to what I extent I felt that something was missing.  I had ideas that I felt were good and I made some work that I thought was of good quality, but I didn't always feel that the good ideas would correlate with work that was good quality.  I wasn't sure and I am still not capable of finding a way to really quantify how good or not good a work is.  It is an emotional reaction for me.  I am aware of the elements and principles of design and have immersed myself in the teaching of these concepts in the past year and a half, but in teaching these concepts I have not found a confidence in the ability to use these principles but rather the realization that I don't think about them anymore.  Perhaps it would behoove me to do so, I thought.

This body of work happened accidentally.  I started laying work on top of work, allowing my obsessions to grow accordingly.  I have started to really let the work evolve and have released my death grip which wasn't so much for comfort but for lack of direction.  I didn't know what to make and rather than searching for what to make, I would make the same things again and again.  I still make the same things over and over, but I am allowing myself to let those things build on each other.  I want my language to interact with my work.  I want my work to interact with that which came before and that which comes in the future.  I am unsure if this body, my body, will hold up long enough to create the legacy that I wish to create, but I think I've started to make some better steps.

My website is down for the first time in nearly ten years.  That site has stood as a record of my completed work for a decade.  Whenever I needed to seek creative comfort I could look at what I had created and consider how to recreate those moments.  Surprisingly as I let the thought that I have no direct website for people to look at, I am feeling some comfort in the idea.  I don't think that my work was ever about connecting with people through a device like a computer.  In fact, in the past I have often wondered why I do not get more visitors to this blog, and I think that maybe it is possible that I was really only keeping a diary.  It was too awkward for people to read on a regular basis.  My work, my soup, was too heavy because I kept it too personal.  Everybody keeps their work personal to a certain extent.  It needs to have an essence of self to even attempt to be created, but I was fixated on my goals.  Other peoples goals were nothing I had any interest in.  I have always been a good listener in person, but on the web I have merely been waiting for opportunities to push my own agendas, to say what I want to say.  But now I wonder if that is what I want to say.  Is that action really what I want to identify me? 

This is all to say that I have begun to think about what I want out of my web experience, what I want out of my life experience, what I really want to teach my son about life and about us, the Lewises operating in the 21st century.  It is about the work.  I have created too many things and been too closely awaiting the resounding reply.  The resounding reply isn't coming if I don't let the work grow at its own, unimpeded pace. 

Here's hoping that I can continue to let go.  I think that maybe becoming a dad may be the best thing that could have ever happened to this artist, both personally and from a more creative outlook. 
Much love to those of you who've read this far, and even to those who didn't make it here that just stop in occasionally here and there.  Any thoughts, as always, would be appreciated, though if there are none it's completely fine.