Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Would I Write?

Why is it important to write?  I'm a visual artist.  I am constantly looking for colorful ways to express myself in two or three dimensions.  I've heard numerous people at art openings talking about how they don't want to know what's behind the work.  They don't want to be influenced by what the artist has to say.  The artist already had their say with the image.  So why is it important at all to write?  If no one wants to hear any of the supporting evidence behind the piece what is the use of having any supporting evidence to begin with?

The answer can be quite obvious; as in, if you can't formulate a thought, what are you painting to begin with, but it can also be much more complex as well.  How much thought have you put into your images?  Do you understand what you are talking about?  Do you know how to talk about the subject of your work in another language besides the visual language?  Are my art making skills up to the task of making whatever the dialogue in your head is pitching at the canvas, paper, or sculpture.  You will need to be able to write the dialogue as you paint.  

The dialogue is always there.  The piece talks back creating an internal/external dichotomy of conversation between my reason and my creations.  The elements and principles of art are dynamic tools of a piece of artwork which can be used to clearly illustrate in what manner I  want a piece to be perceived.  It is necessary to create an artwork in which you are talking to the piece of art but also in which a third person party will understand what and how the dialogue is proceeding so they may also insert themselves into that dialogue.  

The connections that I make between the subjects in my pieces are heavily dependent on my reading, but could at times also be perceived as extraordinarily random.  How on earth are we to perceive this diagram of a honey fungus, with this tessellation and this graphic of a simple house with an eighties style boombox built into the side?  The context needs to be clear in my head before I can expect anyone to understand that relationship.  Sometimes I do feel like I fail.  The third party fails to see the connection between my subjects.  In this case the element of writing becomes all the more important.  

I find that at this point I need to return to my inner/external dialogue with my piece and myself.  The only way that I find that I can process the feedback, negative or positive, that I receive on my work is through a written discourse.  I write to myself like I am my educator, a fellow professional, old fellow students.  It helps me to begin lines of thought which unfold as differing perceptions.  I am able to step outside of my own head and into a different world.  The loop is finished and I can begin again.


On Discovery, Science, History and the Arts

My idea eludes me.  I have been reading such a variety of sources, but I can't discern what it is that I am searching for, conceptually.  I have two projects on the horizon.  They seem inextricably linked.  The one; an group exhibition focused on explorers.  The desire of this show is to begin a dialogue on imperialism, disparate cultural histories, and the validity of historical accounts while trying to capture the excitement of the unknown.  The second; a relatively loose project concerning Lewis and Clark, the "Indian" Wars, and Western expansion.  My colleague and I wish to retrace some of the steps of Lewis and Clark through South Dakota, where he lives, in order to discuss what we see and to find what is at the edge of our knowledge.

I've been reading books by naturalists and historical accounts of explorations.  Both seem relevant, as the majority of what was reported back when discoveries were made were accounts of flora and fauna and cultures who lived in particular areas.  While cultural studies and naturalist studies are far from the same thing, they require the same sort of keen observation.  I was reading an interesting passage quoted from Reaumur in Mary Terrall's, "Catching Nature in the Act," yesterday:

         "The spirit of observation, the kind of spirit essential to naturalists, and commonly assigned to              them, is equally necessary to progress in every other science.  It is the spirit of observation that            causes us to perceive what has escaped others, that allows us to grasp the relations among                    things that appear different, or that causes us to find the differences among those that seem                  similar.  We resolve the most difficult problems of mathematics only once we can observe                  relations that do not reveal themselves except to a penetrating and extremely attentive mind.               Observations make possible the resolution of problems in a physics as in the natural history--               because natural history has its problems to solve; it even has a great many that have not yet                 been resolved."

This passage struck me as particularly poignant as it described to me not only how a scientist or a biologist might approach a problem, but also how a creative person might approach a problem.  I always feel that the job of the artist is to observe that which is not observed by the average person, to re-present that information in such a way that it draws attention to the unnoticed.

I'm finding in my reading that nearly all of the old naturalists were both artists or draw-ers as well as scientists and whatever other position they might have held in society.  It is interesting to me to think then, that we have "progressed" as a society to a point where we often think of the arts as superfluous. However, if we take the time to really look at the things we are studying, and drawing the things we study certainly requires this heightened level of looking, then perhaps we actually will learn and know more.

I suspect that that is what I feel like is missing in both the study of explorers and the fur traders. While we may, perhaps, understand what the respective parties were doing.  We don't understand where they were, and while it is quite obvious that we can never return to the level of "wild" that our planet was in prior to its discovery by "modern civilizations," we can still only understand the urgency in these discoveries if we see for ourselves what the trail, flora and fauna must have looked like.  In order to do this, you must be there as much as you are capable, for reading is only as good as the observations of the person before you.  To understand the whole picture is to develop an educated opinion.

Here are a few of the sketches that I am muddling through as I attempt to become better versed in "looking."  Hopefully taking this level of looking with me to South Dakota will help me understand the idea of discovery.

Additionally, I have been thinking about major figures and characters that really speak to the idea of Western expansion.  I have mostly been thinking about Custer, who represents a side of this country that we unfortunately can't shake.  While he was merely doing his job, he failed attempting to steal land for his country.  I feel like his folly is part of what our nation is built upon.  The second is the Buffalo; a creature nearly killed off, vital to both explorers and indigenous peoples for food and warmth, and iconic to the American West.

I am hoping that by my continued reading and my eventual hands on discoveries, I will better understand the "wilderness."  I think that the search for this type of local is vital to our over-populated society and I think that as we venture into a political landscape that is so obviously flawed, it is of paramount importance to work backwards to find where the initial errors may have occurred.  

More to come in the near future.  Keep up.

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. 

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. 


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. 


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. 


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.