Two More Tales

I think one of the most important challenges facing an artists in any medium is to establish their voice. Fame, power etc is relative and at best a side effect. I want a recognizable voice but to never lapse into mere mannerism. One way to avoid this is to foster constant evolution. This does not mean one has to reject whatever chops or artistic mission they have established. Leaving your comfort zone of established methodology shakes things up and prevents any sort of procedural laziness.

Another important facilitator is venturing out past established influences and inspirations. Music is my main source of inspiration and while i have definite favorite touchstones which I will never abandon, i also constantly explore. A dormant aspect of creating for many artists now is an openness past what they know and like.

With my collages, once I realized how much i liked doing them I started refining my process. Then I tried challenging myself by changing the size. Further dialogues with myself, and I realized I wanted to be able to do them on the road. I figured out how to do that. I do not want my collages to be enjoyed but also with the underlying sense of “seen one, seen them all”. To keep things fresh I continue to change the size, not eliminating any (sizes) from my repertoire. My two new current challenges are to do an intentional linked series “Boplicty # 1-?” and a triptych.

All my collages are made with images of photos I personally took. I use no digital magic, just my trusty scissors and adhesive applied with a brush. I want to give the viewer a sense of an open ended, dense narrative.

“She Said” & “Flacco Arrangement” 11×17 inches

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Nocturne

Everyone’s phone now gives them the ability to take great photos & movies. This is a blessing and a curse. It is nice to capture something, especially when on the road that one wants to show friends. The downside to this is, go to any big city in Europe and you see tourists so busy hunting the perfect instagram shot that they are not actually there in the moment. Ambient sights, sounds and smells are  not absorbed into memory. The old adage that “travel broadens the mind” is a sort of shorthand for being open to experiences and impressions so that they add to you and become part of you. I’ve seen some lovely shots of Paris on friend’s social media sites but when asked about their travels, they can not convey anything aside from the day of their trip they were at the local.

This is not recent news though. Another less apparent negative effect is that, with the ability to snap a photo of anyone, hundreds of photos of a night out with new friends, people under a certain age have forgotten or never learned how to look at a painting.

The relationship between painter and model/subject is not supposed to be one of exacting reportage. Ideally, it is as if the painter is describing the model but using their own words. Words in this case being the painter’s style. Because of the ability to document in photos, a person, people want an exacting reproduction all done in hyper realism. (like their phone photos)

When Matisse painted a woman reclining on a couch, you knew her foot was her foot but you would never dream of doing an  anatomical study from it. Largely, people do not want to see a painting which looks like a painting, where brush strokes are evident as is the artist’s hand. With my recent foray into social media, i have met some wonderful painters who are held back by trying to make their work look too real, too exacting and so stillborn. “Painterly” aesthetics is currently not as appealing to the masses as overly processed and perfected type thing which could be a glossy Haute couture ad.

Some museums during shelter in place have been offering free virtual tours. In a recent New Yorker column, Peter Schjeldahl, one of the finest living authors on art, suggested that viewing art online was not great. He drew the ire of many. There is though a huge difference between seeing an image of a work and actually being there. The digital image, even when shot in high definition still has factors which effect its appearance and impact such as the aspects of the device one is looking on. And the reality of looking at photos of paintings online, more often than not there will not be a sense of communion since chances are one has the television on or other distractions, the myth of multi-tasking. If one goes to a museum, instagram moment hunting aside, ostensibly you are there to experience art and nothing else. There is just an indescribable aspect to being in a building, in the same room as a work with it in front of you and others around you. There is not a “feeling” seeing it flattened out on a device’s screen. It gives the gist of a piece at best, it is akin to hearing a recorded voice not the voice speaking in the same space as you.

I get great pleasure in portraying human flesh in my works. How i do it is not a matter of degree of chops but intentional. It’s painterly and expressionistic. To do close up parts, it almost borders at times on abstraction. I have done pieces, close ups, where there is not the guide-indication of an eye or finger to tell of a body. It is even more abstract yet there is something fleshy about it. I feel very fortunate to be able to work the magic the makes a white square seem as if it has volume & mass, heat of blood flowing just below the skin.

Nocturne Watercolor & Paper 5×8 inches

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Two Tales

I have always felt that one must have constant inner dialogues, even about things which are already known or established. Further articulation can give more or new ideas in regards to the thing, a jeweler sculpting a gem of thought.

There seemed to be very little learning curve for my collages but I continued to refine my process while also feeling there is always more to learn. An important thing for all artists in any medium is to leave your comfort zone and put aside established methodology. Having to leave the comfort zone fosters evolution and creates stronger chops.

These two collages are both 11×17. I have switched to a wonderful adhesive which allows the actual collages to last (as opposed to initially when only prints of them could be sold) I still do not use any digital magic, Just scissors, adhesive applied with a paintbrush on photos which I took myself.

“Edging Her Bet” & “Threesome”

 

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Erratum: I am fairly new to the blogging world. A few observations which may help others out.:

Everyone is blogging for different reasons, some just for fun others with professional aspirations. If you are doing it as more than a way to constructively kill time, spring for the add free version. You could be writing or showing the most inspired content and then in the middle of your efforts is a toe fungus or travel ad. If you were going to job interview you would wear your best outfit to show your seriousness, same idea.

Regardless of why one is blogging, it comes down to wanting to be seen/heard and connect with an audience. If you fire off several posts a day, unless you are H.L Mencken, it is too much. Most people are following AT LEAST a few hundred others. This means you are faced with constantly checking your phone as someone will always be posting or if you set your preferences to receive weekly updates you suddenly have one day (at least) a week with hundreds of emails. It becomes akin to having several televisions on at same time, a sort of babel. There is no way you will be connecting w/as many people as you would like as posts get lost in the stream of non stop deluge of content. At some point the pervading wisdom was “shoot enough bullets into the air you will hit something” Maybe at very start of everyone being on social media but not now. Less but better crafted posts will ultimately do more for you than machine gun approach which as the number of people on e follows grows, becomes too much.

 

Collage

There is a lot of precision in my drawings & paintings. I have always been serious about my sculptures but those are of a completely different process. They are largely improvised on the spot using whatever materials I have around. Often, they are not meant to last.

Collage is fairly new medium to me. They fall somewhere between my paintings & sculpture.There is an element of surrealism in them that does not appear in my work of other mediums. Ahead of time,  I always have in my mind the composition but i also leave room for some improvisations.

My first collages were really large 22×30 inches. They were not meant to last which made it feel freeing. Eventually being all the remained, the photos of the work would themselves become the art.

I used glue sticks and scissors to create my works. With my paintings, they need few days to dry. With the collages as soon as I was finished I needed to snap some photos as pieces would begin curling, bubbling or falling off.

Right out of the gate i got the same feeling of serving the process I get in creating my other works. People were interested in obtaining the actual pieces and not just prints/photos of them.

I invested in several pairs of good scissors and started using adhesive which also coats the works surface as well. In reading up on adhesives I found there is controversy over where images for a collage come from. Depending upon the  country, there are things which are illegal or if not that then despite semantics, a jerky thing to do. Were my images to be lifted I know that I would not be happy about it. This brought about my decision to largely use images from photos which I myself took. An added advantage to this is that it often feels as if collage is not taken as seriously stateside. Collage seems to conjure up images of of someone with nothing to do clipping pictures out of magazines while watching television. Using my own photos bolsters the legitimacy as art form and not mere hobby.

Painting, sculpture, collage, it is never an either or for me. All are part of the whole. I do find my painting helps my achieve more volume and mass in my collages. Now, all my works cross influence and inspire each other.

For drawing I constantly change up what equipment i use, the idea being that I can create work when on the road and in under far from ideal situations ( a waitress’s pencil, the back of a paper bag et al) . A lovely letter from someone compared my collages to jazz. This planted the idea in my head to start doing smaller sized collages as to be able to do them on the road.  I could do them all in pages of a nice notebook, initially using easy to travel with glue stick and applying adhesive once back home.

I enjoy going for the density of composition, which I prefer in all my works, without letting it get too muddy and reduced to visual babel. The initial challenge of achieving this in smaller collage was great fun.

“Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz”

22×30 inches
We are all living under a fluorescent sky temporarily. To stay productive is a huge help. Anyone who can create beauty, now is the time to do so as a reminder of what we will eventually return to. I named this piece after composer/musician (a.k.a Fantastic Negrito) whose work mixes a deep soulfulness with the lament of the blues and some funk.
Composition wise I utilize my preferred density regardless of medium along w/the feeling of a sort of open ended narrative.

 

20200411_105920Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz

“Self Portrait” 11×14

These are all photos I took and my first smaller collage. I was very pleased with the results.

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Paper

I had unintentionally lucked out. Where I lived in Paris had five art supplies stores all within a five to ten minute walk. Each was good for specific things.

One aspect of all which was nice was that each was for working artists, this was reflected in the pricing, quality and selection. All the places were “historic” except the one closest to me. This one was still good though, it just meant the Soutine had never bought his pencils nor charcoal there.

All the staff at each place are artists themselves but they are almost shy about it. There is none of the (sometimes) overbearing networking as occurs in North America. I became Pals with Quintin. He finally showed me some of his work. intricate ink on paper works. I did not just offer up the small talk compliments but discussed technique with him which cemented our friendship.

After that, for years, every time I went into his shop I would get the sale price plus employ discount on my basket full of stuff.

A few years ago I went in early in the morning on my way to an afternoon of sketching and heavy lunching. We chatted and at first he seemed distracted but after a few minutes of talk it became clear it was more a type of embarrassment.

He was going to follow a girl he liked, really liked, to Ibiza where he would also work on his graphic novel. It was unclear if they would take him back on the staff when he eventually returned to Paris. I should load up as much as possible now as to take advantage of the deep discount.

It was the end of an era. Most likely a mistake on his part but that and/or an over earnestness is right of passage for youth as they find their way. I put things in my basket, he handed me blocks of watercolor paper. Seeing me doing math in my head, assured me not to worry about it.

Standing at the counter i knew to let the woman behind me go first, feigning to have forgotten something.

We were alone now, we shook hands. He turned around and grabbed a bunch of stuff off the backboard which he put in my swollen bags. Shaking hands, we exchanged information.

Back in my studio looking at all the stuff he gave me, I was pretty sure they would not be having him back. I had blocks of 7×10 French cotton paper which became one of my mainstays. I had so much of it that it lasted me several years.

I am constantly, from piece to piece switching what paper I use as it keeps things fresh. I do not know how it works for others but in my head i envision a piece before executing it and this vision includes its size too. This has kept my piles of paper dwindling but at a leisurely pace.

Despite plans already solidified, shelter in place finds me on the wrong side of the ocean, Paris right now for me as for most, just a magical daydream. I am very fortunate to be able to continue to work though. My stateside studio has taborets full of supplies.

Since I am going to be around, as i mulled over a new piece I carefully emptied them as to dust inside them. Something which was more busy work to contemplate by than actually needed. To my surprise I found that I had finally reached the end of my Quentin paper! It is all right I have plenty of other paper but this was, for me, the best cotton paper.

I decided to get a new paper to try, a 9×12 non-cotton paper. Right off the bat I enjoyed using the paper. It handles different from my French cotton paper but still enjoyable. Using the new paper, despite all going on, I get that familiar pleasure of serving the process & my craft. I hope Quintin is on some Spanish beach with his hippy chic drinking wine and looking out at the sea, I hope that I find myself walking around my arrondissement sooner than later.

 

“Blue Pillow” 9×12 Watercolor & Paper (new paper)

“Hand Selfie” 8×5 watercolor & Paper

 

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Hamachi & Suntory

I am not a fan of musicals. However it will never cease to make me laugh at how everyone spontaneously breaks into song & dance. I understand this is the gist and nature of a musical but it always seems to pleasantly jarring, especially if you are watching one of the classic Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly ones for first time.

For a novice, what makes it strange is that it is one part movie, then singing and dancing, then they all go back into whatever the scene was.

Two Pals walking along the Seine:

How was your date last night?

Well, let me tell you pal

Then they start singing down the street being joined in synchronized dance by traffic cop, flower vendor, newspaper vendor and couple who happened to be passing by and one waiter in his black and whit,e bottle opener chain looping from waist to pocket.

All these characters drop behind two lead characters, into a synchronized formation while the two friends dance and sing. The music stops, then everyone reverts back to what they had been doing in this street tableau.

So…are you going to see her again?

I keep busy and productive. When i let my mind wander, I try keep it if not positive, then at least interesting. When the world can move on from the main thing on our minds being the Pandemic, once I know everyone is safe and receiving any help needed, what then?

I softly laugh to myself, once everything is taken care of, I will be as if in a musical, making my way through the city stopping multiple times for sushi and drinks, singing a song about it.

This is one of my larger pieces 17×17 graphite & paper.

 

hamachonehamachtwohamachthreehamachfourHanachianssuntori

 

 

Fa-Flex

The propaganda aspects of a lot of renaissance art has been lost to the more casual peruser of paintings and sculpture. The shorthand of what they were doing has now become that Michelangelo, da Vinci et al were presenting the physical ideal. The ideal being equated to something to strive for regardless of its impossibility.

Part of the magic of painting which started with the immediate precursors to   impressionism (Courbet, Fantin Latour, Millet) was that they were begging to slowly move away from the subjects when not a still life or landscape being restricted to  those of myth, biblical or historic. The heroic, idealized.

When the Nazi occupation of France became inevitable there was a scramble to get the high profile residents, thinkers, politicos and artists to safety. Matisse was on this list. At the last minute he backed out of fleeing, saying:

“If everyone who has any value leaves France, what remains of France?”

After the fact asked to expand upon what he meant in greater detail he cited culture not personality as what he had been getting at. If the abstracts which gives us pleasure, define us and add to us are gone then what is the point?

Unfortunately in current times art and culture by default often is associated with an elitism. Art has a duty, not in the sense of promoting a message or agenda though. Now is the time for any who can, to create something of beauty. And if you can’t, it is of equal importance to appreciate and enjoy it.  The purpose art and beauty can serve now has changed since the renaissance. None of it should be tied in with any sort of “ideal”. It represents something not necessarily perfect, an impossibility to be striven for but rather something outside of ourselves, the “I” becoming part of a greater whole.

This should bolster the thought that no matter how bad things get, we all have to live with ourselves when it’s over and back to normal. Paraphrasing Matisse’s train of thought, to lose what we value about ourselves as a society just to stay around, well what would be the point?

W.Wolfson 2020

“Fa-Flex” Watercolor & French Cotton Paper 7×10

 

Fa-Flex

 

 

Blue Pillows

With my work, I prefer a certain degree of density. The great thing about watercolors is that they allow for this density but in conjunction with a delicacy inherent to the medium.

Often I like the viewer to feel as if they are ease dropping upon a scene. It ads to the emotional cadence of a piece to not have anything explicitly spelled out. When walking through Paris, one will see these little vignettes play out in endless variations, their true meaning unknown to all except the direct participants.

It is a give and take as equally, I have found myself a player on this urban-impromptu stage. Being watched as I lean against the balcony railing, doing dishes in the back-facing kitchen or sitting up late at night reading in bed, mine just another square of light and gentle activity among the mosiac.

This piece is 9×12 watercolor & multi media paper.

 

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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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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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