Thursday, January 31, 2008

Work Begins...

I've started work on a new series of paintings. I revisited the archive where I found the reference photos for my first paintings, and was disappointed to find very little that I could use. I probably am looking too hard for the perfect image, and to spend hours leafing through photos for nothing is a real drag. I'm hoping to get my hands on old photo albums from friends and family, but until then I'm using imagery from some old high school year books to make smaller studies on paper. Hopefully I can use those studies to make some large paintings on panel or canvas later on. I spent last night in the basement painting and it was great to be back in the studio- hours went by in an instant! I'll try to post a few photos soon...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 2008 Residency Summary

Someone mentioned midweek that going through the first MFA residency is like trying to drink from a fire hose. For me, that certainly was true. I received so much information between critical theory classes and peer critiques that I am still finding it hard to articulate my experience. What I can say is that I am challenged to the core, I have many new ideas that I’m anxious to pursue, and I am seeing many new things in my work that I didn’t see before the residency.

I came into my first residency with a very open mind, fully prepared to be torn apart in critiques. I felt as if my recent work from 50s photographs was a starting point, and I was fully prepared to see how others reacted to it and ready to completely change course if necessary. A common thread in my work has been a detachment in time and place and the use of nostalgic imagery. Beyond that, I had a feeling that I’d catch a lot of flak for my painting style and the use of that imagery.

As it turned out, I received mostly positive criticism pertaining to my ideas and the deeper meaning behind my images. People reacted in different ways to my work, which is something I really enjoy. One goal I had was present a somewhat ordinary photograph as something more. A fellow student noted in critique that “it seems like there’s a lack of logic in your work, and maybe that’s the point.”

Tony Apesos told me that my work “speaks to the timelessness of randomness”. He said that to him, the pieces are about memories, but what’s interesting is that they aren’t mine as the artist. They are borrowed or fabricated memory. I had many comments about randomness. One of the grad students noted that “there is an interesting undercurrent of humor/goofy-ness in seeing random images as a “high art” paintings”.

Laurel Sparks saw the figures as highly stylized caricature. She felt that they worked but were somehow creepy; that they were an exaggerated reality. A fellow student from my crit group, whose work consisted of large-scale crime scene photos of violently maimed flesh and blood, told me that she found my pictures terrifying! To her, the images represented a false reality and a picture of America that she found revolting.

Stuart Steck gave me great advice when he recommended that I “toy with the image” a little more to add unexpected bits that play on their quirkiness/weirdness. He said that because there’s nothing really left in the realm of originality in art, my path should be geared towards using representation with a sense of irony. By adding little unexpected things I can then begin to explore what I can say with my images.

I know now that I definitely want to further explore the humor in random images, and I hope that those images can continue to come across as something entirely different to some viewers. I do not want to be blunt in my attempt to infuse more meaning into my work. Instead, I want to explore subtle changes that can infuse that sense of irony. As an example, Stuart noted that in one of my pieces, there was a corner of a blurred painting hanging on the wall in the background. What could I say about the time period of the imagery, the modes of perception, and the art world in general if that little piece of painting was a recognizable work from a conflicting time period or viewpoint? That suggestion, intrigues me a lot, and I will look for ways to explore subtle manipulations in the future.

Other useful comments centered around scale, color, and the use of borders. The widest range of discussion was on scale. Tony Apesos felt that making them large, as in “10 feet wide or mural sized”, would make them more confrontational. Having done large murals before, this interests me, though not at the present time. Others said I should maintain a medium size, and I think I will do this, if not make them slightly larger. A graduating student pushed me to make my work smaller, so that they felt more like photos. I have no desire to make them small, but I am interested in potentially playing with photograph motifs, which leads to the discussion of borders.

I received many comments about painting them more like photographs in terms of presentation, which could mean thinking differently about the border. One suggestion was to incorporate a white border or corner pieces to make the larger work feel more like a blown-up vintage photograph. I’m still wrestling with this idea. I might experiment with the idea to see if it works, but I’m not convinced that it will necessarily enhance the overall image. However, I will think more about the borders and the final presentation.

I received positive comments about my palette. The color scheme is what I used to make them feel aged and unite them as random images, so I have been encouraged to continue and build upon the palette. Laurel Sparks felt that my colors were influenced by camera and color technology of 1950’s, so I should look at lots of 50’s photos and compare them to today’s norm. I think this is a very good idea. I’m planning on referencing other photos from the time period, as well as LIFE magazines and photo publications from the 50s.

An obvious aspect to my work that needs improvement is my approach to the surface of the painting. When I made them, I experimented with stains of diluted acrylic paint to build up the aged color I was after. While I did get an aged look, I had difficulty painting the subsequent layers with oil paint on an unprimed surface. I was encouraged to think much more about the surface and preparing it, to try layers of gesso on canvas or linen instead of masonite panel, and to build up my backgrounds intentionally with subtle layers of paint instead of staining.

In addition to items in critiques that were helpful, I also received suggestions that I am resistant to. Ultimately, they’ve helped me to further define what my work is not. I received many comments on what my work could say and how I could manipulate the images to say it. Specifically, I was pressed on the way the images speak to political issues. There is an obvious political element in that all the photos are of white happy people from the 50s, and represent a false-perfection view of reality.

In the fractured time of modern war we’re experiencing now, they might speak to some as a false sense of security or a loss of innocence. As one member of my crit group brought up numerous times, “they also work as a reflection of passivity in current culture”. I like the fact that ordinary images from another time can speak this way, but I don’t want to make my work a blatant political statement. I want my future work to be more metaphorical and that will take exploration, but I don’t want to make the meaning so obvious that it insults the intelligence of the viewer.

In an attempt to get me thinking about what images from the 1950’s mean to someone today, I received many comments about inserting objects and people into a nostalgic work that don’t belong. As one professor said, “It might help to use nostalgic style with distorted time, by adding modern elements into that visual framework.” A grad student told me that I should go so far as to replace the 50’s cars with modern sports cars. I see the insertion of modern elements as something that could turn dumb very quickly. I don’t think a nostalgic image needs modern elements to explore meaning, because the viewers eye represents a 21st century understanding. The image itself should be enough to challenge the viewers perception. I do however, need to keep in mind that perception and work deliberately to challenge it in subtle ways. What that will mean exactly has yet to be figured out. This is what I’ll be pursuing.

I received many suggestions for potential artists to research, some of which I was already aware of and a few that were unknowns before the residency. Balthus, Eric Fischl, and John Currin were names I heard all week. These artists intrigue me for the ways they use the figure, though I see many differences in the approach to the image. All 3 use the figure primarily in erotic ways to explore sexuality and viewer perception, which I am not interested in doing. I do however, see much to learn from them in they ways they treat the figure. Laurel Sparks recommended Shepherd Fairey, who uses old imagery in modern propaganda posters.

Other ideas for artists include Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Belgian artists Luk Tuymans and Michael Borrowmans, as well as the German Expressionists and other American Regionalists. Of all artists, I see the most similarity (in the use of ideas and imagery) with Mark Tansey, who does photo-realistic monochromatic paintings that speak in humorous ways to the nature of art. While I do not want to turn photo-realist or monochromatic, I do want to infuse my paintings with humor and whit. I will be reading books on his work and exploring the use of representation in current painting.

My plan for the semester of work is to investigate these artists and the way they treat the figure. My plan is to incorporate that understanding into my idea for ordinary-image turned painting. In the process I also want to brush up on my painting skills and use the medium in an efficient way. My goal is to arrive at a new body of work that represents a transition towards something more metaphorical and infused with hidden meaning, though only time and experience will bring me to that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mike Carson

GREAT NEWS. Minneapolis painter Mike Carson has agreed to be my mentor this semester. I've seen his work at local galleries, and I find great similarities with mine. He enjoys painting figures from photos and enhances the space around them with expressive paint. The result is an otherwise ordinary picture infused with energy.

Here's a few images:

Mike Carson's Artist Statement:

My work is first and foremost figurative studies. It's what I like to paint, my biggest challenge and my greatest payoff. My nondescript surroundings help me create a mood or a story that I am trying to relay through my painting. Inspiration comes from architectural interiors as well as fashion and my work allows me to explore and explain this side of myself. Seeing how the work evolves, the subtle and the drastic differences, and looking forward to the future is what keeps me painting. I view a painting as a success when I take from it something new that follows me into my next work. It's just about learning to become a better painter.

Michael Carson

I'm looking forward to working with him!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Somewhere out there- There's a mentor for me....

Not to turn this Blog into a diary or anything, but I am having a difficult time finding a mentor. Ever since I got back from Boston I've been looking for local figure artists. The problem is, most of them make highly skilled commercial crap. I did find one that the real deal, but am finding it nearly impossible to contact him. The gallery won't give me his contact info for privacy reasons.... I'm about ready to pull out the phone book. Keep your fingers crossed-

First Residency work

These images were part of my first residency at AIB. They are from a recent series I did based on random 50's photographs, made with stains of acrylic wash, ink and oil on masonite board. I had a feeling that I might like to go in this direction, and now that I've been critiqued 10 times on them my challenge will be to search for a deeper meaning in the work. I figured they should get posted here as a way to chronicle my progress.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

this blog is officially up and running as evidenced by this insightful posting.