Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nara, Currin, Messerschmidt

Met up with a good friend today and made our first stop Yoshitomo Nara at the Asia Society.  "Nobody's fool"  is a charming three-floor exhibition of installation, sculpture, painting, and drawing.  Though I have a slight distaste for most Neopop, I was struck by the utter sincerity and completeness of Nara's vision as well as the excellent craft of his paintings. After Nara, we made a quick stop by the Frick to see an excellent exhibition of drawings by Goya and Ribera.    The following stop was to see John Currin's latest paintings on the sixth floor of the Gagosian franchise on Madison Avenue.  As always, Currin perplexes by mixing impeccable craft with his snide vision of beauty and ugliness.  The ultimate goal for the day was Messerschmidt show of portrait busts at the Neue Galerie.  (Here I'll defer to the NYT review.) I've chased these heads all over Europe and this was a rare chance to see so many in one place.  The surprise treat of the day was the concurrent display of postcards from the Wiener Werkstatte. Thanks to A. for the great day!

Josef Divéky
Wiener Werkstätte Postcard 494
Herr Hampelmann/Mr. Jumping-Jack

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dozier, Anselm, Brice

Yesterday I learned that a good many New Yorkers eat Thanksgiving dinner in Chinatown. (Not a surprise really, since a good many people can be found doing anything in this city at any given moment.)  Today while much of America (NYC included) was hunting for bargains, I spent the better part of the day trolling Chesea for art. (Doorbuster sale: 5 million off your first five installations!) Right away I stumbled across a Maine favorite, Dozier Bell, and her show of show of tiny, gray-- and very romantic--landscape drawings.  Romanticism seemed to a dominant theme with a major exhibition of Anselm Kiefer just down the block   At a previous exhibition at Gagosian, he left the space quite open to see paintings, with enormous, but low-lying sculptures of rolling concrete and steel.  Kiefer's current show seems to be a return to form using his most familiar shattered glass and lead.  The space was quite packed with vertical sculptures, paintings, and people.  Mood and expectation greatly affects the viewing of art and I was in a rare good mood that put me quite of tune with Kiefer's relentless and somber reflection on the Holocaust.  The equally cheerful crowds did not help as one couple posed for snapshots next to the photos of saluting Nazis and offered their own rendition.  I made a pledge to return and went on to something more lyrical in the form of show of recent large works by Brice Marden.  Though his current paintings are almost as gray as Kiefer's, the looping movement of Marden's lines was more in accord with my energy.  The chief distraction here was in the form of the artist himself, who was standing in the center of the gallery inspecting his show at the time.   While I have utmost respect for Marden as a living legend, I really had nothing to pester him about. So I let Brice be and moved on to the next venue. The timing of Kim Dorland's work in Mike Weiss Gallery seems to make it a parody of Kieffer.  It is a smaller carnival of painting and sculpture, featuring dripping landscapes of white aspen and taxidermy wolf covered in purple paint.  I had to chuckle at the bravura incompetence of his technique with off bits of yarn tacked on here and there and 3-inch deck screws used for emphasis, it is gleefully bad . There was lots more to see from photo-installations with cracking Tesla coils, to simple drawings, with only a few galleries on holiday.  Too much to relate and I'll have no doubt more the next day.

Kim Dorland
Lavender Wolf, 2010
Oil, acrylic, screws and yarn on taxidermy
44 x 66 x 21 inches

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clemente, Krauss, Grand Central

Arrived in Manhattan late last night. The Fung-Wah bus took forever to get in allowing me enough time to get pretty engrossed in The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. much so that I had a late start on the day reading and then stopping for a haircut to trim off some of the Portland shag.   (Scruffy won't do in NYC.) Galleries seemed to be closing early for the holiday but I did make it to Mary Boone before closing and caught their current exhibition of works on paper by Francesco Clemente.  While I've never been a huge fan of his work, the small works on paper were particularly nice and quite complex, as was some of the larger watercolors.  

After, I took a leisurely walk to Grand Central, reminiscing about my old commute to Madison and 59th and enjoying the holiday lights along the way.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Przasnysz Photos

Some photos from the Przasnysz opening in Poland, courtesy of Stefan Niedzialkowski, featuring installation views and gallery staff present at the October 2 opening. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Road Trip Augusta

Took a little trip up to Augusta yesterday to see the current show at UMA's Danforth Gallery, "Drawings, Marks, Traces, and Imprints."  It's small but potent survey of drawing and prints of ten artists, including work by my dear friend and artist-colleague Ling-Wen Tsai.  At noon, Ling-wen gave a lecture on the history of her work in relation to drawing.  Though I've been following her work for years, I am continuously amazed at the depth, scope, and breadth of her work--mainly all the projects and side projects I've missed!  It was great to catch up and to see the show.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hello Przasnysz!

I just received digital copies of the show announcements from my upcoming show in Przasnysz, Poland, small town two hours outside Warsaw.   This solo exhibition features works on paper from the Night Fictions series.   The show opens October 2, 2010 and will be on display for a month in the Gallery "Na Pietrze"  in the Joseph Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski Center of Culture before traveling to other venues throughout Poland.  I am very honored to have been offered this opportunity, and by the very nice work done on the poster announcement above and the card announcement below.   My thanks to gallery director Krzysztof Gadomski and Stefan Niedzialkowski who first introduced us.  A big thanks as well to the gallery staff!  Dziękuję bardzo! 

(In case your Polish is a bit rusty, the announcement is a pretty direct translation of the bio listed on my website.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Eurasian Red Squirrel

As the majority of my readership is American, you may have though the squirrel from yesterday's update to be more than a little odd.   As half of the imagery in this series is invented, you may have thought it to be a bit of artistic invention or fantasy.   While I agree that there's nothing wrong with an artist taking license by painting a gray squirrel red and adding some devil ears for good measure, I am writing to assure you that this squirrel is very real and indigenous throughout much of Eurasia and, in particular, Poland. Among other things, the Kracow cycle is about the bridge between Poland and and other cultures, with the portrait from acting as a vehicle for this projected fantasy.   A traveler to another country is first struck by all the differences, and I was always particularity interested in the new varieties of small animals in the cites and woods.  The ubiquitous crow, the gray squirrel, both are absent.   Magpies, Jackdaws, Rooks, and this curious little red fellow abound.  Like it's American cousin, the reds are very fond of nuts and can be quite friendly if you have a pocket full of almonds. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Secret Corner Revealed

This may come as a bit of a shocker to those who have been following this painting and have been pretty happy with it's progress without any animal interaction.  I mentioned that I had an idea of what was going on all the while, now revealed to be a red squirrel.   I was reticent to show the earlier stage (smaller image) as the block-in reminded me of one of Bill Murray's explosive sculptures from Caddyshack.  It's more recognizable now, and I also had to adjust the position of the arm to seem less cramped and integrate the composition.  Next step is to integrate the colors and start bringing this one in for a landing. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Portrait-with-an-Owl Racket

I was cruising through Kittery today, totally unaware that it's annual Septemberfest is in full swing.  Other than the carnival atmosphere, I was attracted to this huge sign advertising "Birds of Prey."  I am so glad I stopped.  It turned out to be "The Raptor Project, "  an amazingly large traveling bird show with 15-20 birds of prey just hanging out for your inspection, an artist's paradise! For $10 you can have your picture taken with an owl, which I must admit is much more affordable than one of my paintings.   The birds are all rescue animals, and all proceeds go to supporting the project.  They are only in town for two more days, but will back for Yarmouth Seaside Festival in October.   Given that I was caught without my good camera, I may have to be some sort of bird groupie and catch these guys next time they are around.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bring on the Green

Here's the latest from the Beata/Abi addition to the series.  I can be very rough and intuitive, but occasionally I do stop and make some conscious risks.  I began the painting with violets and ochres instead of conventional flesh tones, and kept warming things up with pinks on top of that. The painting was needing highlights, and my first impulse was to keep going with a lighter pink in the highlight for naturalistic skin tones.  I paused and thought, "what's the fun in that?"   With the colors left on my palette, I mixed up cool mint which would add maximum contrast, hoping this would bring out the volume, and it worked.   Though I've discovered this color logic over the years on my own, it is essentially a very old idea stemming from Venetian painting, where color, not value, is relied upon to create the illusion of volume.  Reflecting further, I am struck by a little more irony and contradiction built into this series:  I began by riffing off of Leonardo's imagery, which is essentially Florentine and his methods are Florentine, relying chiefly on value.   By all accounts, though, my methods are direct and Venetian.   It's a conceptual flaw, but I think I'll just keep going regardless.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Color and Relative Perception

It is common knowledge to artist that "there's no accounting for taste," or that viewing art is already a highly subjective affair.  Two people from the same location, economic status, education, gender, and so forth will often have quite different opinions about the same work of art.   There's no reason to assume that they may be seeing them under a different perceptual bias, or is there? The New York Times recently posted an article that postulates that our native language may be a default lens through which we perceive reality. (Here's a link to the full article.) On page five, Guy Deutscher writes:
In what other ways might the language we speak influence our experience of the world? Recently, it has been demonstrated in a series of ingenious experiments that we even perceive colors through the lens of our mother tongue. There are radical variations in the way languages carve up the spectrum of visible light; for example, green and blue are distinct colors in English but are considered shades of the same color in many languages. And it turns out that the colors that our language routinely obliges us to treat as distinct can refine our purely visual sensitivity to certain color differences in reality, so that our brains are trained to exaggerate the distance between shades of color if these have different names in our language. As strange as it may sound, our experience of a Chagall painting actually depends to some extent on whether our language has a word for blue.
At first, this claim seems to have shocking implications for a visual artist.   (Exaggerating colors could be perilous for a realist!) Earlier this year, James Gurney stated in his blog that we already have a an exaggerated awareness of warm colors due to historical availability of  certain pigments, but he does not go so far as to suggest color is at all relative person to person.  Like most artists, he would insist that perception of color is fixed and quite knowable, and demonstratively reproducible.  The thought that someone from a different culture could see your painting in a radically different way, as the article states, is a mind-bending hypothesis. I am reminded of the classic sophomoric discussion of the uncertainty of shared perception which wonders if we all see the same color "blue" that we call blue.   We learn from perceptual psychologists that many women actually have a biological difference that leads to a richer perception of blue. (Jameson)     (I'll try not to worry how tetrachromats see Chagall.)

Deutscher's implication is vocabulary provides the foundation for experience, and we certainly know vocabulary can be expanded.  In my experience as a teacher, I can certainly attest that a student beginning sees color very differently than trained painter.   For example, a student sees a green bell pepper in a still life and tries to paint it. For them, green equals green right?  They grab the first green tube of paint and approximate the shape and size of the pepper.  The result is a green blob.   If they have a background drawing, they may try to make it look round by mixing in some black or white to make it lighter or darker, but the base color is still green, and the result will still look nothing like the pepper.  An experienced painter may attempt the same thing, and will use a variety of colors: blue, green, yellow, perhaps even red!   More specifically, the painter will construct a painting from specific pigments.   For the professional, blue is a conversational simplification; a painter talks in terms of Indigo, Phathalocyanine, Prussian blue, Ultramarine.  No doubt, someone trained in art restoration would have an even larger vocabulary of pigments no longer commonly used.   Yet, I return to the question:  do I see the same pepper as the student?  Is the inability to create a visual facsimile a gap between the eye and mind, or the mind in hand?  Is failure a flaw of vocabulary, a lack of articulation, or a lack of facility and experience?  A trained student can learn the names of pigments, identify them on a test, and still take many years to learn how those pigments may be applied.   When I take students to a museum, do we see the same Chagall painting?   Most certainly, we do not. Much as "you cannot step twice into the same river,"  I never see a painting exactly the same way as I look at it in different stages of my life.   Obviously, the reasons are too far to count, ranging from my development as an artist to what I ate for lunch that day.  Yet, as I have matured as an artist, I do feel that not only my vocabulary, but my vision itself has expanded.  I see a very different pepper than most people. This brings me to the question of sophistication, or connoisseurship.

Let's presume that the ability to produce a veristic representation has little to so with perception.   After all, one can be a lover of art, an aficionado, with no training.   Furthermore, the field of Art History produces experts who will describe a painting using very different words than an artist. A skilled writer with a mastery of language, but no visual arts training, will invent phrases and wording more different still.  A writer knows the specificity of colors by the context of place, events, narrative purpose.   More radical still, color evokes emotion in the layman, the untrained, someone who simply "knows what they like."  For an elitist, there is no doubt which person's perception is more valid.   (I'll have to leave my worries on elitism for another time.)  For today, I am only concerned that there are so many different perceptual versions of the same painting out there in the world, so many different experiences of the same thing.

Who will be able to see my paintings as I see them or as I want them to be viewed?  From a point of true relativity, some viewers could get close, but I have to ultimately answer that that no one will.  That thought alone could drive an artist to despair. Back to the what-I-had-for-lunch example, my own views shift widely on my own work day by day,or even down to the second in the studio.  During the act of painting I may feel something is brilliant only to look again and see another flaw, and another, until the whole situation seems hopeless. This leads me to conclude that an artist, in fact, may be least qualified to recognize their own work due to this total lack of perspective.  (A crazy as it may sound, I do feel like any painting I create over time or rework is a collaboration between many past and future selves.  Again, another topic.)  For the self-critical, it's a blessing that others may appreciate our work more than we do.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Writing Exercise

I've sent my entry off to another national exhibition call.  It had some interesting parameters, asking for art that was in some manner inspired by the written word.   As I find much writing inspiring, the premise wasn't much of a stretch.  One art form often inspires another.  Where would contemporary painting be without cinema, cinema without painting or the novel.  I owe my last reserves of energy to music for sure.   Anyways, the challenging (and ironic) part is that juror asked for a statement under 100 words.  That's tough, practically a Twitter confinement for a loquacious bloke.   Here's what I sent:

“…a thaw set in.  The air became plaint.  The beeches sweated.  The branches gave up their heavy burdens of snow. “
In his book “Dog Years,” Gunter Grass uses a snowfall its subsequent thaw to echo the metamorphosis the story’s central character.   In Grimm’s fairy tales, the woods and winter are familiar backdrops.   These stories have never been far from my mind as I’ve ventured out through snow and night and found inspiration for creating my own images.   In my current series of work, I’ve adapted this context explored by the German Romantics to the contemporary Maine landscape.  In this setting, I write my own fictions through images.   In them, the viewer reads the story of our protagonists, senses wide, straining against the night and the snow-covered stillness.

For those of you geeky enough to word-count me, I went way over.   With the little quote at the top, I hit 128.  I always aim at the spirit of the idea, so I figure that's close enough.   Regardless of whether the work gets accepted, it was useful exercise.  I can let a painting go, but artist statements never seem to be finished.  They evolve constantly as the artwork shifts context and is shown in a new time or different venue. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Abi 2, Beata 5

The sketchy start from Monday is now revealed:  Beata and Abi, again! Beata insisted that they be included in the new series so who I am to knock two beautiful (and free) models.  I've tired of self-portraits but I enjoy repeat portraits of my favorite models.  By my quick count, I think this makes Abi's second appearance in a painting, and Beata's fifth. Here's to many more!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Coat

As promised, more snow, but a tad bit warmer with an identifiable coat now.  Subtle layers added to the face as well. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another One

Another fresh start for the Kracow cycle.  Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Pretty subtle changes on this one, beefing up the form on the figure and the owl.  More spots and feathers on the owl.  A few more adjustments and this one might be very close to finished.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Lost Posts

While I've been in and out of the studio for the last month trying to dodge the heat, I have been obviously not blogging.   As the weather cools and head clears, I'll pledge to be somewhat more regular. You might remember this one, still pretty bleak but a tree has been added for company, and the suggestion of a cabin on the horizon, so all is not lost.  A nice winter coat is the next addition with some more snow....

Monday, June 28, 2010


Speaking of detail, this one's appearance seems dramatically different with the latest additions.  (Eyes and eyebrows tend to do that.) As more of the actual model is referenced, her features seem to convey more youth and earnestness.  The animal's arrival is long overdue.   If you could only see what she and I are seeing...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Devil's In...(Goat 6,7)

When painting a goat, one is aware of it's more sinister connotations, but I'm not really thinking of that devil.  I'm thinking of the old saying, the "Devil's in the details,"  which usually refers to some small, missed, detail that can wreck an undertaking.  In finishing a painting, I find myself more and more concerned about the detail that gets added, of overworking.  The unwanted added detail amounts to the same effect as the detail overlooked, failure, but my meaning is an inversion, a reminder to avoid the trap of detail. Distraction helps. Luckily, I've been either stretching or priming a canvas each day, so new paintings will join the cycle as these near completion. 

Here are the two latest sessions, with the right showing the current state.   More light has been built up over the face and arm, adding more solidity to the form.  A little youthful roundness has left, the eyes are more tranquil with information added.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I've made a lot fuss over the cat in this painting, so when it comes to a title, I had thought of simply calling it "Millie."   I tend towards pretty dry titles, in the Modernist vain of "Sleep no. 1" and "Sleep no.6.  Such work makes sense in a title formal series and leaves the viewer to wrestle with looking at the painting without an easy lifeline.    After all, shouldn't the painting to do the work without having to being completed with a title?  I'm also keen on a little bit of mystery. People are infinitely complex and a good portrait just scratches the surface, telling you little more than the sitter's name.   For observed portraits it seems pretentious to make up something literary, so I usually go with something obvious like "Beata and Sadie."  Things are getting a little stranger with the narrative paintings, however, and stranger still when I'm inventing the sitter.   There's a history I'm digging through, someone I'm discovering, and a new working title comes to mind:  "Leonora's Venetian Tendencies."  I'll live with it for a while and see if it sticks.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rough, Smooth

Between the relative ideas of rough and smooth, I would say my surfaces tend more towards the rough, but only if you compared them with a highly varnished panel.  (A Dutch still life comes to mind.) With regards to the image, most people would still see the image as smooth, thinking of the roundness of the form, even when looking at at painting with a lot of impasto, and general crusty paint. (Monet's haystacks, as an example.) I tend to let surfaces mostly dry and allow opaque layers to show one over another over many sessions.  This latest layer had a lot of direct painting into a wet surface and it felt uncharacteristically smooth. (Previous layers.)   With this series, I am really trying to keep the surfaces as thin for the very practical idea of getting them to Poland.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

4,5 Enlargement

The goat had been bothering me.  When I was laying it out, it seemed overwhelming to paint it in to adult scale.  In a series featuring relatively small animals, a real goat seemed huge.  For weeks, I left it under the premise that it was a baby goat. The goat actually owned by the woman in the portrait is much, much larger, but if I rarely worry about an exact human likeness, why fret over a goat?  It's the painting that matters-- its truth trumps nature.  Well, it was a cute goat, and if unblemished beauty has a rough time making the cut in one of my paintings, cuteness doesn't stand a chance. It's still not to actual scale, but I'm satisfied with the compromise--currently. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Enter: Millie

Thanks to my mother and sister for responding so quickly to my plea for a cat reference.  And the winner is-- mom's Millie from Nashville!   So, I've got her blocked in after only one false start.   Reminds me that it's been too long since I painted a cat--eight years!  Yikes, but since I put three in that painting, I still average one cat every two years.  On a side note, I'm not sure what it implies when I've made up the human in the painting and then referenced an actual animal, who's almost a relative. (Step cat?)       

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Another new one;  I snapped a few pictures during the drawing process so you could see me working with an idea.   Something I tell young students, a painting isn't started until all the white (in this case, pink)  is covered. I mainly tell them this to give them something very simple to achieve in the first class to break through the intimidation of starting a painting.   I don't ask for quality, just coverage.

I often use a toned ground for the same purpose and to see value relationships more clearly, yet I become just as reluctant to see this new clean surface disappear. Drawing on canvas is so beautiful in itself that it could be tempting to just leave it as it is.  When the ground is covered, that energy of a start does die a little, but it leads to a new, quieter, level of process. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

That Monday Feeling

I'm always quite excited to pull an abandoned painting out of the pile, so if it a less-than joyous image, it is a joyous occasion.  Not content to simply have five canvas portraits in the works, I had to pull out a panel to have a nocturne to tinker with. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday to Sunday

Here's what happens in a week to over the start I shared last Sunday. I liked the initial composition enough not to push the figure around so much as I tend to do with my usual starts, so the composition and image look pretty much the same.   What is harder to notice is the layers being built over what was a very thin oil sketch that makes it into a painting.   My type of painting is almost low relief; building the surface and projecting the forms feels like making sculpture.  Still, the image is evolving in minor ways, it is a bit more male now from its somewhat androgynous start, and the owl is certainly fluffier.  

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Goat 3,4

The changes are getting more subtle in the middle stages, might be a bit boring from a new image perspective, but this is where all the work gets done. To keep it just a little interesting, here are different sessions that I have not posted.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

For Want of a Cat

When I last left off with this painting, what I'd always imagined to be a small cat was starting to look a lot like a Gila Monster.   I was actually imagining it in closer proximity to the figure's neck.  With all the nurturing going on the rabbit painting, I started pushing this painting in a different direction.   I'm now imagining a more the cat far more upright and confrontational, and a bit larger, with its mouth open.  Alas, I've hit the limits of my imagination since I lack a cat.   Oh yes, and that troublesome window has been removed and we now find ourselves outside?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The rabbit has arrived! Somewhere, someone might recognize their bunny, if they can see through all the violet.  (I nicked it's head from a photo on the internet.)  As you could see in the previous post on this one, the figure has been wholly imagined, but I'm starting to recognize a bit of self-portrait.   Even though I haven't painted myself from life in years, I think most artists use themselves as the default for idealized forms.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mime Five

I've been thinking about the Mimes Studio especially of late because they are just finishing fours days of workshops and presentations.  Very sorry to miss it, and I've been wishing them the best.  Sounds like it is going very well.  To commemorate, I've begun work on a new mime drawing. If you're counting, the fourth one is still rolled up somewhere waiting to be picked up.  Better images may be a long time coming, so this composite will have to give you an idea of what the straight-on looks like: