Lyra Three

I am now still playing catch up with all the things I had put on hold for a year plus. I am very fortunate that none of it was extremely pressing. Dentist, roofers and a small parade of other things kept me from starting a painting or Cinefield®. I have slowly whittled the list down and started a new Cinefield®. These are labor intensive and so between the two things, it occurred to me I have not posted in awhile. While my studio is being taken over by sheets of tiny cut out images, i can not paint but I can still draw.

When i do short trips i do not bring my painting equipment with me, opting to just draw instead. Sometimes on longer trips even with my painting equipment at hand the weather conspires against me with rain or dark skies. By complete happenstance I discovered Lyra water soluble graphite sticks. I instantly got into this medium. It allows for painterly effects. I have a travel brush which folds into a tiny tube and this accompanying one of the graphite sticks which are size of fat crayon, now allows me to do monochromatic paintings on even short trips. The added bonus for me is that aside from how compact it is, I can use this medium at night (which I cant with regular paints) and in bad weather.

The expressionistic qualities of this medium greatly appeals to me and conveying emotion in only one color makes it that munch “easier” when utilizing a full palette.

I am already pleased with what I can do but am sure that down the line I will get even better.

In the Car

I have started reading The William H Gass reader. Right out of the gate I found myself deeply enjoying it. One of the first essays is on books which were touchstones for his life as an author. Early on he makes a point of drawing a distinction, it is not supposed to be a “best books” list but rather ones which resonated personally for him and which served in his journey into becoming an author.

He mentions Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. Of the trinity of Flaubert, Balzac and Zola I had always held him in the least esteem (with Zola being, in general, one of my favorite authors). Right before returning to France a few years ago I read the excellent bio on Cezanne by Alex Danchev. Cezanne talks so passionately about Flaubert, i felt the stirrings of considering giving him another try.

That season I kept meeting Helene and Charlie for drinks and book talk. Her admiration of the trio was the inverse of mine. Her description has stuck with me:

“With Balzac, it was all money, money, money if only I had the money. With Zola it was sex, i need power to get sex, I use sex to get money to get power to have sex. But Flaubert, there is an author, the sentences each meticulously crafted.”

I decided to give Flaubert another try. I went to Gagliani and bought Sentimental Education and Bouvard et Pécuchet. I read Sentimental first. It was good, i definitely had more appreciation for Flaubert than I used to. It was Bouvard though which sealed the deal for me. I found the book darkly funny in the way early Celine had been.

What is interesting to me is that when this book is discussed it’s merits are often described via a shorthand of being “funny” ala wacky Swiftian satire. I think people perceive it this way because it and Sentimental Education form perfect bookends. The later is more outwardly “dark”. I like it, but really it is just a romantic era story of squandered potential and the dried up promises of bygone youth. And, of course, the usual chess like romantic patterns of the main characters. Bouvard is actually a darker novel.

Gass has very much same assessment. His articulation spot on and obvious, but not until you have heard him say it.

I would never argue interpretation with someone on art unless they were 100% wrong. With my own work, unlike when I was first starting out, I rarely talk about it. Fascinating though that art can have completely differing interpretations. Is one person wrong or are they merely noticing and emphasizing in talking of it, a different aspect than someone else?

The pandemic has effected people in drastically different ways. I am not talking about how they directly handle it i.e wearing a mask, not wearing a mask et al. Rather, the sea-change that has come over people in regards to their personal philosophy. For some it served as grim reminder that life is fleeting so live while you can. For others, it has served to bring on a sort of cautious vigilance less something else unexpected further swat us down.

A type of cabin fever-life is too short bubbles up in many and temporarily dictates their actions. I find myself getting notes, photos, movies which when looking at, I keep this in mind.

One of the photos which I recently received had an interesting compositional point of balance. I decided to make a painting of it. As i worked on it, I found people all had different interpretations on it. “Hot” “Silly” “Weird” “Beautiful”. Like Bouvard, it has a little bit of everything in it. The main overriding intent is not for me to say as why would I want to make anyone wrong and temper their enjoyment.

“In the Car” 9×12 watercolor & paper

Black Shirt

For me, truth will always be equated to beauty. It is the imperfections of someone you find yourself caring for (or desiring) that your mind calls forth when thinking of them. That crooked smile, a small scar on the chin from scratching too much during bout of childhood chickenpox. Traditional beauty, the yardstick many use in their aesthetic aspirations becomes generic and boring very quickly.

When the more casual art fan is given a bit of art history, almost always a shorthand is used. The impressionists are reduced down to a bunch of guys with beards who used seductive colors in a lush, hazy sort of way. This was one aspect of it. They were the first (building off of their immediate predecessors Courbet 1819-77, Millet 1814-75) to be showing people as they were. There was no idealization of the denizens of the boulevards and theaters. The paintings are stunning but one encounters broken capillary noses, clothes that need laundering, eyes with lids heavy from lack of sleep. It was the real, every day life as they encountered it, caught on canvas.

Since then, every single painter did not stick to this direction. The impressionists freed up art and from aspects of what they did has sprung a multitude of genres, sub genres. But, there will always be a section of painters out there capturing real life with their brushes and pencils. A favorite painter of mine, Wayne Thiebaud is often lumped in as a “Pop Artist-Painter” because of his subject matter, cakes & candies (his portraits are among some of modern paintings best and he should be better known for these). What makes pop art is not what is portrayed but rather an ironic coolness. Thiebaud is not aiming for this but in the tradition of the impressionist portraying his life and what is in front of him.

One of my first times going to the Musée d’Orsay, a painting which held me before it, showed a man in red pajamas not looking very well as he lay covers pulled up almost to his chest. His skin was very pale but with waxy yellow undertones and little suggestions of green. You know things most likely are not going to end well for him and the painting itself is unpleasant to look at but also beautiful in its execution.

One of my greatest pleasures in life is portraying flesh in my painting. I never want to lapse into mannerisms though and so constantly challenge myself. I portray flesh in all its varieties, hot from a blush, pale from sickness, bruised from some mishap. One of the best self portraits I have done and which is frequently used as my author’s photos shows me with a black eye I got. There is no program or symbolism in any of this for me. For this piece, although one could look at it as encompassing all of 2020, it was just meant as a challenge to myself to show one person’s very bad day, the truth being beautiful in its honesty and execution. Terrible beauty.

Black Shirt Watercolor & Paper 9×12

Keeper of the Blue

I have always tried to post new content once, maybe twice a week. This is not for lack of material. Ostensibly, we are all here to connect with like minded people or even better, introduce something about ourselves be it our work or way of looking at life to others who otherwise may not have encountered it.

This seems counter intuitive to a lot of people as the pervading modus operandi seems to be machine gun firing content out, if not hourly then daily. The average person who is actually reading blogs most likely also has other social media sites they are keeping up with, twitter et al. If even half of the number of people one follows takes this approach, it really becomes static-babble. Your follow/like(s) numbers might be up there but how many people are really looking at what you do, how many people are you truly connecting with? I mention all this not by way of complaint but to hopefully help those who are receptive.

Connected to this phenomenon are artists who have things to sell. There is nothing wrong with making people aware of what one does and where others can find it for sale. However, artists should want an audience and not customers. I was shocked when I first joined twitter as it seemed to be a million people shouting “look at me, buy my stuff” (with little if any reciprocation) with the rest of them just posting memes or quotes by others. Again, the machine gun approach to promotion. It’s not effective and depending upon the frequency of chance to purchase promotions, can be a turn off.

For this reason I try to keep my own promotions to a minimum. I want an interested audience and have always been willing to patiently play the long game as is in line with the seriousness behind what I do.

This is one few times I promote. My new Novel “Keeper of the blue” just came out. I am very proud of it. The interesting genesis behind the works’ gestation is briefly explained in my short forward. It is available for Kindle & paperback.

All Night Music &Dance

For my last collage the emphasis was just on doing something lush & beautiful. With this one I wanted to return to my often achieved effect of an open ended narrative. I also have in mind the desire to collage when on the road. With my density achieved via so many small components the amount of time it takes to do the piece would mean that on a shorter trip I would only (if even) be able to do a collage and not also paintings, sculptures et al.

Right now I have two styles of collage. I have mainly been doing my denser mosaic style. The other style incorporates larger pieces and I achieve the density I prefer in my works via distortions of lines and parts. This style is perfect for on the road, while the challenge of getting my preferred density will keep me away from mere mannerisms.

As is always the case with my collages, there is no digital magic. I use my trusty scissors and adhesive applied with brush to photos which I personally took.

“All Night Music & Dance” 11×14

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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