Monday, May 28, 2012

way to grow

Summer has burst onto the scene, hotly and unapologetically. Plants double in size overnight. My mother's garden overflows with flowers. I tromped through the tall grass gathering daisies and wild phlox. In the garden of friends in Beacon, peonies and irises have been nodding over the ground, heavy with petals. Vegetable seedlings shoot skyward while weeds try to assert themselves against our valiant eviction efforts. I stopped by two farms I like, hoping for rhubarb, but it's late this year due to weather so I'm still waiting. I heard strawberry picking may be sparse for the same reason, which worries me, but I am a passionate devotee of strawberries and will find a way. Even without a garden of my own for the time being, I have resources. 
I have never actually owned a large plot, only a lovingly tended scattering of flowers, herbs and tomatoes clustered around my rented stoop the four summers prior to this past one. But I can apply my enthusiasm and elbow grease to other people's gardens in the meantime, and help them eat the bounty later in the summer if it comes to that.

I just began reading a book I found at a used-book sale yesterday, of art criticism/essays circa 1935-75 by the painter and critic Fairfield Porter. I like his paintings, and the fact that he was also an artist made him a better writer. He understood, and could write more directly, about the energy between what an artist can control and talk about, and what actually happens in the painting. Usually that gap eludes critics who focus more on the formal elements when discussing a work of art. He avoided excess adjectives, which in their preoccupation with those elements attempt to characterize a work without finding its energy. The book's introduction by Rackstraw Downes, another artist I dig, likens this to "the gap between the recipe and the dish". To someone who has been known to wield a paintbrush in one hand and a spatula in the other, this makes perfect sense. Just like planting seeds. There's a chemistry, a science to be sure, but there's something else happening, mysterious and thrilling.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

boot camp

Time to get this artist's arse whipped into shape. I just got accepted to NYFA's boot camp program for artists based in New York State! It is an intensive weekend upstate in June, two days of classes, training, networking and other stuff I don't do very often. It focuses on the professional and business side of the creative practice. They say I can expect it "to spark goals and help to define concrete steps while providing individual and group feedback." Plus there is an event in July at Golden Artist Colors, maybe involving free paint (I made that part up. But we do get a free book, called The Profitable Artist, which may sound like a contradiction in terms but it is my modest dream). I thought this sounded like a really useful program for me to do as a follow-up to the residencies, which were more about making new work and being immersed in different environments, as well as meeting people. I will get to do that here too, and hopefully work on some of the business aspects that stymie me so. I am excited.

Monday, May 21, 2012

circus tents

The past week, between weeding people's gardens, sanding/repainting rusty metal chairs (a long-delayed project), and a city day, I painted this oil, 30"x36". Below are 3 detail photos (which I also like as compositions in themselves) and then the complete painting.

 This piece is unusual because one, I don't often work this size (and I loved doing so); two, the image is based not on my own photo or experience, but on someone else's photo I found online. I feel slightly awkward about this, though I suppose other artists/designers do the same. While it is my own hand-drawn and painted composite, I stuck with her perspective & framing. I was inspired by the circus theme of a show a friend is curating, which I may or may not be in (I think she'd need a smaller work). Usually I have the opposite problem, in which my little paintings get lost in a room of larger art.
 The colors differ on the screen, but that's okay. I am interested in the strong graphic nature of the shapes and lines, how they converge, how the vibrant foreground colors fade as they recede in the distance on a cloudy white-sky day.
  I could make a painting just of circus flags and tent tops. I did one years ago of some tents glowing on a dark summer night, from my memory of sitting atop a hill at a music festival. It didn't fit with anything else I was working on at the time. Now I am wondering how to cohere the differing approaches so they are of a whole. Some works establish a distance from you; others pull you in on top of them.

The whole painting. If the photographer somehow comes across this, I hope that it'll be taken in the spirit of a shared visual reference point.. mutual appreciation for a certain perspective. Step right up.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

yellow there

Today was rainy, warm and gray. I wondered what I might come up with if I searched my photos using the word 'yellow', just to brighten things up.
this was the first photo I took with my new digital camera, in the parking lot. 2 yellow cars AND a yellow line

yellow luncheonette sign leaning against an old barn

yellow building in Hudson (ended up being part of a painting)

yellow/black '55 Ford (unless my notes are wrong) at car show

it was not a cake shop. But it was a blank yellow sign

old yellow cab in a junkyard. Good rates

yellow awning on a bright day in Truth or Consequences, NM

yellow tractor painting 8"x10" from 2006
yellow (and other colors) spring cookies

Sunday, May 13, 2012

mindful delinquency,or, "it's the light, dummy!"

"We're trying to think how to describe what exactly you just did to the dummy light," someone said to me. Another suggested the second line as a post title, so there it is. Whatever you call it, from 'unauthorized refurbishment' to 'guerrilla painting', it's done now, in broad daylight and while wearing an orange safety vest, which appeared to legitimize my presence.
After several years of regarding the Beacon dummy light's increasingly shabby concrete base (mostly just chipped, peeling & sun-faded paint), it really looked like it could use a sprucing-up. I know my paintings indicate my affection for aged surfaces, but this was just deteriorated. As I recently posted, I'd made a painting (and then a shirt) OF the light in '09, but it was a friend who casually suggested I repaint IT, as it is. I wanted to execute the plan, but wondered whether to seek city approval or just go ahead and do it. Finally I borrowed a sander, bought the paint and set up traffic cones, hoping my respectful and accurate paint job would smooth away doubts.
To clarify, it isn't that I have any fundamental attachment to the dummy light. I'm not even one of the many people who drive by it several times a day, nor did I grow up here. When I first saw it upon my arrival in town, I liked it because I like old things with history. Then, because it wasn't operational, the city shrouded it in black plastic until they got it working again, I think due to the mayor's efforts to preserve the historic, yet humble, structure. It stands alone in the middle of an active, though not busy, intersection. I liked the idea of repainting it as a subtle means of drawing appreciative attention to the light, as a mild kind of performance art, and, hopefully, as a small gift to Beacon.

I began shyly, which was ridiculous considering I was in the middle of the street with people walking by and cars constantly turning around me. Once I got absorbed in painting, I lost the self-consciousness and smiled and nodded at passersby. After the positive comments started trickling in (many shouted from open car windows), I began to relax. A couple friends gave me donations towards the 'refurbishment', and the paint store owner contributed a can in support. When the councilman stopped by and took my picture, I knew it'd be okay. I believe this means I am not a true rebel. But I don't really position myself as such. I just enjoy the occasional gentle subversion.

Monday, May 7, 2012

garden-variety nostalgia

I just read Truck, by Michael Perry, published in '06 but I only recently came across it. One of the several threads running through the tale is the process of restoring his 1951 International pickup and getting it back on the road. With humor and affection he describes the truck's history and that of the International Harvester Company, interwoven with stories of his rural Wisconsin life. Love, gardening, and the nature of nostalgia are other themes. No surprise that I fell for the book. I chuckled aloud many times, and there were passages familiar to my own sometimes inexplicable, but ineffable, sense of nostalgia.
At one point while in NY he makes a visit to the Whitney especially for Hopper's 1948 work Seven A.M, which he had seen once before and longed to view again. I also like the painting a lot and I post it here for those who don't know it.
 "I see Hopper's white clapboards and I know exactly how their paint will smell in the afternoon sun..." He connects to so many elements of the painting; it elicits such tangible memories for him, some he can explain, some are beyond explanation, which I understand.
"What I get," he writes, "is the sense of waiting, of stillness, and how it feels when you rise with the sun and find yourself apparently in sole possession of the world."

I won't excerpt the whole thing, but I feel that he gives as sensitive and thoughtful critique of the painting as anything I have read concerning Hopper's work, and anyone who knows my own paintings can imagine I've read a fair amount. These few lines, possibly out of order and conflated, I've no need to further expatiate on. He suggests, "We sort the past in an attempt to sort the present and anticipate the future... The hope is that by inhabiting moments that are unavailable- because they are in the past or never existed at all- you will be arming yourself to recognize the real thing in real time. That you might recognize the moments you long for when they are happening."

Personally I identify, and that might be because the author is, at the time of the writing, only a few years older than I am now, and that is part of the incongruity. We both find a path to our own memories by means of these old pictures and objects. However, I think plenty of older people revisit their memories simply (if poignantly) as a means of connecting to their past selves. To think, reflect and dream.

I am reasonably sure I will return to this again, particularly because I like the idea of learning to recognize the 'real thing in real time, as it is happening' in my life. I am reminded every day that there are limits to the usefulness of getting lost in thoughts of the past, while acknowledging that some memory-traveling journeys are integral to my process.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

happy blogiversary

A year ago today, I woke up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, on the first day of my one-month artist residency. This also means that my blog is one year old, as I started it right before I left. The prospect of 2 consecutive residencies (my first) in interesting places provided the impetus to begin. Here's the link, I think, to my first few posts. I am feeling a bit nostalgic for my time there, but I know I will make it back eventually. What a wonderful month it was! I am continuing to draw on my photos and memories of the place as inspiration for current work. Also, it is a reminder that I can make stuff like that happen for myself if I really want to, even if it means 'upending my stability' as I put it (and it is still rather upended).
As for Open Studios this past weekend, it went well and I am mostly recovered. This part of the job always does tire me out, but it energizes me too. Talking to people, both at the pop shop where I showed my paintings, and at the parties in between. I get good ideas if I can only remember them. My mother kept me company much of the time, which was so nice. I sold some work; also rather nice. Yesterday to balance out all the talking, I spent hours quietly weeding in a friend's garden.