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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Roman Senator’s Wife

I am reading Roland Barthe’s Camera Lucida. Some of what he says of photography is equally true of current figurative painting.

Everyone has a phone which allows them to now capture the minutia of their daily lives. This has effected photography as even someone with no artistic inclinations can take a shot which is frame worthy given the right location. now we are witness to location porn or given the ease of snapping photos, luck of happening upon an interesting moment more than compelling individualized photographic voice. Digital photos have become akin to infinite monkey theorem albeit at an extremely accelerated rate.

With painting the negative impact is slightly different. Regardless of an artist’s style, people expect a type of hyper realism, being able to capture and document their lives with a pocket sized device instantly would make anything short of this, espcially when time consuming posing is involved, seem absurd or archaic at best.

To paraphrase Barthes on being the subject of a (portrait) photograph:

I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.

While hyper realism bores me, I do aim for each work to capture the subject’s likeness. Not a disconnect but an unexpected effect sometimes occurs. The subject of a portrait has a definite image of themselves. The artist may notice something physically or psychologically that they do not see in themselves (or like).  The effect similar  to when one hears a recording of their voice. Few think it accurate.

Part of what Barthes has in mind, perception of oneself versus the relationship between artist and subject. With portraits, I want accuracy of portrayal but it has always been that it is the artist describing the subject using their words. Words in this case being the artist’s style/voice. I talk about you but I choose my own words to do so.

This is a 9×12 piece on French cotton paper. The inherent properties of the paper is a softness and delicacy of line.

 

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New pencil stroll

I had been to one of my favorite art supply stores. It’s one of three oldest remaining in Paris. It is very small. I always like the ones which are tiny but organized.

There is the perfume which excites, a melange of pencils, cardboard and that scent paint gives off which in itself is a marriage of several things. The close quarters gives the feeling of being in a warren similar, with  variations, to what each artist will return to with their treasures.

I stood behind a woman whose slowness made the wait seem interminable but which was indicative of the personal service offered up to each customer.

While waiting I grabbed randomly, a fistful of pencils by a company that I knew to be good but had yet to try.

My turn, the heat had made me drowsy. When I’m old and shrunken, if it’s not busy, I will ask to curl up and sleep atop one of the taboret like a cat. For now though, I went afterwards to Marc’s to wake up with some ice cold sancerre  and good conversation.

I did not immediately give any of them a try, nor did I even know exactly what I had grabbed. They were all various “B” (soft lead) pencils.

I greatly enjoy Blackwing Palominos, which i would describe as semi soft with a creamy property. I constantly mix it up with what equipment I use but there is always a Blackwing in my kit too.

The Lyra 669 5 B is made in Germany. It had an easy glide across the paper. I noticed that the first portrait I used it for on 9×12 70lb paper, it had a very graphic look.

I have a thing for pencils which have their own distinctive voice.  It’s great fun to learn when  its specific  properties will best suit collaborating with me on a piece in the same way a musician uses specific instruments for certain type of song.

9×12 quick sketch portrait

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Two

I have a definite methodology to how I work. But on the road there are variations. This is an aspect of how I feel a location should subtly add its flavor to work being done (there). In the states, I do my hour or two of woodshedding at night, the end of my day.

In Paris the lighting is better to do it in the morning with my coffee.

Even in my stateside studio, different times of year present better hours to paint by, as I use natural light to do so. It takes anywhere from three days to a week to really nail down what hours to pick up the brush. I am lucky though, that there are some aspects of a piece that I can do in less than ideal lighting.

I do not go to museums every time I am in France, as I know that I will always be back. Sometimes all I need is the poetry of the streets to inspire.

There is the constant though, of chatting with my peers.

While here, a huge sale by a post-pop artist got us all talking. The question of “Is it art?”

Eventually we all got bored with gnashing our teeth and started discussing nudity in art and the conected social mores in North America.

There is a cyclical debate of what seperates art from eroticism (“dirty” or “porn” labels)

Some say it is merely a matter of intent. This is too simplistic and facilitates filling the room with devil’s advocates and semantics.

Of course,  intent is always important as proven by Duchamp, but a more reliable yardstick which also keeps in mind a modicum of rationality are the components and concept of the work.

A work can seduce or excite but is it doing so because a main componant is titillation? The same question can be asked of shock value. If a work happens to induce heat, then regardless of why, it can’t be “dirty”. Someone setting out first and foremost to excite makes it so that a different label may be appropriate to apply.

Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde comes to mind. It is graphic to some but beautiful, there is no question that it is art.

The first question being asked should never be “Is there nudity?” nor even necessarily “is it art?” but rather, “is it good ?”

Having to ask if it is art is sort of like  guestioning yourself if there has been too many drinks to safely drive home, it becomes almost besides the point.

I used my canson watercolor paper 140 lb. A thing which appeals to me about it is that it’s not temperamental, being effected by wet weather as the French cotton ones that I used to solely use was.

For photos of my work I am just using my phone and as the paper has little tooth, the photos (I never work any digital magic on pics) gives accurate gist of a piece.

Song & Bellissima 5.5 x 8.5 watercolor and paper

 

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Raspberry tart

Where a painter who eventually becomes famous worked/lived does not necessarily reflect their posthumous reputation.  This is because more often than not the factors in no particular order are location, price and availability.

Not apparent from the work with which he became known, Paris was very important at the start of painter Ellsworth Kelly’s career. Several years ago, address in hand, I hoofed it over to this first studio (which remains just an apartment, having probably passed through dozens of hands since he lived there).

It looked just like all the other apartments arround it, neither more spacious nor with better light.

This year having read Jed perl’s excellent book on Alexander Calder, I decided to take a look at where on of his studios was. Once again, it was the same thing with the added touch which I think he would have appreciated, of a Chinese restaurant below his place.

Most people, when they think of an artist’s studio are imagining a large space, perhaps with a skylight or two. Or at the very least something which will look suitably dramatic and cinemesque upon seeing it after the fact.

For every Cezanne studio museum, there is Kelly’s or calder’s.  This is because no artist is thinking in terms how it will look once they are famous and gone. Calder liked most of his Paris studios because they were an easy walk to the cafes he frequented and his friends, yet slightly set back as to avoid the noise keeping him up.

Kelly’s motivation  had been the even more pragmatic financial one.

Another aspect of the painter life which many give no conscious thought to is the personal visual lexicon. This ever growing vocabulary is made up of the intentional such as portraits but also the instinctual. This is the every day as encountered by the painter, not made dramatic but rather it’s beauty drawn out. Cezzanne’s apples, soutine’s elevator operator et al.

The painter is not bragging of the incredible life lived a la some instagrammer’s vacation or food photo. They are recording the every day encounter(s) whether it’s the view from a studio window or some utilized necessity such as hat or groceries waiting to be put away.

I had no ambitions towards this as I had been unaware of the phenomenon until I started practicing it. The concept of “draw/paint from the guts” doesn’t mean to viscerally go at it until some sort catharsis is achieved. This misconstrued point is more about conveying the true, the reality without over thinking it nor worrying about drama.

Now one of my greatest pleasure in life is capturing on paper some little thing as it is from my daily existence. As ever, serving the process has become the pay off to me.

This is my second Paris painting this year. A dessert I had meant to try for a while, which was delicious.

I used 5.5x 8.5 spiral bound canson watercolor  paper 140 lb. When i first started painting i used exspensive blocks of french cotton paper. This was initially my practice paper. Although the paper’s “voice” is inherently different, I have now long used it for fully realized pieces, espcially when traveling.

Raspberry tart

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Paris Painter

I have said time and again, for me truth is beauty. I am interested in the real, real bodies real emotions. Even and espcially those which seem counter to traditional ideas and portrayal of beauty.

This honesty has  always been the facilitators of the emotional resonance that is my raison d’etre for all my work.

By no means am I doing something new. From Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville back to Tintoretto and courbet, honest portrayal of people has been utilized to create a powerful, real beauty made even more so because of the seeming imperfections.  Proudly, I am merely adding my voice to the chorus.

Traditional beauty bores me except in the smallest doses. It’s akin to the frosting flower off of a cake. I’m not adverse to now and then taking a bite, but it’s sweetness has no true flavor.

The thought of using my work merely to shock or insult is anathema to me. I work too hard on my chops and conveying my philosophy for such things.

This is my first painting back in my Paris studio. Unintentionally approp as today is mothers day in North America.

It has been overcast. The sun would come out, then retreat like a shy friend, then blaze too bright to see the paper properly.

I had to go slow,  it ate into my record buying time, but I am pleased to the extreme with the results.

5.5x 8.5 watercolor and paper

Michelle

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