I had many balls in the air these past few weeks including my first smaller trip outside of the city. Slowly, I worked on a painting where I tried a few new things. I am pleased with the results. The camera i had gotten during the pandemic as to be able to properly capture my work ended up being more of a nemesis than help. Despite having done all kinds of research beforehand, it was only after the fact i found out how notoriously difficult that it was to use. I sucked it up and went for a consult, the store owner was helpful, not trying merely make a sale. I ended up with a Sonny which is amazingly easy to use and feels good in my hand too. This is first painting i have used it on.
Slowly whittling down my previously on hold list of mundane but necessary things I had not been able to do while sheltering in place. I’ve managed to keep a steady if somewhat slower rhythm with my work.
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.
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
I have a pretty good rhythm going in what medium I use. Painting, collage..And regardless of what I am working or just finishing, drawing every night. Within each medium I mix things up to keep it fresh. Different types & sizes of paper.
More often than not I prefer not to give concrete explanations of my work. I would rather each viewer forms their own opinions as to what it’s about/means.
“Time of Legend” is not meant to be mocking nor satire. Originally I had imagined the skin to show more signs of sunburn but thought the splotches of angry red would serve as visual prompts for a program which I did not intend.
“Time of Legend” is about someone completely comfortable in their skin. I am sure that there are moments when the model has dark nights of the soul. Unhappy with his lot in life, angry and sad that he will never get the (beautiful) girl or some other type angst. But for this moment, he was satisfied and living the life.
I imagine at the end of the day, he goes home sleepy from the sun, his phone rings. One of his friends desiring the Joie de vivre which he brings with him to gatherings:
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“I just got back from the park, I had the best sausage sandwich, got some sun.”
The news stateside continues to be bleak. Now more than ever we need beauty. Brief glimpses from afar to remind ourselves that the best versions of each of us are waiting to be birthed, that there is something more important beyond the “I” . Beauty need not be a rarefied thing either, it can be an abandoned spiderweb in the corner of a window or even something more mundane or not traditionally considered so. Beauty can touch us all in collective way, resonating differently for each individual.
To continue evolving as an artist during this I continuously challenge myself. I ordered all kinds of paper which I had never worked with before for both drawing & painting. I have never painted on colored paper. First new thing was to try a 6×8 tan paper which is on a block.
It handled very differently, I had to let it really dry between layers which was all right. The blending was also very different from my other paper. The end result I was very happy with. The volume & mass of skin looks a little more expressionistic than how I portray it with other paper, this is not better nor worse, just different. I will definitely continue with this paper. I have tan, grey and brown papers in all different sizes to further explore with too.
I do prefer working on smaller pieces but I feel it important for all artists to leave their comfort zone as it fosters evolution. Pre pandemic I had bought several large hand cut pieces of paper in different styles (cold pressed/hot pressed/cotton etc) with no immediate idea what I would do with them.
This was my first time with this paper which is 22×30 hot pressed and not cotton. It handled very differently but I am pleased with the results. The photo taken was with my phone as to give the viewer the gist of it, the skin in person (or had i a better camera) practically radiates a heat of blood flowing just below the surface.
In the past I have written extensively about how the ready availability of cameras via our phones have made people forget how to look at paintings. People want the same realism in painting that they can achieve with their phones.
This has had a ping-ponged effect to the mentality of a lot of painters. They seem afraid or embarrassed to have a painting or drawing look “merely” like that. It is pursuit of the hyper realism that makes many works by artists who have chops look freeze dried or still born.
The best authors have always been the best readers (diverse and ever exploring & expanding their taste). Painters have their own version of this, which is looking at art. The internet & amazon make it so that even with sheltering in place, one can have a wealth of images at hand to peruse. And there is no longer any restrictions in regards to what one likes or pulls inspiration from. Read any biography on previous eras and the new had to reject the old or face harsh criticisms from peers & critics. Now it is possible to catch a spark from both Rothko & Frans Hals and no one would care. It’s a freedom that’s invaluable.
With no chance of doing my yearly European museum crawl this year, i have delved back into my sizeable collection of art books. Even had i only looked at the images, it served as an empowering reminder:
“It is ok for a painting to look like a painting.”
I recently had done a collage where i sought to intentionally make something beautiful for everyone to look at. I have just finished a series of collages and decided to do the same thing with a painting. I was helped in this by utilizing a long time model, her comfort making it natural, the organics adding to the beauty. I just used my cell phone to take the photo, it gives you the gist of the work but in person (or with a better camera) there is more going on).