Mis-Beckett(ed)

The best art in any medium has the effect of feeling extremely personal to each person who enjoys it even as it touches a multitude. Everyone has “their” author/painter/band/musician. This thing is recommended  to friends or in general conversation akin to how a proud parent talks of their child.

We all make totems of artists & their work. The more levelheaded ways are when we associate it in to the memory of the place/time/person(s) of first discovery. The work/artist can serve as inspiration or a brief respite from daily life with all its mundane commitments.

This is all fine so long as an audience keeps in mind that, although it may not be broadcast, the artists has an intent or idea behind the work which is the absolute truth beyond what one may make of the work. Its true meaning and intent.

Samuel Beckett has always been a favorite author of mine. His work often possesses a density whose meaning on the surface may seem a little open ended, but which is rarely the case.

Anyone with boho or intellectual leanings knows of Waiting for Godot. As for the rest of his work, with the advent of social media Beckett is often reduced down to bumper sticker aphorisms. This reduction is made worse by how often orphaned from the rest of the text, the use and meaning is wrong.

I was once again reminded of this via twitter which is 40% people posting quotes & material by others as to assert their individuality, 40% memes/gifs also by others and 10% original material.

It was the end of the night so I decided to peel off a portrait of Beckett. I used a Blackwing Palomino pencil I wanted to show the depth of his eye sockets and crags without having to rely on heavy shading. This pencil always lends a graphic feel to the work but also allows for volume and mass to come through.

9×12 Beckett

 

Beckett

 

 

Serenade

Emotion is the most important aspect of all my work, regardless of subject matter. Once one has an artistic mission or aesthetic in mind, next comes putting it into practice.

In chatting with some of my direct peers, something which seems obvious is reiterated throughout our ongoing conversations. We all approach the craft of painting differently.

For myself, i see the painting in my head done before starting it. Some of my pals know what they want to do but feel their way towards it as they go. With one piece they want to convey joy or sadness, established subject aside what will they do over the course of creation to facilitate it is what they feel their way towards while creating.

They get great joy in seeing what happens over the course of working. I would not want to work that way but they like the unfolding mystery aspect of it. To them, it would seem boring to know largely in advance whats going to appear out from under the brush but i never feel at shortage of joy when painting.

The one thing we all have in common is joy in the process regardless of how different it may be for each of us.

I want a discenible style/voice but to never lapse into mere mannerism.One way i avoid this is by challenging myself. I see the painting in my head, i know that a certain color is perfect for the background or I can get effect of dappled light on skin using a favorite yellow. I purposely will then use a different color and make it work. Like some of the dissonance in a Prokofiev piece, it works despite itself and becomes an important, naturally integrated  aspect.

Often when giving myself one of these challenges, during break I will be chatting with someone.

“I am trying some new stuff with this piece (my shorthand for one of my self challenges)”.

The finished work often does not look terribly different from any of its siblings. A potential dramatic let down to whomever I might have mentioned it to. Personally though, it is of great value. I got what I wanted without having to resort to now established methods & tricks.

I used French cotton paper for this piece. It is 7×10. It behaves different from both the multi media papers I use and the watercolor velum 5×8 which has become a favorite. The soundtrack was largely Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “I Talk with the Spirits”

 

In a Moment

Renaissance painters largely did Royal/High Society  portraits along with the obligatory religious work. It was important for the portraiture to look like the subject. However, there could be subtext either positive or negative in the clothes the subject was wearing, the accoutrements around them.  These send their own narrative out into the world.

The painter locked in the subject’s position, then worked from there. Now, with camera/photos, people expect, if the subject is leaning their head to the left, then paint it exactly that way.

I have often written about the relationship between artist & model and audience expectation. Another aspect which has changed is positioning.

I want my portraits to look like the subject and I include every little bit of minutia that I see, from a blemish to an about to fall off button. when not working from a live subject, I do not rigidly adhere though, to position offered up in the photo .

Once I did a commission, working from a photo. When I was done, it was the spitting image.

“Oh, my head had been tilted back slightly more in the photo.”

It had not been a flattering angle, chosen because it decreased a chin but increased nostrils as focal point. A strange argument to me, as angle aside, it looked just like her. Most people would never see both the photo and the portrait.

Not by way of excuse but as part of my usual modus operandi, I do sometimes slightly alter an angle. It is as if I am capturing the moment before or right after that in the photo. Depending upon the naturalness of the pose, at other times I do not alter a thing.

She took possession of the portrait. Upon hanging it in her home, she snapped at photo of it on the wall. At one of the fuller cocktail parties she faux-casually brought up her portrait. Wanting some justification for her initial cool reaction she had been eager to show a party goer or two  the photo I had worked from and the finished portrait both of which rested within her phone.

“Oh, that is great, it looks just like you, especially in the eyes!”

After a few more comments like this, she felt better. She put away the photos of twins, born a minute apart.

 

“Blue Pillow”

Watercolor & multi media paper 9×12

 

 

Left Bank

What makes for a good trip or proper travel is not checking off a list of places to see with their associated objects;

The Louvre, Mona Lisa….

It is absorbing the feel of a place, ambience of scents, sounds..In taking time to do this, one notices how others live their lives & what is important to them. It also allows for a deeper memory retention of the entire experience which then adds to the “you”. It is what is actually meant by “Travel broadens the mind”.

For artists there is even more of a potential benefit.

Every artists works & travels differently. I am always “working” regardless of where I am in the world. The only variation is what equipment I am utilizing. Short trips will find me leaving the paints at home, filling my coat pocket with my trusty pocket pads as I like to travel as light as possible and most likely would not have time anyways.

Any give place should effect an artist. Not in the most obvious way such as “I am in London, I painted Big Ben”.

It is ambient light, the lines of architecture, they become further accoutrements to the palette. It does not mean that one enters artistic phases ala Picasso and Cubism et al. Rather, work done in one place  does not look exactly as it appears back home. The artists voice is ever present but there are different components to the fore, mixed in with some of the more familiar.

If you have never been or only as part of a tour group, then every place in France is lumped in together. Despite some commonalities, each area is distinctive with their own cuisine and habits. It is the same with the ambient light.

Aix-en-Provence is all beautiful yellows punctuated by bursts of trees and the sounds of fountains. Lyon is soft pinks as if the buildings are made or at least coated with the delicate charcuterie which they are the masters of making. Paris in itself is diverse. From arrondissement to arrondissement, from the Left Bank to the Right .

People, myself included, proudly proclaim themselves of their side of the river and which number arrondissement.

I like even some of the seemingly “ugly” streets with their time worn dirty gray and fatigued creams. These areas tend to be where some of my artistic heroes lived, cheap rent and every third door a no nonsense bar having been the draw.

I like working with colored pencils on gray or brown paper. I limit my palette intentionally as a challenge to myself. Getting the effects that I want in this way makes it “easier” when using paints. Although I use mainly pinks, it is realistic in that in the real world there are seemingly limitless colors but go out on street  look at buildings and the street. On encounters a fairly limited palette.

These pinks, urban children of Fauvists, remind me of some parts of Paris. Not that this color is found there but it is same effect, translated in my minds eye. This little corner I continue to pass almost daily. It has been there forever and i do not think it ever had any straight lines about it.

I initially encountered it when staying at my first great apartment. It was en route to my groceries and favorite bars. Four floors, impossibly winding stairs that made you drag your shoulder against the wall as you ascended since the light was always broken. The biggest part of the place was the bathroom, with a large old tub, frosted glass windows which opened up onto a shadowy verdant courtyard with its cracked flagstones. I kept the primitive hi fi in the bathroom doorway since it was connected to the bedroom. Only music with a minimal of voices sounded good as it was a mono player. Mostly Zoot Sims duets and Lester Young trios.The neighbors would lean against their window boxes of geraniums smoking and slowly nodding their heads to the music. Dark silhouettes with one wavering orange eye-dot that would flare with inhalation.

Hard work and I was fortunate to be able to trade up apartments. I remained in my neighborhood just moving a few streets down. The building has become one of the visual shorthand for the deep affection that I hold for the every day in Paris and those first exciting years.

W.Wolfson ’19

Left Bank 9×12 colored paper and pencil

 

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Face Dances

For Sharon Anderson

I had an acquaintance in Toronto who fancies herself a shutterbug. She walks all around the city snapping photos of whatever catches her eye. She does this on her own, with friends and as part of an informal group.

The city has some vibrant graffiti and murals. Someone had done one of Prince, which she snapped a photo of. Prince as he was in the first flush of mega-stardom, decked out in the white ruffles and purple sequenced jacket. The problem was, it looked almost nothing like Prince. The outfit was correct and served as a visual clue:  “you are looking at Prince”.  Had he had no shirt on (or a different outfit) as occurred in some promo photos and videos, then no one would have had any idea who it was.

A lot of stars, especially artists,  have one or two  images  ingrained in the public’s conscious. This is even more so for musicians of the pre Instagram age.  Record companies, Dj etc all had to have the promotional photos/packs. The publicity photo a pre requisite but not too often updated. Jim Morrison is forever fitting into his leather pants, shirtless or with white pirate shirt, starring back at the camera as he wonders whether it is all worth it, forgetting that Rimbaud gave up poetry to become a white slaver. Jimi Hendrix is caught up in a spider’s web of bandannas and clashing colors as he lights Monterrey Pop on fire. And Prince had the ruffles at the throat and purple sequenced jacket different in color but similar to what Pete Townsend, light years away stylistically from the purple one, wore in the sixties.

So much rock was born out of rebellion, which is why every generation still holds it dear. Lazily resorting to visual shorthand of well known outfits reduces them down to a sort of uniform, very anti-rock (rebellion).

The best art tied in to musicians/artists, they should be recognizable in a different outfit or even just the face.

What makes for an even more worthwhile work is not their recognizably but rather does the work radiate an emotion which in turn makes the viewer feel something. The handicap of doing the visual shorthand of obvious outfit is even with some of the better works, you are freeze drying the emotion(s) to what was offered up in the photo. All photos are the souvenir of a dead thing as the moment has come and gone.

Faces, not necessarily of famous people, have always called to me. To conjure up a face on paper is an important part of what I do. Emotion coming through is the most important facet of what I do.

Here are several faces, done on different types paper. The inherent properties of the papers adding themselves to my voice like spice(s) to a stew.

All are 9×12

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Burlesque

I am not one to accumulate clutter but had a few boxes to go through before moving my studio back in November. I came across a really nice digital pocket camera. There were actually still some store/factory stickers on it which excitedly proclaimed how many mega pixels it was. Impressive for then perhaps but the average cellphone of even five years ago had it beat in the mega pixel & zoom department.

Everyone has a camera now via their phone and i can not remember the last time anyone i know packed a separate camera in their bag when going on the road. Speaking in the most general terms, there is often at best a generic beauty to the better taken photos. Rarely is a photographer’s voice discernible.

This is because the better photos, the heavy lifting is done by either the equipment or location. There are to be sure some contemporary photographers with a worked for voice but they suffer from the fact that digital equipment has made them easy to parrot in much same way that phones now have apps to make ones photos look like an Andy Warhol (et al ) painting.

Cameras have effected how people look at other art too. Now they look at it as if a camera themselves.  A camera takes in all it sees in one fell swoop. It is a disinterested eye devouring an entire scene without chewing, the interest only existing via the photographer’s eye. This inherently lends an emotional barrier to the medium.

With painting they eye can take it in, nibbling in small incriminates, beginning at any point on the canvas.  With the passage of time new things can be noticed. Paintings have the ability to grow with the viewer. Living right, with evolution, none of us are the same person today that we were a year ago. A painting can take on new or added meanings for the viewer.

When the subject or viewers look at one of my pieces, the first thing noticed or commented upon always differs from person to person. The joy of viewing a painting is a very individual act regardless of how well known a piece may be.

I do not strictly do portraits but it is one of the things in life which gives me the greatest pleasure. Once an artist finds and perfects their voice there is the danger of lapsing into mere mannerism. It is one of my prime motivations in constantly mixing it up with what equipment I use.

For this portrait, i knew that I could execute it in such a way that it would please me. In my head i saw the correct background color to go with etc. I am very fortunate that with some of my work i have the luxury of no deadline and freedom to experiment. It is crazy for me to not do so, as in worst case scenario, I just throw a failed attempt away.

I realized aside from some minor flourishes of sunlight upon a cheek I had never done a piece show effects of lights on a subject. My experiment was to portray this effect and ignore what i knew to be all the “right” choices in regards to color.

The subject is under colored lights of a club. Hair dyed by the lights which also play upon the skin in splashes. I choose purples which aside from minor flourishes i rarely work with.

The paper is mutli media paper. This style paper has very different properties than the French cotton that I use. It requires a different technique to achieve the volume and mass effects that I desire. Multi media paper from brand to brand also possesses different properties from one another. When dealing with the different brands, i would not say that there is a “best” but I have found some work better with different colors than others due to pigment properties.

This is 98 lb which makes me work a little slower while layers dry, without the wait seeming interminable. I was very pleased with the end result, achieving all the effects I wanted.

9×12 Watercolor & multi media paper 98lb

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Val-de-Grâce

I used to work with pastels before seriously taking up painting. I greatly enjoyed the process but the pieces largely lacked the density, volume & mass that I prefer my work to posses.

Once I had obtained chops with my painting, I saw how I could have achieved the desired effects with the then abandoned pastels.

Like a lot of art things which become part of me/important to me, i fell into using colored pencils by complete happenstance. My painting showed me how to get what I wanted out of them much as it would have with pastels. There is a dichotomy to using colored pencils  in that to get what i want out of them, i need to concentrate while also utilizing a looseness which I avoid with my painting.

For subject matter, rarely do I do portraits with colored paper. I prefer instead landscapes and cityscapes.

I prefer to use colored paper, either gray or brown. I vary the size with the largest being 9×12. I intentionally limit my color palette, each piece only mainly using varying shades of three colors with the tiny splash here or there of  seemingly “wrong” colors. This i equate to the dissonant notes sometimes employed by Prokofiev and Monk.

Technique and conceptualization of colored pencil pieces are very different from my paintings. Having to utilize different approach & technique adds to how I think about painting. Aside from enjoying the process in itself, this gives it great value for me.

 

9×12 Val-de-Grâce

 

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