Friday, January 30, 2009


I had a great time in Boston at Residency 3. I'll post my most recent paper here for those interested.... more images to come


Residency Summary 

My 3rd residency at AIB in January of 2009 was a time of great learning. I received a lot of great feedback and commentary on my paintings, and left feeling encouraged and empowered in my artistic direction. It’s much easier now to see the progression of my work through this program. For me, everything about the 3rd residency was approached with the end goal of my thesis in mind. I find this task a little daunting, but all in all I feel confident in where I stand now going into my 4th residency. 

I left AIB last June with a broad range of suggestions and possibilities. It was a tough to sift through all of that information to make the work for residency 3. It’s clear to me now that the body of work from last semester addresses the formal problems rather than conceptual. I feel that the new works are much better paintings in terms of surface, texture, line and color palette. Across the board, everyone seemed to agree. I expected to get harsher criticism this time around (not so much for the work but for being farther along in the program), so I was very surprised to receive 2 nearly flawless critiques to start the week. 

Tony Apesos had great things to say about my work, and was impressed at the quality of the paintings. He was very impressed with the new color palette and application of paint. He felt that the work was on a thesis level, and that I should be confident and keep pressing on. On the idea behind the paintings, Tony made an interesting observation. He noted that my paintings manage to carry no personal commentary whatsoever. The figures are not idealized or criticized. They remain somewhere in the middle in the realm of complete confusion. Tony found them “fascinatingly confusing”, and picked up on many of the small linear adjustments I purposely made to guide the eye throughout the piece. Aside from a few suggestions on painting flesh in high contrast, he had nothing but good things to say about the work. 

My second round of critiques with Laurel Sparks and my peers went equally as well. I felt very encouraged with all the positive feedback, but also wary of feeling any sort of pride. After all, I do have to carry this idea forward for another year. As in the past, Laurel saw a lot of disturbing elements to the themes of my paintings, and came to her own conclusions to the open ended stories portrayed by the figures. She complimented the unknown and detached aspects to the work, and likened the paintings to those Norman Rockwell, but twisted and completely void of Rockwellian charm. It was not my intent to make them this way, but it’s a lot of fun to see them interpreted and appreciated so differently.

My third critique with Jan Avgikos was more of what I expected initially. She too had good things to say about the formal qualities of the paintings, but was puzzled with the imagery. She noticed the same impersonal qualities to the work that Tony did, but she seemed more frustrated with that than interested in it. She wondered why there wasn’t more of myself in the work, whether through using pictures of my own family or confronting specific issues. She saw as detractors everything that I had tried to intentionally accomplish in the work. 

She complimented the “beauty and serenity” in the work, but said it needs to be brought into the now. She also asked the question, “If these represent your parents or grandparents generation, than what will your kids look back to in term of imagery to represent this time period we live in?” This is an interesting question, but much larger than the current work. Eventually, the group ran out of time before we had the chance to talk further about it. After the critique, I felt frustrated. Obviously, her reaction was an indicator that my idea wasn’t coming through clearly enough, and in my reasoning I couldn’t figure out why. It would take a few more critiques and some additional feedback to see that Jan was absolutely right.

Towards the end of the week, I had critiques with John Kramer and Oliver Wasow. They gave me the more or less the same response. John was the one who finally got me to grasp what is missing from my work. He reminded me of a former graduate who made pictures of kitsch cowboys. The problem with his work was not his imagery, but the fact that he couldn’t articulate what his interest in cowboys was beyond, “I like cowboys.” John said that in the end, my thesis defense cannot be, “I like the 50s.” He is completely right. My interest in the period has to go much deeper than even I realize. John said that I need to take ownership of what I’m doing and incorporate at least 1 personal angle.

Oliver added that the very act of trying to be impersonal makes the work an emotional, deliberate act. In making my images impersonal and stripping them of meaning, I’m in effect making them personal. They have to mean something. I have to have a reason. Oliver feels that I walk a dangerous line between irony and nostalgia and need to find the middle ground. His comments made me realize that much of the impersonality in my work is in response to avoiding overt nostalgia. He’s right though, there’s an intellectual problem to my work that has to be solved, and I have to find a way to make them more aggressively located. He said that the work was “almost great”, and that I just need to find something to make them resonate emotionally. 

I never expected that my paintings would lead me to extensive self-psychoanalysis, but it’s clear now that determining my connection to the 50s is key. This question is most upon my mind in leaving the residency. I began referencing 50’s photos a few years back mainly because I was looking to paint, and I happened to have that imagery to work from in old photographs. After the residency, I wrote down all my thoughts concerning the 50s and my paintings. I’ve resolved that my interest in continuing to use these images today is threefold:  

First, I am drawn to these images for aesthetic reasons.

I was initially drawn to the 50s from the colors found in old kodachrome slides. The colors are bright and bold, but also somehow stately and subdued. The figures are often clean cut and awkwardly posed. Everything about the images- the clothes, hairstyles, buildings, and especially the cars which seem to pop up everywhere, lends itself well to the kind of painting I am interested in, a style that utilizes strong areas of positive and negative shapes of color and light. The images are often quite humorous, which is also very appealing to me.

Secondly, these images feed my need as a history buff.

The 1950s are a fascinating time in American history. Post-War America was the greatest time of prosperity any society had ever known. It was a time when consumer capitalism and advertising became a driving force in society. The imagery from the period projects an idealism of happiness, even though America was deep in the nuclear fear of a Cold War and had yet to confront many of its serious problems, such as racism and sexism. Even today, many Americans believe in the idealized myth of the 1950s and advocate for a nostalgic return, as evidenced most recently in speeches during the 2008 election. I see 50s images as relevant reminders of where we came from as a society and how far we have yet to go. As much as I can try to avoid blatant commentary in my painting, there’s no doubt that my interest in the images is in large part sociological and political. Tony noted that his experience of the 50s was one of fear and paranoia, and that I might want to play on that angle. I am certainly interested in this.

Finally, these images relate to my own family upbringing and current place as a husband and father of two small kids.

My parents were born in the 50s to traditional patriarchal families. I was raised in much the same way. My mother has always been a homemaker, and my father the breadwinner. I married a woman who could not be more opposite in her views on women’s domestic roles. Together, we’ve taken interest in observing the generational differences so evident in our families. Our parents chose to maintain that traditional structure, and today we are choosing a new way of family life and determining how to raise our kids.  These issues are apparent in snapshot images from the 50s, both as actual depictions of traditional families and ironic comparisons to today. 

I left the January residency feeling encouraged and challenged. I feel secure in my abilities as a painter to make work that is visually engaging, and proud of the progress that I made from the last residency in finding a style that suits my ideas. The difficulty in this semester will be retaining those aspects to the images that appeal to me while at the same time infusing a personal take. This is a delicate balance that I will have to work hard to find.  If an idea ever comes across too strongly, I immediately lose the quiet strangeness and detachment that I’ve worked hard to arrive at. The paintings themselves will most likely look very similar to the previous work, but will hopefully function on a deeper level. I have huge question marks about how all of this work itself out, but feel empowered and confident to take my work to the next level.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm goin' to Boston....

Well, I'm off this week for MFA residency number 3 of 5. One year from now I'll be preparing to defend my thesis and hang my graduate art show. VERY strange how quickly this first year has gone- This time, I am incredibly excited to go. This last semester was far and away the most difficult in terms of the creative process, and now that I feel a little more confident in my ideas and direction, I am thrilled to get feedback, even if it's a good shredding at the hand of the professors. For me, this whole residency will be about defining my thesis outline and artistic direction. That way, I'll come home with a clear goal in mind. We'll see if that happens- I just want to avoid another prolonged period of experimentation. More updates to come-