Two Tales: Vertical intoxication/Elation

I can fully appreciate nature. It offers a different kind of inspiration than that of the man made kind. However, I can only go so long without concrete under my feet and the smears of neon streaking the air like forgotten halos.

When based out of Europe some of my friends teased me about this but for them, coming to visit me was their vacation, so it’s understandable that they wanted to see things as would not be encountered elsewhere. A few hours train ride and you can get your fill of mountains, Forrest or ocean. I enjoy it for a day or two, all of it being bearable as I have my pencil in my pocket along with its accompanying little sketch pad.

Right by one of my Parisian watering holes they put up a plaque a few years ago for Poulenc, who had lived in the building. When all his peers were going to Italy, the warmer climes of the South of France & Brazil, he largely preferred to stay in Paris with the concrete under his feet and the availability of a place to stop for a drink every few feet. Now further inoculated against the good natured teasing I swim through the currents of streets and alleys which I could probably now do blindfolded.

“Ok, have fun in Giverny, I am around just working, drop me a line when you guys get back.”

“It’s going to be hot, you sure you won’t come, we can catch a later train.”

“No thank you, I am just working.”

One can not become a connoisseur of a thing without a component of snobbishness. It is an earned right though and so long as it’s not utilized against anyone else, is permissible. I like all kinds of cities and feel the better ones all have something visually to offer by way of inspiration.   The older ones, aside from their obvious architectural attractions, have their winding streets and the sense of happy ghosts. The newer ones, a vertical frenzy, which  when done right is a poem, when wrong (as is the growing case with San Francisco) a generic sprawling mess of metallic stalagmites.

I tried some new things with both these collages. Both are 12×17. As is always the case, I used no digital magic. My trusty scissors & adhesive applied by brush to photos which I took. Two urban valentines of a favorite city.

 

“Our Story” & “What Do You Need Two Lighters For?”

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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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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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Sabre Dahnce

The shock on their faces as she broke into her famous sabre dance, then after we ate kabobs while listening to the soft laughter of the rain hitting the streets and the murmuring of a phone left off the hook.WWolfson

9×12 Watercolor & Multi Media Paper

 

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Dior Glasses

There is a pleasure to exploring when on the road. A different but equally satisfying thing is to have places all over the world where one is known, a regular. This is a self portrait of me at one of my favorite places while on the road.

Watercolor & Multi Media Paper 9×12

 

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The Sea (for Kini)

I used to do large paintings, acrylic on canvas. Door sized things. I was not very good at the time and I sometimes think the real art was in the making of the pieces as I often had an audience. Everyone liked the works but I think it was being caught up in the moment or after the fact, remembering the time.

I got serious about painting, I got good. I am far better with watercolors than I ever was with acrylics. I got rid of 95% of my old works.

My paintings and drawing tend to be far smaller now. my largest graphite pieces are 9×12 with the paintings being 7×10. (more often than not 5.5×8.5)

I have a logic to this. I want the viewer to feel as if ease-dropping in on whatever scene I am putting forth. As important as the emotional effect, i have the first time or new collector’s in mind.

When  first getting into art there is a vague sense of what one likes. The more you delve into art, the more exposure you have, the palate becomes fuller formed. To get one of the larger pieces so en vogue when first starting out, you run the risk of it dictating the timber of a burgeoning collection.

I want a collector to live with my works, not under them. For people where space is at a premium, the now seemingly typical big-boys dominate a room. The real big pieces, you have to almost put goggles over the mind’s eye, you stop noticing it except for rare instances and this defeats the purpose of having art.

With my now firmly established voice, I have no idea if my technique would even work with large pieces. As a challenge for myself I have decided to do a few larger (for me) pieces. Regardless of whether I can make it work, I still do not see myself going as big as is popular. Bigger is not better it is just “more”.

This is my first “big” piece.

The Sea (for Kini) graphite & paper 14×17

 

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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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