Two exhibits with opening receptions both this weekend. Look closely and find something new in each …
In both cases, a work is exhibited not in metal, my preferred method, but in simple, framed ink jet. This will henceforth happen more often; I’m making a concession on several fronts.
First, I can’t make metal prints myself. Farming production out requires lead time. In the case of the Columbia exhibit, I had a matter of hours from the time I determined to submit a particular work to the time it had to be there. A high-quality photo ink jet printer simply means I can respond faster to the marketplace.
Second, the kind of metal work I prefer takes a great deal more cash, both on my end and the consumer’s. More than once friends have lamented that they just can’t afford the metal prints I’ve offered. And, of course, if they don’t sell after multiple viewings, I’m stuck with eating the costs of both the print and the frame it’s attached to (they’re effectively welded together). The work exhibiting in Jefferson City, ‘Wanderers’, I’d previously submitted as a framed 5x7 metal print that’s actually a Christmas gift for somebody who consented to allow me to exhibit it first. There is more capital invested in that small work than in the 11x14, matted print in its 16x20 inch wood frame that’s on exhibit now. Had that size work been submitted in metal I’d be asking at least three times as much (and it’s been suggested I’m not asking enough for the ink jet print as it is). If it doesn’t sell, I can still reuse the frame.
I’m not abandoning metal – I will still use it when I want to really make a splash, and I will continue to recommend to buyers that they order work in metal. This is an expansion into new markets. Sure, let’s call it that!
One more variation of the little guy. Once I’d created him for the T-Shirt submission I couldn’t stop customizing him.
The original photographic capture was made before Puck (yes, that's my dig's name) was quite a year old. There wasn’t any art to it; it was just something to share on Facebook, and I added it to my portfolio simply because it was there. The pose was perfect for the T-shirt design I wanted, the glasses came from free-to-use clip art which I added a curvature to, and I used a series of techniques to add abstractions to the creation. Once I had the T-shirt character complete, it just seemed to me Puck needed a work all his own, which led to the creation of this work.
Plus, I needed an alter ego …
* * *
This time of year is already the darkest, gloomiest of the year. Holiday joy has dissipated, and once the Christmas lights and decorations go away it’s apparent just how cold and dead the world is. It was made all the more so with news that the Art House is closing.
The Art House in Fulton is one of the galleries I routinely exhibit at. It’s run entirely by volunteers, and they made the decision that sales just have not justified its existence. You can only beat your head against a wall for so long.
Fulton, Missouri is one of those unique small towns with what I would call a bit of a schizophrenic personality. It sits about 20 miles east of Columbia with its universities and bustle and progressive perspectives; it has two colleges itself – Westminster, home to the Churchill Museum, and William Woods. There’s a definite feel of liberal arts and progressiveness, at least around the gallery itself.
Get much outside of those pools of wisdom and intelligence and this is an unmistakably red county, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say-no-more.
Declining sales are something I’ve noticed at a number of local galleries. Some are trying new exhibition strategies of late and are experiencing better results. There is a thought that a downturn in sales of art is a precursor to encroaching economic recession, or worse – something many economists have been predicting due to current political policies. It is indeed the case, that many ‘red’ counties and states tend to support exactly the policies that keep them economically and sociologically stagnant. I just hope Art House is not the first domino.
The winner of my local art gallery’s 2020 T-Shirt design contest is, well … me! Capital Arts invited artists to submit designs for their annual T-shirt, sales of which helps keep the gallery running. The invitation hit me just as I was trying to start last year’s sabbatical, so my agenda was open, and ideas leapt straight into that void. I cranked out, let’s see, one-two-three-four-five-six designs or variations in just a few days. I’m actually pretty happy with the entire exercise, delighted with the designs themselves and thrilled by the recognition. I’ve placed each design in the above slide show – see if you can guess the winner …
* * *
The main thing I seriously wanted to be when growing up was a car designer. I’d always had an eye for it. By my early teens, I could identify the make and model of a car by the taillights at night from three blocks away; I was simply in tune with the shapes and styles of each design. Granted, this was growing up in a tiny little farming village (pop. 700) in the ‘60’s when there was basically just Chevy, Ford, and Dodge, but still. To this day, walking through a car lot is like walking through an art gallery. I had pages and pages of sketches strewn about the floor of my room.
The thing about those sketches is that they were intensely childish; just very small little side-views of car designs I had in mind. More than once I was told that they all looked the same, whereas I would look at them and see enormous variations. As with my interest in art itself which the car designing lead to, there were no mentors; no one to show me how to sketch an automobile three-dimensionally. No one to teach me how to take the vision in my head and commit it to paper.
Later, in high school, I was drawn to graphic arts – that was a medium that was actually attainable. Once my tiny little school (student body, 126) consolidated with nine other towns to create a larger school there was even a course in graphic arts. The interplay between font-image-text became the driving interest. So when Capital Arts announced its T-shirt design contest it flicked all those old triggers. I knew exactly how to attack this. I actually had to force myself to stop coming up with new designs and take the damn sabbatical!
The visual arts were always my strong point. But graphic arts led to journalism and newspaper/magazine layout, and that led to writing. And I had to change the world. I had to become a writer. And thus the visual arts became a hobby. Well … became a hobby for a while.
* * *
OK, the winner was the puppy design – I probably gave that away just by listing it first. Plus, I’ve been using a variation of it all over the place, so it was likely obvious. The T-shirts themselves will be available at the gallery at a later date. Or will be if I don’t buy too many of them myself!
We tend to think of art, especially photography, as being sized to a specific ratio in order that the work can be easily framed in standardized sizes. I confess, when I’m cropping a work I do exactly that; it’s just easier if indeed the work is going to be reproduced in the analog. It doesn’t always work that neatly – today’s work is an example. It’s a little too tall to fit a 1 by 3 ratio, and a little too short to fit 1 by 2. This work began as a capture of a local garage band called ‘Toasterbath’, which I always thought is a great name, playing a gig at a community festival. If they want to put it on the wall next to their first gold record they’ll have to have it custom framed.
* * *
One of the great joys in my life has been biking out on the KATY Trail along the Missouri River. Rich, sunlit days peddling along miles from a trailhead, completely isolated, nobody around, surrounded by fields or bluffs. Brilliant days! A decade-and-a-half ago, due to arthritis in my shoulder and neck, I found it necessary to switch from bikes to performance recumbent trikes, specifically Catrikes, but that was a good thing because the Catrike is a spectacular ride! No stress at all on my shoulder or neck and an almost effortless pedal stroke so long as the ground is dry (recumbents are horrible on muddy ground).
Unfortunately, a couple years ago the arthritis just exploded down my back. It wasn’t the spinning that became a problem, it was the lifting, stooping, extending required to get the trike to the trail. The twisting stresses inherent in trail rides were also didn’t help. Trikes are too low to safely ride on streets, so it was the trail or nothing, and as it was going, nothing is exactly what I was doing.
I’ve always purchased and customized my bikes at Walt’s Bike Shop in Columbia, Missouri – they’ve been excellent at setting up my bikes and trikes – I like all my breaking and gearing hardware on one side and they’ve engineered that perfectly. After a period of watching the Catrike gather dust in a corner it dawned on me I could take it to Walt’s and trade it for a stationary exercise recumbent and actually get myself back into some semblance of activity.
What strikes me in retrospect was the dispassion with which I navigated myself out of one of the most beloved parts of my life. My self-identity has been strongly connected with riding. It was, ‘this no longer works so let’s do this instead’. No emotion involved. A completely logical decision. It wasn’t until I had loaded the trike up and was driving it to Walt’s to make the trade that the emotion hit me. When I handed it over I felt like crying.
Yeah, what I said in my last post; forget about most of that. Or rather, it’s a teaching moment.
I couldn’t leave alone my last work, ‘Souls At The Moment Of Night’. The original photographic capture in that work was so good I was going out of my way not to do anything that diminished it. In my dissatisfaction with the outcome, this time I’ve gone completely the opposite direction, starting again with the original, only slightly enhanced, capture. Then I exploded it, fully employing radical abstraction techniques with which I’ve been experimenting.
‘Souls At The Moment Of Night’ leans photographic. This work, ‘Gateway Into Night’, leans artistic. Together, they illustrate a broad range abstract realism may take, or at least may speak to the artistic process. Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground; no mediating identity to intercede between the two divergent personalities. Further reinforcing my self-identity as a great bunch of guys.
The intrigue behind this work is how much time I spent on it for not a whole heck of a lot going on.
The St. Louis skyline near sunset from the roof of The Last Hotel – I knew it was a good capture the moment I grabbed it. It turned out to be such a good photograph there seemed little ‘art’ I could drag out of it. It was already art, so it said to me. I worked for hours and had only managed a few subtle enhancements, and even that was using in the background some of the extreme abstract techniques I’ve been working with these last several months.
Hence, the dilemma of intervention; the photograph is the starting point. And from there, it’s judging how far to take the photograph to reveal the art. Sometimes, little is required.
That’s the problem. As a photograph, it was pretty, it was a nice travelogue shot, it was a study in perfect camera craft, and did nothing to push boundaries or see anything new. Yeah … no, can’t settle for that, no sir.
I fixated on the eeriness of the city undergoing its night metamorphosis. I created separate copies and applied different techniques to each, then blended them together. Even with all that, the changes are STILL subtile. The perfection of the initial photograph dominating the work, to the extent that the abstracting may seem as add-ons rather than part of a unified vision.
Yeah … don’t know that I like it. Maybe, in the great scheme of things, good photographs make lousy photo art. Should I have been satisfied enough with the initial capture? Why did I have to go off on some vision quest? Then again …
And so, for the year, these were my best, as I see it (scroll down to see them all).
Somebody else might choose a different six (why top six instead of top five – I’ll get into that). Three of them have already hung in galleries, and a couple others will likely do so in the months ahead. I’m not always the best judge of my own work so I SHOULD be more introspective before rushing a work into production. But sometimes, you know. You just know.
Months or years later, sometimes what you ‘know’, you know is actually crap. And you find stuff you ignored that you know is great, and don’t know why you didn’t know that then.
I know enough to know that I know nothing. But here’s what I know right now …
6. Tornado Plate 75
The best five I selected did not include one of the tornado shots, which struck me as inappropriate, as the tornado series was a cornerstone of my year’s work. So, I increased the Top 5 by 1 and designated number 6 for the tornado series. Of those several dozen works it was difficult to choose a ‘best’ – a number of them were gut wrenching for the people affected. The building closest to the viewer is the former Avenue HQ building, a cultural site for artists, theater, gatherings, and other community-based events. It’s gone now. Razed to the ground. It might have been salvageable at first, but heavy rains got into it before repairs could begin and that pretty much sealed its fate.
I processed the Tornado works in black and white and chose to push all of them into the near-infrared spectrum.
5. The Dreamer
Over the past couple years I’ve worked on techniques specifically for depicting animals that on the one hand place the creature into an artistic, dreamy context while at the same time maintaining a high degree of realism. I thought this work of a leopard sleeping away the morning at the St. Louis zoo was a particularly successful rendering of these techniques.
4. Winter War
I was happy with this work both in a photographic and an artistic context. As a photograph, I was able to capture a blizzard scene with a longer exposure that caused falling snow to look like missiles streaking towards the earth. But it was also a hand-held shot, and the camera remained steady enough to capture the trees in sharp detail (I added some blur around the edges later in processing).
As an artist, the white balance of the camera was seriously out of whack due to the low light and the longer exposure. Plus, with the world essentially white, there was little to no texture in most of the image. I was able to correct the white balance and bring in some of the eerie pink light present in the night sky, plus add texture to the final work that added just enough of a dreamy, abstract quality.
3. Peaceful Tides
Cheating. I’ve said this before. Some subjects are so gorgeous any schmuck can point any camera at it and get a beautiful shot. Florals are among those subjects. Cheating. But I can’t resist, and it was a good year for florals, as I mentioned in my most recent post, I’ve added 18 of this year’s works to my portfolio. I experimented with lighting and focus in florals this year, leading to the number of new portfolio additions. I was extremely pleased with this particular work – I’d count it among my best florals.
Every artist can point to a handful of works – I can think of three or four off the top of my head – that changed everything. Maybe not even their best work, but a work, after which, nothing else they did was quite the same. And when they hit it, it’s like a new door, flooded with light, opening. This one did that for me. I was having a seriously bad reaction to a new prescription drug at the time, so I was all over the place mentally and, juxtaposed to ‘Peaceful Tides’ above, this was not a scene flush with beauty and wonder; it’s a concourse underneath Busch Stadium – how does one find art in that? That, in fact, is what drives me as an artist; finding the art in ordinary things. The original photographic capture seemed to have nothing to recommend it. My scrambled brains went in every direction, using rarely applied techniques, to drag something aesthetic out of it.
And drag something out it did. Nothing I’ve done since has failed to draw from the lessons of this work.
1. The Chalk Artists
And so shortly after ‘Passerby’s’, using what I’d learned from it, I created this. After experimenting with thousands of works over decades of time, I count this as one of my best. Maybe even THE best, A lifetime of seeing the world differently, constantly expanding on that vision, constant experimentation, constant progression. It all came together here. Maybe that’s just hyperbole and it will dissipate like the caressing steam after a hot bath. But right now it feels awfully good.
One has to be careful with retrospect. The obvious cliché’s (‘living in the past’, ‘something behind might be gaining’) carry a large dollop of unsavory truth. But every year I do it anyway, at least as far as my art goes.
Each year, I look for the cherries. The works that strike me now as successes, and I chalk the rest up as learning exercises. This year I’ve completed 172 works, of which I posted 135 on this blog, some in slideshow form. Of the rest, six are waiting for the new year, two dozen were part of my tornado series and simply haven’t been exhibited, and the rest I just wasn’t happy with. That’s still a lot for an artist, and it underscores a fundamental characteristic of photo artists: the computer works much more quickly than brushes or clay. There’s good news and bad news in that statement that will wait for further analysis.
Of those works, I’ve chosen to add 83 – a little less than half – to my portfolio; also a lot compared with past years. The biggest portion of those fall into the Floral category, which supports my feeling that floral works are almost cheating. Like sunsets (any schlub can point a camera at a sunset and get something beautiful from it).
Noirs are the next largest additions, but that’s due to the tornado series.
It was new techniques applied primarily (at least for now) to Cityscapes that I’m most proud of; something I’ll get into another time.
I’ve identified 25 of those 83 additions to my portfolio as my best of the year, at least as my own eye goes (and my own eye is not always the best judge). These are the works most likely to make it into a gallery. Numbers 7 to 25 are part of this slideshow; I’ll post the top six on New Year’s Eve.
The act of retrospect is like looking through a telephoto lens – it pulls forward imperfections as well as accomplishments. When my mind drifts back, and drifts outside my art, it is not happy. I have not been a particularly good human being. Over the years, especially my younger years, I have treated a number of people shamefully. I’ve been shallow and self-centered and cowardly. I’ve been two-faced and engaged in backbiting and slander. I can’t do anything about any of that now. Now, all I can do is try not to repeat it. Now, all I can do is try to give something beautiful back to the world. No one may care, least of all anyone I’ve hurt. Perhaps ‘art’ is in and of itself a selfish act. All I can do is try.
OK, quick re-write …
What I’d written was:
Then, not intending to create new over the holidays, I did anyway, and found some of the lighting I wanted, and cropped it the way I wanted. So, you see, another characteristic of photo art is that it’s really absolutely never finished. Of course, da Vinci held onto some works throughout his lifetime, continuously making changes or adding layers as he went, the Mona Lisa included. So I guess I could say no art is ever finished until the artist lets go of the damn thing. (or, as in da Vinci’s case, dies).
Symbolically, this work should be a reminder that, for most of us, the holidays are a time of great joy and reconnection with loved ones. But not for everybody. As society goes skipping down a particular path, there’s always some left behind. They have no loved ones or feel they don’t. There is no joy in their lives. They feel … left behind. Irrelevant. Over the edge.
Savor the joy but recognize the juxtaposition. The bear is out there.
Perchance it would be apropos to go back to discussing the art, rather than embarking on another rant, as dominated the most recent post … ;o)
This work continues new techniques I’m using in which I separate different elements of the original photographic capture and work with each separately before folding them back together. I’m using this approach so often now it’s become repetitive to mention it, although, that said, there are so many ways and degrees of variations that each work is still capable of being fresh and unique. One of many variations of this process, as I’ve done here, can result in wonderfully distinctive human figures that take on an abstract, painted appearance while maintaining a high degree of realism – the essence of abstract realism.
Not that I’m going to, but if I were to embark a rant at this point, it might concern a sermon I had the luck to sit in on recently, in which the associate pastor tried to differentiate between ‘fact’ and ‘faith’, then utterly blew his premise, using rationalization to, among other things, attempt to legitimize Intelligent Design. Sort of like rationalizing that the rocking horse in this work is real because it has Santa on top, and everybody knows Santa is real therefore so is the horse. But we’re not going to do that. Are we?
Little or nothing in this world surpasses the dumb ignorance contained in the contention of a ‘war on Christmas’. The notion of arming teachers in schools is close, but this is dumber. A nation blowing its oil reserves on Christmas lights, in which Christmas movies take over the airwaves, in which half the people walking towards you on the street are wearing a crucifix and 90 percent of the rest have one at home, is hardly under attack. That a simple ‘Happy Holidays’ recognizing those who happen to have a different faith puts some individuals right out of their water only suggests a deep-rooted insecurity.
To be clear, December 25 is the date in which we celebrate Christ’s birth. Biblical scholars, however, pretty much agree it was more likely to have occurred in March, as based on scripture, primarily from the book of Luke. This created a marketing problem – yes, a ‘marketing problem’ is exactly what to call it – for leaders of the early Christian church who were trying to mold it into an institutionalized religion. First, March-ish is also the time for recognizing the RE-birth of Christ – Easter. Second, celebrations surrounding the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere were preeminent – every culture celebrated the time the Sun began moving north again. It was like Carnival time in the Caribbean. For Christianity to be taken seriously it had to have a winter solstice celebration too.
Hence, Christmas, and for the true believers, nothing else existed.
So, I guess I can understand that for some a mere hint that something else legitimate exists might be threatening. But it’s stupid. Perhaps even psychotic.
People are simple. Face it, they are. They seek homogenization. They shy away from complexity.
Diversity means complexity. Time tends to create diversity along multiple fronts which makes life more complex and requires decision making between increasingly more subtile shades of color. They idealize a flawed past and look for a clear black and white that doesn’t exist, though they want to believe it does, or did. They rationalize. They are easily conned, accordingly.
A good friend and I were sharing our weekly coffee the other day and began, as we often do, discussing history as both of us are amateurs of such. Said discussions are almost always concerned with European history because it’s most prominent in media and experience. But I made the point that Chinese history is just as flamboyant and textured, we’re just not as aware of it, to which he agreed heartily, illustrating the great cultural diversity which exists there by pointing out, “That’s why there are eight schools of Chinese cuisine”.
Absolutely true, folks! Here they are:
But, of course, there’s also American Chinese cuisine, which differs significantly from what is offered in China and has been adapted to American tastes. I offer as evidence that Springfield, Missouri concoction known as ‘Cashew Chicken’, or the more universally recognized ‘chop suey’, neither of which are Chinese at all.
Regional adaptation is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, one of my favorite ‘Chinese’ dishes is crab rangoon, which is also on Wikipedia’s list of Chinese dishes that are not actually Chinese. Unfortunately, if one looks back at America’s past they find that by and large authentic Chinese cuisine was segregated into well defined urban neighborhoods (Chinatown) with only the Americanized versions proliferating. So was the cuisine of many cultures - growing up in a tiny rural village in the 60’s I remember believing Chef Boyardee represented ethic cuisine. America became a nation by repressing (through segregation) as much diversity as possible, thus propagating a simplistic vision that could not possibly be sustained.
Diversity, complexity, saved my palate. It has likely also influenced my approach to art.
I live in the rural Midwest, which is to say I have a skewed view of reality, regardless of how hard I try not to.
Recently the civic organization to which I belong partnered with a well-known social service organization to help staff their holiday donation sites – those red kettles outside stores and malls with folks ringing bells imploring shoppers to drop in a coin or two. I spent a pleasant hour ringing that little bell, chatting up shoppers, spreading holiday cheer.
A few hours after I returned home a link appeared on Facebook stating this same organization subverts LGBTQ rights and should be shunned for the sake of all humankind. I had betrayed my gay friends. I vowed to never participate in that project again; a vow that prompted feelings of betrayal towards other friends who volunteer extensively for that organization. Either way, I am and would continue to disappoint somebody.
OK, two reactions.
First, upon further research, it appears the degeneration of this organization has been faked. Yeah, it really does happen – information intended to destabilize is packaged as a factual news article and posted to social media where it propagates. Legitimate media hasn’t confirmed the claims of that link and the organization itself has venomously denied it, stating in part, “…any discrimination is in direct opposition to our core beliefs”. (that persons of strong religious fervor of any faith so often try to impart their own vision of morality, and that this organization may not be an exception, is a tangent for another time). My friend who initially shared the link seems to have figured that out, as the link seems to have been removed from her news feed. My fears of betrayal, either way, are unwarranted. Or at least exaggerated.
Second, it is impossible to do or say anything for, against, or about anything or anyone today that doesn’t betray, disappoint, anger, or sadden somebody somewhere. It’s not merely that the world is not black and white, it’s not shades of grey either; it’s 16,000,000 colors and hues and shades and intensities that never, ever perfectly line up. It’s a minefield of infinite chicken sandwiches in which any given bite will contain something distasteful. We’d better learn to accept a broad pallet, or we will certainly starve to death, albeit with recognition that at a certain level of distastefulness fasting is warranted.
As to the Midwest thing, well, who doesn’t live in a skewed reality. All local realities are skewed when placed in global context. The catch, I think, is recognizing it. There are other chicken sandwiches in the world.
And they’re not all bad.
Some, oh hell yeah, but not all.
I have a reputation, quite well deserved, as a scrooge.
This time of year brings three major holidays, four family birthdays, obligations, deadlines, added responsibilities, added expenses, shopping out the wazoo, and perhaps worst of all, endless household projects in the form of dragging out and putting up decorations and then taking down and putting away decorations. It’s maddening. It destroys my sense of mellow. It breaks my status quo.
And so I become an artist, and art - real art, substantial art – breaks the status quo.
I keep doing this. I am strongly introverted, yet as a young man I chose a profession, journalism, which stresses extroversion. I dislike structure and chain-of-command, yet I spent decades in public service. (Often in Dutch for NOT adhering to structure or chain-of-command, but let’s leave that alone). Avoiding dime-store psychology which attempts to identify the causes of these behaviors, allow me to define how the artist role differs:
As an artist, it’s not my status quo I’m disrupting, it’s yours.
As an artist, I’m following my own vision and creating whatever the hell I feel like. And as long as I don’t think about the marketing side, or try to cater to the marketing side, or let the marketing side bum me out, which isn’t always easy, a work that disrupts expectations or breaks routine perspective is enormously rewarding.
If one were to put this cynically, I make myself happy by making you uncomfortable. Happy Kwanzaa.
It dawned on me just recently how much of my life I’m living inside my own head. That’s to be expected for an artist, I suppose, but it was jarring to realize the extent to which it has become predominant now that art is the main thing I do each day. Well ... that and run errands.
Interruptions don’t simply disrupt what I’m doing; interruptions force me to perceive and assess activities outside my brain. Unfortunately, and I apologize to all humankind for this, my standard reaction to being jarred out my head is profanity. And it doesn’t take much. Those close to me will take no surprise in that statement. That I am a profane individual is well established. So, that being the case, maybe self-absorption has always been part of the wonderfulness of ‘me’. I would re-suggest it’s characteristic of any artist, except I’ve also heard that good artists have to be superb observers of human behavior.
Probably, the thing is, rationalizations aside, I just cuss a lot.
Just the other day, my sweet wife noted that the profanity seemed to have begun even earlier that morning, and I explained that both of my egg yolks had broken while cracking them into the pan. And she noted the horror in that, and that surely civilization is doomed. And she has a point. Assuming, I think correctly, that eggs over-easy are not part of my artistic portfolio, we can conclude the profane reactions when confronted with external stimuli are not artsy, it’s just a less desirable, possibly maladaptive, personality ‘feature’.
Probably, the thing is, rationalizations aside, I just cuss a lot, and I’m hopelessly self-absorbed, besides. Well, shit.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.