Thursday, September 29, 2011

arms outstretched

I spent two days doing the Open Studios and the past three days stacking piles of wood. Then I slept ten hours to recover and am back in my studio catching up on things. The weekend was, as I described it to friends, a mixed bag, but that is to be expected. I've had some time to process all the various interactions I had with people, both positive and, well, not so positive. Not that I'm trying to keep my posts steadily upbeat, since the life of a working artist is all over the map, but I don't need to elaborate too much on the things that got under my skin. Something's always going to get under your skin when you literally open the door to your work and your space. I've only had the room for a couple of months, and it may only be a few more months, but for now it's mine, small as it is. As de Kooning said, "If I stretch my arms and wonder where my fingers are – that is all the space I need as a painter." While eventually I'll want more space than that (and he certainly procured much beyond that), it suits me well while I'm saving for the next thing, whether that be a future residency, travel, or paying off my student loan. Ideally I'll manage all three.
Ultimately, I had some good conversations, I got to visit other studios in town, always a challenge during the weekend but for me a way to feel connected to my community of artists. And I made some sales, actually, the best of the three years I've participated in this event. There weren't as many visitors to the building, but it's not about quantity. I saw some friends, I made a couple new ones, and the effects usually reverberate for some time after. It depletes my energy but it also replenishes.
The other day I ran into an illustrator/curator/educator friend, who has advised me and encouraged my work for nine years (a considerable chunk of my development), and who had a couple of opportunities up his sleeve for me. He will be curating a new gallery in Westchester and is offering me a slot for a solo show next spring or so. He also may engage me to teach at an arts center down the line. I've never formally taught (just a few workshops), but I think I'd be all right.
Today's images: I didn't post it in June, but this is the 6"x6"self-portrait oil of me and the birdhouse that I painted at the farm, and sold this weekend. The frog, well, you never know who will show up to check out your paintings. Frogs like art too. (Actually this photo, which I'm rather fond of, is also from the barn.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

beacon open studios

It's open studios this weekend in Beacon, so that's where I'll be, in case anyone in my vast readership is in the area and would like to drop by. I'll be there 12-6 both days. I have a good amount of finished work I am showing, and some work in progress. I shan't take too much time to write this morning as I still need to clean up a bit. But not too much, the paint and brushes lying around will lend credence to the story that I am an artist and this is my studio. Welcome.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

palimpsest of images

As it turned out, the book I just began reading, James Rosenquist's Painting Below Zero, starts out chronologically right after the time that de Kooning was getting into his thing (the subject of my last post). In the late '50s, when Rosenquist was in NYC painting billboards while figuring out what his own creative vision would be, de Kooning and the rest of those Ab Ex painters had been rocking the art world with their action brushstrokes, their splatters and "schmears". What came next, partly as a response to this emotion and spontaneity, eventually became known as the Pop Art movement, though many of the artists who are identified with Pop actually differed greatly in their intentions and approaches. They were interrelated to the extent that art began to be about ideas and images again. But images were subverted to mean different things, or to mean nothing.
Rosenquist's first ideas involved the attempt to use identifiable imagery, which for him was culled from the colorful, exciting advertisements of the period, in an abstract way. His aesthetic certainly came from his experience as a sign painter, scaling pictures to a towering size till they didn't look like much up close. You back up and it coalesces into something recognizable, but still banal. In his canvases he placed unrelated images next to each other ('juxtaposing', if you will, though that's a word I've perversely tried to avoid, in my feeling that it's overused), attempting to deconstruct those meanings and create new ones.
Maybe it's because I was recently thinking about abstract art, but I immediately made the connection between these ideas and what I wrote about the earlier "catching a glimpse of something", the ability of a painting to throw you off balance. But the subject matter was evolving to reflect what was all around, the blast of advertising and color and activity, colliding with memory and association.
In my notes and posts I hope to do more than merely reiterate what's already been well-considered and written about. My art education has been underway for around fourteen years, both within school and independently, but as with a lot of things, the perspective of those years spent living, absorbing, and of course making my own work, creates deeper understanding. Also, sure, deeper disillusionment, maybe frustration and the anachronistic feeling I tend to get while reading about the past (did I miss my time? did I miss New York at its most creatively conducive, when artists could actually afford to live and work there?). Still, I like learning more all the time, and it would be intolerably dull to go on about my own work in an isolated context. There will be plenty of opportunities for that, and in the end I have many reasons to be happy enough I'm here now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

tangles of paint, wrestling and nestling

Pink Angels (1945)
Black Friday (1948)

Summer Couch (1943)

"Painting is something that takes place among the colors, and one has to leave them alone completely, so that they can settle the matter among themselves..." (Rilke)
I'm still recovering from seeing the de Kooning retrospective at MoMA yesterday. It fills the museum's entire 6th floor. I went through all the galleries and then staggered out and collapsed onto a bench by the bookshelves, where I remained for an hour until I came back to myself somewhat. I plan to return at some point- it just opened and is up through Jan 9- but I couldn't wait to see it. One might be surprised that I am an admirer of his work, since on the surface there are many differences between his style and my own, but I was drawn to this and to the work of other 'abstract expressionists', such as Krasner, Mitchell, Pollock, Rothko, Gottlieb, Reinhardt, Newman, from the time I first really began to learn about painting.
For me there was an instinctive thrill that overtook me as I looked at their paintings, combined with a desire to learn about what was behind all those sweeping brushstrokes, lush fields of color and seemingly nonobjective shapes, the drips and skeins of paint. I surprised myself, blushing as visceral associations came unbidden to my mind, as I faced the often colossal canvases in their organic, showy physicality. I felt overwhelmed and thoughtful. It was a great counterpoint to the other kinds of art I was taking in, of a more representational sort which would have a more direct influence on my own subject matter. But wait! Wasn't this also observational, in an abstracted way? The imagery had to come from somewhere, and it did. Instead of a long, lingering look, a stillness which, for example, Hopper's work embodies, this was like suddenly catching a glimpse of something, "this flash which seduces," the acceptance of disequilibrium. Once-familiar forms, like letters and words and the female figure, scattered and caught in layers of paint, creating abstract allusions. It's a glance that I get lost in.
De Kooning said once, "Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity." I didn't warm to every painting, in fact, some I turned away from quickly, the way I sometimes must turn away from "the tremendous proliferation of visual sensations" that assault me when I am moving through busy places, or taking in some kind of media stimulation. Yet it's all energy and fire and ugliness and beauty and death, it is the sublime and the ludicrous that comprise a life. I think I am drawn to the long moments of contemplation and stillness that permeate my paintings, the spaces and the time it takes to consider and render an object. The emotion lies beneath a quieter surface.
So perhaps something in me revels in and clamors for the chaos in these lushly painted surfaces that exuberantly and unapologetically betray emotion in every stroke. In other cases, it really is more about the application of paint and structure of line, a rigorous composition of shapes and colors, and I admire these as well, for varying reasons. But this show, this kind of work, gets me deeper down, with those "slipping glimpses" and "slippery blisses," tangles of paint, wrestling and nestling, like "a wind blowing across the surface" of a canvas. Seeing originals which I'd only seen in reproduction is one of the best rewards for going to museums. One painting I knew, Summer Couch, looked completely different in color and scale than it did in my book, but the O'Hara poem which referenced it came right into my head, and I smiled at the wall: "Well, I have my beautiful de Kooning/ to aspire to. I think it has an orange/ bed in it, more than the ear can hold"...
(quotes are notes from the catalog or the wall text)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the spot

The Spot is a new painting on wood, 9"x11". Bliss Coffee Can, 8"x10", is from earlier this year, but I recently reworked part of it and hadn't posted it before, and I like how the two look together. Today I made some new prints (digital inkjet, archival), with the indispensable help of a friend. Prints are for sale directly from me ( and at Clay Wood and Cotton, a store in Beacon, and on their site. I hope to make more in the coming weeks. I will also have postcards of that new blue pickup truck painting (Blue International), which I'll be sending out to let people know about the Beacon Open Studios, happening the weekend of Sept 24-25. The website features a map and info on all the participating artists and other things going on. It should be a good time, there are a couple of parties, and I like seeing other people's work even though it can be tricky to scramble 'round and see other studios while trying to mind your own.
The event, in its 3rd year, reminds me how fun it is to be a part of this community. Especially since so many of us will drop out of sight for a time, making work, living our lives, needing to spend time alone to do what we do, but also needing the stimulation of being around others. At least I need both these things, and I'll wager that others appreciate that aspect of this place, too.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

what the world needs now is..

Here is a painting I did ten years ago, when I lived in the city and everyone was walking around like they could use a hug. Actually it sometimes still looks like that to me. To invoke another song, what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

monumental momentous

Yesterday, after deciding to go to Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre sculpture park not far from Beacon, I realized that the first time I had visited was also a beautiful late-summer day, Sept 9, 2001. I had walked around that day, looked at the sculptures, lay in the grass and wrote for a while. It was sunny, quiet and peaceful and the gently rolling landscape was still bright green, with a tinge of rust here and there. I took a train back to the city that evening, it was my senior year of art school and classes had just begun. Now it is ten years since the attacks of Sept 11. I am sure that most people who experienced it even peripherally, let alone personally, thought about it each year since, but ten is a round anniversary number and so there are more words (and images) out there than usual. From creativity to politics to pensiveness to deep emotion, pain and fear to, well, exploitation, misunderstandings and frustration. Even, sometimes, apathy. At any rate, I was remembering how it was to be at Storm King and then to be in New York that week, to see it happen and how it seemed to change the tone of everything. To add greater or lesser significance to whatever you had done before or would do after. Where were you, how did you feel?
One of my favorite pieces is still Andy Goldsworthy's long stone Wall that serpentines through the trees at the edge of the woods. I also liked Zhang Huan's massive Three Legged Buddha and a mirrored picket fence by Alyson Shotz. From a distance I thought it was grass-colored, then I realized it reflected the landscape and, when I drew closer, myself. I love experiencing the bigness of being there, of wandering the fields and coming upon the monumental sculptures placed around the site, the combination of art and nature and weather.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

plum dumplings

plum ford, 6"x6", from 2010
italian prune plums
buddleia (butterfly bush)

I've finished several new works, but can't post pictures yet because I've temporarily lost the cable to connect my camera and computer. In the meantime here are three purple themed photos and a fond meditation on plum dumplings.
To me, they're another form of art, the kind that fills my belly while linking me to my culinary heritage. But mostly, they taste good and I like making them. My mother learned how from my dad's mother, who brought the recipe from Vienna when they came here in 1938 (my dad was 3). Of us five children, 3 of us love them, 2 are indifferent, and about half of their own offspring are fans. We eat them for dinner (and breakfast), even if some people may insist they resemble dessert. To each his own, I say.
You can make the dumplings with dried apricots or, as I tried recently with fine results, fresh sour cherries, but the classic calls for plums. The small Italian prune plums that surface only from late August through September, so it's a short season during which we'd prepare them as often as possible. There's nothing like cutting into a soft warm dumpling with your fork, releasing a burst of quinacridone crimson plum juice, to make my heart brim with contentment. I think many people have a family recipe that warms them like that.
Here is the method:
12 small firm Italian prune plums, halved & pitted
7.5-oz pkg farmer cheese
1 egg
2 tbs softened butter
2 tbs milk
2 cups flour
2 cups plain bread crumbs
2 or 3 tbs oil
Heat the oil in a big pan and lightly brown the bread crumbs. Set aside. Fill a big pot with water and bring to boil while doing the following. In a bowl, combine cheese, egg, butter, and milk, mix well & add 1 3/4 c flour. Mix with fork, then knead just til dough forms, you may need more flour, I use nearly 2 cups. Roll out dough to 1/4" thick on floured wax paper and cut 2.5" circles. A rolling pin and cookie cutter are nice, but a wine bottle and an inverted glass work fine. Spoon 1/4tsp sugar on each circle and top with plum half, cut side down. With dry hands, pinch dough closed over top of plum, bring in sides and pinch together so that plum is enclosed, no holes or they will open in the water. Drop dumplings in boiling water and boil for about 10 min. You will have to sample one to make sure they are ready, so lift one out with slotted spoon, place in pan of bread crumbs and roll to cover. Place on plate, sprinkle with sugar and taste (it will be hot and hopefully juicy). It should give tenderly beneath your fork, and be warm and sweet. Remove the rest of the dumplings and roll in bread crumbs. Eat as soon as possible. They can be reheated but will not retain the same degree of succulence.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

ready to fumble

Today I drove up to see the Wassaic Project, a residency program, annual art/music festival, and exhibition/installation space that inhabits a large historic mill in Wassaic, NY. I hadn't made it to the festival last month but wanted to see the show before it closes. I liked some of what I saw, very much. After viewing the seven levels of art tucked in nooks, I became thoughtful as I paged through the artist bios. They reminded me of the parallel job an artist faces, alongside the actual making of the art, when trying to build a career. That is, the task of finding and creating opportunities to get the work shown, shared, sold, and talked about.
Looking at artist bios can affect me in two ways. It can be inspiring, checking out where they studied, did residencies, exhibited, applied for grants and so forth, giving me ideas for resources. Or it can make me feel that there's so much I haven't explored and need to do to make any kind of dent. This year I had decided to focus on developing my work itself, spending time in new places and talking to different people, just.. painting. Then I remember I want to get all this new stuff out there, so I renew my research of calls for entry to determine if my work is appropriate and relevant. I've considered (and been encouraged to) approach galleries directly, so must ferret out possibilities. The more people you know, the more possibilities that come up. Typically, I get overwhelmed by the numerous networks, the variety of media available to me, and the energy it all requires.
I've made some progress, more than I could have once imagined (especially in the technical aspect of things) but less than I would like. It's not a matter of self-worth-- I like what I make and how my ideas are developing, even more so after the past few months-- it's a matter of creating an ever-sturdier structure to support myself. Which means more hustling. I didn't check out any art when I was in the city this last time (besides a quirky film, gelato, buying art supplies, and two hours in the Strand perusing books), but everything there kind of pushes up against me anyway, in the way that I need.