After all the time spent on my last CINEFIELD®, it felt great to get back to painting. I feel all the mediums in which I create are of equal value even though some of my audience only knows me through one of them.
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.
I have noticed lately that there are a lot of museum shows & installations “walk through a van Gough painting” type of things using projections and other tech. I am sure this will attract revenue. For anything which is lazy, bad or dare I say plebeian, there are intelligent people out there ready to supply articulation as to justify it. The gimmick as (art) museum show; “This will attract those who don’t usually go to museums.” It is not so much bringing culture to those who normally would not bother but rather a transmutation of it into something akin to the latest block buster movie.
The problem with this is that it makes the artist/work besides the point. It is spectacle as focus and not artist work/intent. The deeper problems with this, as it is many people can not stand in line to get their coffee without keeping their head bent down in their phones as to be blasted by digi-sensations as to distract them from their five minute wait. A Picasso-laser show type thing is further contributing to a complete lack of the public’s ability to “merely” stand and look at a work of art. All art regardless of era and medium has a component of contemplation to it. We are perhaps a few years away from people going to one of the great museums of the world, standing in front of an immortal piece; a Renoir, a Velazquez et al impatiently waiting for the razzle-dazzle to begin.
When reading about art, depending upon where you live, there is a lack of the ability to go out and actually see the painting or works by a specific artist. The internet is good to look something up and get the gist of it, but it can not compete with the real thing. There is a difference. Looking at works mainly online, going to mutli media mutations of an artist’s work have changed what looks “right” or “good” to a modern art audience. They do not want to see brush strokes or other evidence of an artist’s hands which are a part of their voice. A smooth machine like perfection as encountered online, on postcards is what is now preferred.
One could imagine Soutine talking to a gallery owner or museum director and being told “Don’t worry, we will smooth down the rough edges digitally…”
You can’t fight progress nor the populist bent but merely offer an alternative for this willing to explore. The ability to portray flesh in all its beautiful imperfections is something I will never tire of.
Life as we know it has remained if not completely on hold, then altered. The rhythms & goals now a familiar stranger. It had rained off and on, so I did two Cinefield® pieces while waiting for my necessary to paint sunlight. The weather finally obliged me and I went to work on a new piece. With the changes of season the ideal times to paint & to photograph the finished paintings change.
Of course I have this memorized, it has become reflexive, a sort of muscle memory of light utilization. One thing which has always served as a reminder of shortly being about to change my painting hours are activities that I am doing beforehand. Coming back from my Parisian residency heralds a shift, etc etc.
Without all my usual activities as prompters, I found out upon completion of this piece, that I have hit a optimal hour to work change. It was an odd sensation, a bitter taste in my mouth. I will be the first to recognize that many have it far worse than I. It once again firmed up my resolve to put my work out there, not as any kind of cure nor solution but to offer up to all, a brief respite from what ever trials are currently being face.
Traditional ideas of beauty bore me. They blur together into a generic oh-la-la which is not remembered five minutes after it is no longer present. For me, the true, the real, will always be beautiful.
The real serves to facilitate emotion which will not appear prop-like nor freeze dried. When i first started delving into the world of social media I was at great pains to explain that with my pieces which showed real bodies as we all have or encounter, I was not mocking nor satirizing. I do not feel this need any longer and I suspect that what each viewers reaction to these bodies is, says something about them.
Times are still tough for us all. Art & culture serve to offer a way of reminding us of what we all have in common. It also is a place mark for what waits once we do not need to devote the lion’s share of our time to the bad. I do not look forward to returning to “normal” or “how it was” as those times were not great for everyone. I look forward to the time when we can give attention towards helping each other be the best versions of ourselves. In the meantime, I offer up my beauty for all.
I decided to work in a slightly different way with this painting. Most likely to the viewer it will just look like another of my paintings with no radical visual departure.I noticed a difference and will switch back forth between the two methods. Varied approaches are another thing which will allow me to keep things fresh. I want to create and not produce paintings.
The sky has finally stopped looking like a martian dawn. I was able to finish the painting which had been on hold for what felt like forever. It was an odd sensation having a painting quarter of the way worked on and having put it aside due to circumstances beyond my control.
I feel fortunate that I had other mediums I could do while I waited (collage & my daily drawing). Finally was able to suss out how to use my new slr camera. I think the photos really show you depth and detail better than i had previously capture with my phone.
“Orange Cardi” 9×12 Watercolor & Multi Media Paper
All the mediums which I work in are of equal importance to me. I get as much pay off putting pencil nubbin to scrap paper as an accomplished portrait. One of my biggest joys of which I never tire is portraying flesh via paint.
I never think in terms of “beauty” in the traditional sense of the word. Western idealized beauty very quickly becomes boring (same old-same old). I would rather an emotion which is real because truth is always beautiful. It is for this reason I largely prefer to work with people in my life as there is a trust there and they feel free to let their emotions be real in front of me.
For my painting I only ever use natural sunlight. I noticed at the start of this work that where the sun is when is starting to change. It appears the summer has snuck away.
A painting of a woman (or anything) is not a woman but rather a thing unto itself, offering up an emotional pay off not limited to the specific real life moment of the subject. The subject is merely the starting point. Art allows for a great myriad of feelings to come forth, more than a photo. Onion like in layers, of emotional cadence, there is also the injection of the artist’s voice to the subject. This allows a viewer to return to a piece multiple times, finding new things and creating a different narratives in their head.
Emotion should not strive to encompasses any type of perfection, the same with beauty. I always aim for a truth in my work, honesty inherently being beautiful. Emotion, even the seemingly “negative” ones appeal to me to portray for this same reason.
This is my third tan paper piece. I was very pleased with it. It is my voice, the same effect as a musician switching instruments to play a different type of song.
I greatly admire the work of Jenny Saville. I was given one of those huge, beautiful coffee table books on her work. She works in a very different manner than I (this book was not of her recent work, so I am only speaking of this moment of time, no idea if she has changed). For some of her portraits, she would take photos from medical books of grimacing mouths and use those for subject’s mouth as opposed to just painting the subject’s mouth as it was. A lot of portraits in the book were pieces where the subject looked as they are in real life but a lot of the attributes were Frankensteined on from other source material.
I have no desire to work in this manner, i do not know that I even could. But, it did inspire me to do another of my close up portraits. One of the genre of portraits I do is a compositionally tight shot so that it is not necessarily immediately apparent what the viewer is looking at. One of my great joys is in portraying flesh in my works. With these type of portraits, it forces one to really nail the effect as the viewer does not have the usual visual clues which serve as a short hand in revealing what they are looking at (i.e an identifiable limb such as a hand or foot et al).
My original conception for this piece was to had a bit of canvas on either side of the body which would have been a different color and served as a clue. I decided to tighten the shot into more of a zoom.
I am very pleased with results. Long story short, this photo was not taken w/my new camera but rather my phone. You very much get a sense of the flesh and the blood below the surface, in person there is even more going on.
“Ils s’appellent Zabbahdoo 2” 9×12 Watercolor & paper