Okay, I missed posting on Friday…

…because I was painting. I have done seven panels this week so far and should have several more done this weekend. I’ll post pictures in a day or two. I’m really pleased with how this series has turned out. I don’t generally like writing or even talking about my techniques because they’re idiosyncratic and unschooled but I’m making an exception because I need to punish myself for not posting yesterday. I find that the more I don’t like talking about something the more people want to hear about that subject so hopefully you will find this interesting even if I feel preposterously pretentious.

To begin I must emphasize that although I have no guru, method or teacher and have found the short path to take at least this long to follow I have been a student my entire life. Also, I don’t truly believe in an inborn ‘talent’ but I do see evidence of an artistic bent running through my genetic relations. My nephew was making fingerpaintings that resembled ancient cave drawings shortly after turning two. Despite suffering from schizophrenia my favorite uncle has sold several works and won awards.
My youngest brother is an art teacher with an astonishing portfolio and a variety of talents. All that being said, I still maintain that whatever ‘talent’ is, it must be exercised. As a child, I loved drawing and making pictures but I hated art class. I remembered that the teacher was always yelling and demanding that everything be just so. I never took another class, but I studied art very closely ever since.

I became fascinated with the many techniques for creating images that artists employed, the way the human brain percieves images, and what images mean to humanity and why they mean anything to humanity at all. I fell in love with oil painting twenty years ago but it took a very long time for me to produce anything that even remotely resembled what I was trying to achieve. There is one canvas that I worked on literally for years, ‘Lily in the Field with Flowers (Private Art is Still Heavenly 1)’ that was the first painting that turned out ‘right’ in the sense that it looked like what was in my head. It took at least three years to finish that painting. During the time that canvas sat in the studio I did many projects and murals including a huge oil portrait I got a couple of thousand dollars for. I also started doing posters and other design work for HeadCheese FatBoss. The canvas mocked me for over two years, never being even remotely what I wanted although never being wrong enough for me to completely discard. It was the obsession that occupied my mind while I did the hundreds of thousands of other brushstrokes during that time period. Then something about those other brushstrokes sunk in and after about a ten hour burst of painting on a canvas I had started three years earlier the finished painting looked out at me. It finally made sense.

For a very long time the most difficult thing has been knowing when something is finished. Even now I will think something is done prematurely, which is still better than continuing after you should have stopped. There have been numerous times when a visiting friend will see the underpainting for a project and demand that I not mar the canvas with another stroke. I often like to paint over collage for an interesting texture and to create another visual layer. Sometimes I’m tempted to just let the collage stand as it is. When you are making art unexpected things happen all the time and it is how you deal with these surprises that really determines what the finished product is. I vividly remember the specific moment that this insight struck me whole and complete, articulating for myself the aesthetic I was trying to put into practice. I was at the MCA in Chicago with Lara at the HC Westermann exhibit. We were arguing about technique and result and she said that she liked to let unexpected things happen. When she said this in that context there was a synaptic surge in my brain where a thousand questions I had been thinking about for years all swirled together into one expressable idea that contained their own single answer. Zen, acting, painting, writing, and life were all one and the same. Expect surprises.

This is why Dali said he was disappointed every time he went into a restaurant, ordered a steak and never had the waiter bring him a flaming telephone book. It’s why DaVinci experimented with paints that began to deteriorate as soon as they dried. It’s why you can stand in front of a Picasso and see where he painted over figures and objects. The nature of experiment precludes the idea of certainty therefore results can vary. The most successful experiments often have unexpected results.

Like any of the arts, people who do not actually create these products do not fully understand the techniques that go into producing them. Even among art critics and culturally clever folks the idea of Renaissance artists utilizing the camera obscura to produce the photographic detail of their paintings was terribly upsetting. They react to the notion as if freehand technique is the only relevant standard by which art can be measured. Anything else is somehow cheating. The truth is that a good artist should feel free to use whatever means they have to produce the image they wish to create. I love the paintings of the great masters and have studied them in great detail and the idea of Vermeer among others utilizing the camera obscura doesn’t seem strange to me at all.

I’m feeling a defensive tone coming on, and it’s because I’ve been using my own camera obscura in the form of a digital projector. I’ve been working in freehand since I could hold a pen and am certainly not abandoning freehand painting-I’ve been working on ‘Hypatia’ for nearly a year and expect to be painting it for at least another year to come with Julia as the model. For this series I’ve gone through years worth of photographs trying to find visually interesting images of my friends. A lot of these photos would be considered ‘bad’ by ordinary standards but I really like how they turned out. Nearly all of them are candid shots from one party or another, some are very close up which washes out most of their faces reducing them to stark detail. The effect is to render these private individuals as larger than life icons themselves, a portrait in oil for our celebrity culture. (I told you I would be pompous and pretentious. You kept reading. Don’t blame me.) It started when I decided I wanted to paint the magazine cover that Kali was on. I thought about rendering it freehand but decided that it would be a time consuming excersize in futility because I wanted elements of the cover rendered exactly and would not be satisfied with anything less. The idea of projection occured to me when I was reading that old New York Times article about Vermeer I linked to earlier. So after I moved in a few months ago I got my hands on a digital projector for a weekend and I did ‘SkinShots (Private Art is Still Heavenly 5)’ using as a base a canvas that had a collage and the underpainting for a portrait of Susan that never quite looked right that has laid about for several years. I shredded the collage and the undepainting layers leaving a varied surface upon which I projected a scan of the magazine cover. I selected elements of this image that I painted onto the canvas and leaving other areas ‘blank’. I was extremely pleased with the result. I then found one of my favorite pictures of Lara and scanned it in. She and I have gone through a lot of changes in the past year and this was one of those times when the paintbrush has been a conduit for catharsis for me. The repeating rhythm of stroking the board with the brush spreading the colors into meaning empties the mind the same way a monk counting his inhalations does. In the empty mind moment when my hand formed her lips without lifting the brush from the wood in a single stroke I saw that the projector was a wonderful tool, but that what actually produced the painting was a quarter century of my life; this image was the result of everything that happened between us, all that I can’t express in words or even understand consciously myself is here. In order for this image to exist I had to be at a party in a loft nearly a decade ago, in order to be at that party I had to be many other places along the way in a chain that stretches through my entire adult life. In order for this image to exist I had to accept everything that came with it. It occurs to me that the model for this painting may well have been accepting a marriage proposal at the same time I was making it, and if this is so I would not be surprised as life abounds with poetic synchronicity. In any case, I am immensely pleased with the painting. These new paintings have the same sort of feel for me, they are immensely personal and intimate as they have all been crafted with a sense of deep love. I will do my best to post pictures tomorrow.

One Response to “Okay, I missed posting on Friday…”

  1. ridwiscuism Says:

    Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.

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