Thursday, June 18, 2009

Residency 4

It's hard to believe how fast time has gone- I'm back in Boston. Right now, I'm actually in Cambridge- sitting at a coffee shop in Harvard Square finishing off a few last minute documents for the residency. These next 10 days will be very telling, and hopefully when it's all done I'll have a clear idea for what I need to do the next 6 months to finish my thesis and work for the graduate exhibition. If I don't... well, that would not be good. 

Here's a copy of the Artist Statement I'm rolling with for this semester. 


My work addresses the way we approach history through images. Currently, I’m exploring the American 1950s through the creation of paintings based on vintage slides from the period. My Images are taken mainly from internet sources- in particular, online groups who purchase old slides at estate sales and antique shops and restore them digitally. I am attracted to these images for the distance they represent. They were taken not for commercial purposes but as a way for the unknown photographer to chronicle the time. They are often humorous in their composition and depiction of people. I selectively crop and fragment these pictures to heighten their formal qualities as paintings.

The intended result is a group of works that are visually engaging while retaining a close tie to history. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I cannot experience prior history through memory of experience. Rather, my understanding of the period comes through processing visual information. How we process this information and the impression of history that we get from it is what I am exploring.

Represented are two bodies of work that address the idea differently. The three large paintings were made to harness the awkward composition of the original slides, and then manipulated with flattened color and pattern to accentuate the images formal qualities. The 20 small images were created to fit within a grid, and use selective cropping to function like a box of scattered photos. These paintings are still in progress and contain colors intended as under-painting. The cropping of each image links it to the surrounding paintings through lines and shapes. I view this grid as 1 large work, though am still in the process of determining how best to present it. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Semester Review

Here is my semester summary on my process- enjoy.

Semester Summary


This semester has been a time of artistic and conceptual growth. I left the last residency in January with specific goals for the semester. I knew that I needed to begin planning for my thesis a year out and return in June with work that would give me options for the final semester. The last thing I wanted to do was narrow down to a limited idea with a thesis to write and final work to be made. My 3rd residency work was intentionally confusing and open-ended in it’s approach to 50s imagery, so I wanted to find ways to greater explore my source material and give more of my take. I devised early on that that I would make 2 distinct bodies of work that would use the same reference imagery in different ways. I created 3 larger paintings that continue in the same vein as the previous work, and also a grid of 20+ small paintings that utilize the selective cropping of reference images.


I entered the semester eager to start painting and full of ideas. Residency responses from January revealed that my work was mainly coming across as confusing and disjointed. I was initially frustrated with this comment because I was very much trying to harness the random awkwardness found in family snapshots. Most comments seemed to be that the work needed more of the artists take in it. The most common question was “what do the 50s mean to you and why are you doing this?” It’s a fair and essential question to my work that I’ve been looking to answer for some time. I spent time early on sorting through my thoughts in an attempt to figure it out. What really interests me is time and history, the way things change/remain the same, and the changing aesthetic associated with time periods. It made me realize that my perception of a decade such as the 50s comes completely from photos and films rather than actual memory. The way that images speak to fragmented memory, either collective or individual, is that truly interests me. Along with this, I find the idea of America’s self-image fascinating. I think this is a big reason why I was initially drawn to 50s imagery. It represents and idealized past that polarizes people today.


What I realized is that I am not bound only to the 50s. In other words, my desire to reference the awkwardness of the personal photo in composition, color and content extends to other decades as well. I debated including other time periods and going that direction with this semesters work, but ultimately decided that I’ve invested too much into the 50s at this point.  I’m now viewing my 50s work as a current faze that I’ll eventually move on from. I’m very interested in investigating other decades and allowing the palette to change along with the imagery. It’s challenging to rein in these ideas for future work, but for the purpose of my MFA I think it’s best to not make the idea any more broad at this point.


I made 3 paintings this semester that continue trends in my previous work. The main idea behind these works is to lift the often-awkward composition of the painting directly from a 50s snapshot. It’s been a way for me to make the paintings seem like enlarged pictures void of context or commentary. I knew this semester that I had to infuse more of my artistic take into them. My mentor Tim Tozer has been helpful. He is very much a purist when it comes to painting, and from our first meeting had a lot of suggestions about the application of paint and the color palette. His main suggestion was to play up the formal qualities of the paintings. He was able to understand why I had created the 3rd residency works to be intentionally confusing, but also felt that there were other ways to change up the reference image and reveal more of the artist in the work without necessarily addressing a specific issue or inserting my likeness into them.  He challenged me to be more deliberate in my color mixing. His suggestion was to go to the hardware store and take as many color reference cards from the paint section as possible. He wanted me to use those cards to mix areas of flatter color instead of feathering colors in. Being more conscious of color choices from the outset was very helpful. I didn’t think that my palette needed improvement, but now I can see a huge difference compared to last semesters work. 

In addition to refining my colors, I wanted to play with pattern and repetition and see how much I could insert into a painting before it fell apart. I found that the busyness of pattern really made the paintings stand out. Previously, I had seen my work progressing to an ever simpler style, but when I began to paint this semester I started to use images that were more complicated and detailed. Adding excess detail helped to shift the focus from merely the figure to the entire image. They did take much more time then anticipated to complete, but were great fun to do. The goal of these works was to speak directly to the aesthetic of the 50s through their formal qualities. We’ll see what kind of reaction I get from them.


I realized that another take on the personal photo was to radically crop them and assemble them into a grid. During the course of this program I’ve been frustrated in finding the balance between what I want to make and what I actually have the time, space and money to make. Rather than go large and lose time in exploring new ideas, I decided on a grid of 8” x 8” squares, each containing small cropped sections from larger reference photos and placed in careful relation to each other. The idea is that dominant lines, shapes and colors in each image will relate to the ones surrounding it and lead the eye through the entire work. It also occurred to me that a large group of unrelated images presented together in such a way would invoke the process of memory, in the same way we recall fragments of past experiences or images we’ve absorbed.


With the images in the grid, I looked primarily for reference photos that contained strong shape and contrast. For a while, I’ve been drawn to classic cars, so they made great grid images. I also wanted to add pictures with people into the mix, so I again looked for those images with strong formal qualities. I returned to previously used imagery from older paintings as well. I pondered the inclusion of word and type into the grid for a long time. I decided to add images from 50s signs as they worked well alongside the other images. The sign pictures have great lines and contain iconic fonts that immediately reference the era. I was particularly amused by the words on one sign after I cropped the image: “Thrifty -the Values”- which plays off of the idea of 50s family “values”. I’m well aware that I’ve established criteria for choosing which images are in the grid, which raises issues about the reality of the 50s versus the reality depicted in the chosen images. At the same time, these paintings were all based on vintage slides and personal snapshots taken during the period, and represent the way that I assimilate imagery to gain a perception of past time. 


I’ve developed a system of under painting that works well with the 50’s palette. Most of the paint is completely covered later on, but trace amounts show through in thin areas, giving the painting a bit more life and vibrancy and keeping them from becoming drab. The colors I use are yellow ochre, a neutralized purple/blue and bright cherry red. While I was making the grid, I wanted to complete the under painting in order to work out the special relationships between works before adding the final full-palette layers. When my mentor first saw the grid, he commented almost immediately that something about unifying the works with only 3 colors made them work. He encouraged me to make the entire grid before painting the top layers. As of now, there are no top layers, and the work will arrive at the June residency in an incomplete state.


My plan for this residency is to bring both the grid and the single paintings to see how they read in critiques. I have really enjoyed making the grid and while it teeters on the brink of excessive busyness, I like where it is going. I would like to continue work on it into the final semester, perhaps doubling the amount of paintings and adding top colors. Conceptually, I feel that I’ve researched and written enough on the American 50s and artists who work in similar ways to provide a framework for my thesis. This is the first semester where I feel I’ve done all I can do to set myself up for the residency and the following semester.