I said there were seven monochrome works in this series, yes? So this should be #5, yes?
Well, yes, but it looks like I lied. OK, maybe not lied; I misrepresented. This work presented itself as I created ‘Your Own Light’ – go back and look at it, and it’s clearly the same photographic capture, just colored differently and clearly not at all a monochrome. It emerged as I was in the process of creating a monochrome (the final two works in this series happened the same way).
It works like this: the photo processing software I use works in layers. Start with the original, duplicate it and hide it so it establishes a baseline, make adjustments to the duplicate, duplicate that and make more adjustments, duplicate that one and make still more adjustments, so on and so forth until a satisfactory result emerges, potentially dozens of new layers. If it seems to be moving in a bad direction, simply remove layers back to a particular point and start again.
Each layer blends with the ones beneath it. A normal blend simply lays on top. But there are a score of blending modes that combine with the layers beneath to alter the effect; darker, lighter, multiplied, more intense or softer lighting, reductions, color variations, on and on. Then by adjusting the transparency levels the artist can vary the effect even further.
The ability to manipulate the computer to create art is every bit as involved as the ability to do the same using a brush or a pencil; I’ll get an argument on that, but I strongly believe it to be true. The success or failure of a work still comes down to a combination of technique and artistic eye.
The software may duplicate layers, but not the eye. The eye is from whence the art emerges.
The most beautiful song ever recorded, certainly one of them to my ears, is Willie Nelson’s rendition of ‘Stardust’. I say that and I’m a rock ‘n roll boy; I’ve never cottoned to pure ‘country’ music and I have not one other Willie Nelson track in my entire collection. I thought he’d actually written it until I watched a documentary recently on Frank Sinatra, and there he was singing it. ‘Stardust’, originally titled ‘Star Dust’, was written in 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael, with additional lyrics by Mitchell Parish. Carmichael was born in 1899 and was one of the first singer-songwriters to utilize new communications technologies, including electronic microphones and sound recordings. ‘Stardust’ has since been recorded over 1,500 times and one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, which makes it all the more interesting that I have no memory of it until I heard Willie sing it.
Two points emerge for me: First, the value of revisiting works from the past and reimagining them using modern perspectives and technologies. And second, the futility of sticking artwork of any kind into classifications or genres which are more likely than not limited and finite. Really – a tin pan alley jazz composition, re-recorded half a century later as a country tune, which strikes the ears of a rock ‘n roller 30+ years after that as the most beautiful recording of all time. Reimagined, indeed.
… oh, yeah – this is #4 in the monochrome series. It was reimagined from an earlier noir work of cherry tree branches filled with blooms. It will hang in a local gallery soon, assuming that gallery goes ahead with it’s monochrome exhibit, which, in corona-time, who knows. Reality itself is being reimagined.
Number three in the monochrome series, this one currently hanging at the Columbia Art League. And before you shout, “Hey, wait. I’ve seen this”, yes you have – this is a variation of the work at the top of this web page, which is itself a variation of the original. When the monochrome exhibits were announced I immediately thought of this work; it has so much texture and contrast and mystery it’s a vision I can’t let go of. I decided to use extrusion and blending techniques to introduce a dark blue hue because I wanted to avoid straight black and white monochrome. Arguably, the blacks are too black and the whites too white to call it truly ‘monochrome’ but I’m going to argue it’s all within an appropriate range. The metal print itself is set into a deep frame to extenuate the sense of peering into dense foliage, possibility lurking in every shadow and delight springing from every beam of light.
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An original work, then I learned a little bit more and it evolved into a different work, and then I learned more still, and this third work emerges. A paradigm of art only possible utilizing the computer as a creative tool. A paradigm suggesting a single work is never finished until the artist stops learning.
Lest one conclude that monochrome means colorless.
This is the second of seven works on the ‘monochrome’ theme that I created in response to two of my galleries opening monochrome exhibits at exactly the same time. Writing on my first work I suggested two methodologies for arriving at a monochrome work: bend all colors towards a single shade or start with a desaturated image then add back a color. That first work used the former method. In this work I used the latter.
Or I should say, used the latter with a twist. The statement above suggests adding color to a noir or black and white image (and we’ll get to that in subsequent works). In this case, the original image was almost totally orange – a natural monochrome. For this work I simply removed any traces of anything other than orange, added several lighting and extrusion effects. “Monochrome”, meaning just one color, doesn’t necessarily mean just one shade or tone of that color. A monochrome work can still include a thousand different variations.
Seven monochrome works total – I would select two for exhibit at the two galleries. Neither this work nor the first were selected. Unless something changes my mind.
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It’s possible this work may look familiar. It probably should. It’s derived from a work already in my portfolio, in fact a work found on this site’s Consider page under ‘Previous Work’. In fact, of the seven works in this series, only the first work was created from a new photographic capture. I recognized very early on that my best monochrome works would come from adapting work from my library.
Thing is, I have decades of works. But so many tools have become available, and I’ve learned so many new techniques and styles in just the last couple years, that arguably I’m sitting on a thousand works I haven’t finished yet. More to say about this by and by.
Beginning today a series of seven works, two of which I might combine, around the theme of “monochrome”.
I woke up a couple weeks ago and realized I had two galleries about to open exhibits themed as “monochrome” at almost exactly the same time, and unless I wanted to submit only noir works I had to get busy. I kinda like it when something like that happens because it forces a creative burst – sure enough, in short order I had produced these seven new works.
“Monochrome”, of course, simply refers to work that uses a single-color pallet or shades of that one color. Black and white or ‘noir’ as I affectionally call it is the most obvious. Grey might be the most realistic shade for reproducing monochromatic images or at least the most recognizable, but any color works as long as it’s used with effect.
Two approaches: one is to bend all colors towards a single shade. The other is to start with an image in which all colors have been removed, then add back the desired shade. This work utilizes the former. Also noteworthy is the use of extrusions – those bands of light across the image. It’s those bands that can give blending options their diversity. In this case, however, it’s the variety of directions from which those bands, well, extrude. I used two different canvases to vary the point at which those extrusions began, then blended them back in. The technique of blending separately filtered canvases together defines my recent work.
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I want to explain the title of this work, lest an impression is imparted that it reflects upon the “monochrome” theme. Not at all. Many of my best, most dramatic works are noirs. The title is appropriate to the scene; a guy staring forlornly into food shelves, unable to identify anything to which his desires moved, I’d actually circled around this guy while discreetly capturing the image, and he continued to just stand there, staring into a baloney of sameness that, somehow, seems consistent with our Corona-days.
This piece is a blog bomb.
I was sitting in my Beer Garden (everybody has a beer garden, right?) over the weekend, fire going in the fire box and the fountain in the garden pool gurgling with clean water changed that very day. I looked over and saw these Black-Eyed Susan’s (no, I’m not sure that’s what they are either) and thought, “Well, that’s a nice shot”, so I reached for my camera, leaned over, and captured it. five minutes later it was on Facebook. I’d no intention of exhibiting it on this blog.
Here’s how much work and artistic effort went into this piece:
As I look at it, the white balance is off, the sharpness could be better, and the vibrancy and color curves need work. It could also use some lighting tweaks. And that’s just from a photographer’s point of view – I haven’t begun to consider how the artist might attack it.
Now, in the past six months or so I’ve posted works I’ve spent hours on and that I’m quite proud of, like this one, and this one, or this one, and all of them were posted to Facebook via a link to this blog.
This little snapshot into which no work at all went has more ‘likes’ on Facebook than all of them.
What have we just illustrated here? Is it a commentary on the futility of the creative process and the irrelevance of the artist? Does it reveal humanity’s preference for simple vs. complex? Obvious vs. abstract? Pretty vs. thoughtful?
Does it bother me that people seem to so enjoy this remarkably simple piece? Not really, I’m glad people enjoy it. Heck, it’s because of this there are so many florals in my portfolio. But, I tell you, if this were all I ever did I would go out of my freaking mind.
Last of the pure experiments with the human form, this one perhaps less so than the first two, and given some of the work over the last year it’s actually fairly conservative. But I was happy with the balance of the piece, the blending of foreground and background, the equal-sided composition; hence the title.
I keep finding that the new techniques I’m working with leads first and foremost to an unsightly blob that has to be reeled in – this work was no different. Earliest versions struck me as sloppy and garish – there’s almost no line at all between too far and not far enough. In the past I’ve described photo art as a process of revealing the art hiding in the pixels of a photographic capture. But techniques I’ve been playing with includes so many layers, and, consequently, so many pixels I feel as though I’ve gone from excavating in a desert with a teaspoon to cutting through a jungle with a machete.
It’s not unusual to decide a particular piece is not working in one direction, retreat and start down a different path. My art has become so complex it now takes many times longer to reach that point in which wisdom finally overcomes stubbornness and I acquiesce to stepping back. Still one more creative technique; using reverse to move forward.
Work number 2 of 3 in which I’m exploring how far I can take the human form – this one the most radical of the three, both indistinct yet recognizable within the context of the composition. The photographic capture, in this case, included a good deal of glare from the florescent lighting, and not much color from the shelves. I chose to desaturate the scene even further, while over-saturating the colors worn by the shoppers. The extended ceiling helps create a sense of infinity, adding to the abstraction.
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What is this thing with making everything political, and then bullying the other side? I mean, c’mon – refusing face masks?? Talk about the least amount an individual can do. Folks, the economy is never going to come back while Covid-19 is prevalent, and Covid-19 is going to be prevalent until everybody wears face masks. Wise up.
Oh, and BTW, ‘back-to-normal’ just plain ain’t happening; you might as well be counting on the Easter Bunny.
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You know, on a starship, the only person who can give the captain orders is the doctor. Just sayin’ …
Today beginning a series of three posts in which the works exhibited are unquestionably experiments. I wanted to use the same setting as my most recent posts (a large shopping center) to play with the human form more radically – how far can I take it? How far will the medium of a photographic capture LET me take it? And having taken it, where is the boundary between creating art and creating a hopeless blob? The only way to find out is through experimentation.
Having committed to this course I’m also committing to exhibiting works that may/will not be my best work. But then, how would I know? More than a few times I’ve posted work I thought was not that great, only to find out later it was actually received quite well. And, other side of the coin, I’ve pushed out an experiment I thought was great, and found out later nobody liked it. The art world, though, is filled with examples of work that sat for years before anyone recognized its worth, as well as works hung prominently that would be all but forgotten 20 years later.
It’s an analogy, I think, to the way history itself works. The symbols and images we surround ourselves with, even the people we designate as heroes, will change as society changes. More futile than running experiments up the flagpole is doggedly maintaining a tattered flag in a windstorm.
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Have to update my most recent post in lauding one of my favorite television episodes; that being Cheers, season 10, episode 16. I mentioned that I’d kept it in my Netflix list so I’d have it to watch and lived in fear that Netflix would drop the series.
Sure enough, Netflix did. In fact, it already had when I wrote the blog.
It sounds like it may reappear in the new Peacock service that debuts this week – I’ll look for it anyway and cross my fingers that it will reside on that service’s ‘free’ side, versus a paid upgrade.
Honestly, we’ll look back on this shift to consumption of mass media through streaming services in the same way we now recognize the rise of the internet, then the adoption of smart phones in its impact on society. How we view the world has a direct bearing on how we treat the world, and each other.
That’s three fundamental sociological changes in 30 years, if you’re counting.
One of my favorite television episodes of all time is Cheers, season 10, episode 16, The Nanny G episode. Officially titled ‘One Hugs The Other Doesn’t’, as a birthday present for their son Sam Malone has purchased tickets to a concert by children’s singer Nanny G (played by the superb Emma Thompson) for Fraiser Crane and his wife Lilith. The four are sitting just a few rows from the stage as the concert opens, when Fraiser exclaims, “My god, that’s my first wife!”
And Lilith, who thought she was Fraiser’s first wife, says, “What?!”
What follows is 23 minutes of verbal barbs and actual physical wrestling as the two women fight over a delighted Fraiser. I roar with laughter every time. I’ve actually bookmarked it on Netflix so I can watch it about once a month, and I dread the day Netflix takes it away.
Which brings me to body art, which I really like. It’s not the art itself so much as the person the art is on and how it’s displayed. The right art with the right person can be mesmerizing, creating an almost ethereal experience, and I have great respect for those who can pull it off. I’m delighted I have no body art myself – given my lifelong immaturity and generally abrasive personality, god only knows what sort of fool crap I’d have permanently affixed to my body. An undisclosed first wife would be the least of the misadventures. The younger me is not something I’d be proud to display; I can barely stand the current me.
What I’m leading up to: The other day I’m wandering around the house for some reason and I’m looking at some of the photo art my incredibly sweet and indulging wife (first wife, really, I swear to god!) has encouraged me hang, and it’s like I’m looking at stuff I did in high school. I mean, it’s fine work I really loved when I hung them, but I’ve learned so much and gone in so many new directions, especially in the last ten months or so, it’s like looking at art I did as a kid. Not a memory; an illustration of my creative state of being THEN. Back then. And now that state has changed. In another year, likely the work I’m proud of now will seem the same.
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OK, since I know you’re asking, it’s actually rare that a comedy resonates so with me as the Nanny G episode does, although I’d have to acknowledge the ‘Adam’s Ribs’ episode of M*A*S*H. I generally gravitate to much darker material; ‘Mr. Robot’ and the reimagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’ are among my all-time favorites. Also ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Sopranos’, and the Australian series ‘Rake’ that can be found on Netflix. Current favorites? I’d list AMC’s ‘Better Call Saul’, Netflix’s ‘The Kominski Method’ and ‘Mindhunter’, Apple TV+ ‘For All Mankind’ and ‘Mythic Quest’, FX’s ‘Fargo’. I’m leaving out stuff I’m sure I’d love, such as HBO’s ‘Westworld’, Amazon’s ‘Man In The High Castle’, Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and all the new Star Treks on CBS All Access because I don’t get those services, which pretty much defines the TV watching experience in 2020, if not life itself. It’s all about access.
Side effect of the Coronavirus outbreak has to have been greater fireworks sales this past Forth Of July as it sounded like a war zone most of the evening. Since fewer people went out to public fireworks demonstrations, more people bought firecrackers to set off at home. Sure, one is not SUPPOSED to set off fireworks within city limits (OK, TOWN limits) but I suspect enforcement of such is limited at best.
So, question: What’s fun about a firecracker? I admit, when I was a kid I liked setting off firecrackers as much as any kid until I got old enough to ask what the big deal was. There’s a sensory perception thing there, I suppose; light a fuse and get rewarded by a bang. At a certain point, what’s the big deal? You light a fuse, wait a few seconds, there’s a bang. What have you accomplished? What was the surprise? Was the noise alone enough to spice up the status quo? I can hear a George Carlin joke: “Wow, here’s some black powder – let’s blow it up”!
On a Coronavirus-related note, what’s the point of Baseball without fans? I was looking forward to Major League Baseball starting up, but the more I think about it the emptier it feels. Part of the fun of watching it on TV is the memory-stimulus of actually being there – the sights, the smells, the sounds of the ballpark. The comradery with friends. I love the game, but I wonder if JUST the game will seem too sterile.
Realistically, though, it’s not like there’s a choice. Go Cubs.
It wasn’t the rockets red glare. It was the human beings huddled in the trenches, doing their jobs. The dogged tenacity sheaved by anonymity.
In the final analysis photographers are opportunists. By association, so are photo artists.
On one extreme there are pre-meditated opportunities – standing on the right street corner when the photographer already knows something is going to happen there. Hiking into the wilderness to wait weeks to capture the perfect image of eagles the photographer knows flies there, just inches above the water. Setting up exactly the right studio light for the subject sitting for the portrait before the perfect backdrop.
The other extreme: sitting at the breakfast table as the morning light streaks in a window and KNOWING there’s a photograph there, emerging that second from nothing. And getting it. No great amount of manipulation, really, just seeing the shot and grabbing it. And then the photo artist: knowing exactly what to do with that capture, how far to take it, how to take advantage of subtleties, of exaggeration, of abstraction, of realism – how to bring out the ART lurking in the pixels. The art of ordinary things.
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Please let me update my recent post sharing my works for the Jefferson City Art Club’s annual Fine Art Exhibit; everything I submitted received a ribbon. ‘The Chalk Artists’ at the top of the page received 1st Place in category. Since that new work is a favorite that I think represents the direction my art has been taking over the past year I’m thrilled with the reinforcement! The works ‘Winter War’ and ‘Tornado Plate #75’ each received 2nd Place in their categories. And finally ‘In The Warmth Of Your Company’ received an honorable mention.
I really try NOT to focus too much on accolades – among the best advice I ever received was to not let the opinions of a single gallery or a single exhibition determine one’s self image or confidence as an artist. After all, it’s just the opinion of one or a handful of judges, who could have had a bad day. I try to stay focused on the simple joy of exhibiting my work. But I gotta admit, the occasional ribbon or two feels pretty good!
… and then the art galleries reopened …
My community gallery will reopen to the public Friday, July 26 with the local art club’s fine art exhibit. The next town over reopened its gallery a couple weeks ago, so I guess we can say public art is back on display. No public receptions at either venue – wear a mask when you go. We could argue all day whether these openings are too soon, whether masks should be required (they are not), whether it will all necessarily shut down again this fall, so on and so forth. We are not out of this by any means. Will the re-emergence of art make a difference? Who knows?
I’ve always loved exhibiting. There’s something about seeing my work on public display, surrounded by the creative brilliance of the community. That my work is so very different, that so many art groups including this one seems to prioritize brush and ink arts, those are things I simply avoid recognizing. The joy comes from having my work included as part of the public discourse. During the quarantine, galleries tried virtual exhibitions with, I felt, limited success. Like everything else ‘virtual’ there is a loss of intimacy and subtleness. Besides, arguably I do a virtual exhibit twice a week through this blog.
A third gallery at which I’m often exhibiting looks to be closed indefinitely, and a fourth shut down after Christmas before the pandemic hit. One of the things people stop doing in the lead up to a recession is purchasing art, so I knew a year ago that something was coming down the pike at us. Art sales simply seemed to be drying up everywhere – it was clear that claims of an economic boom were lost in the illusion.
There is a temptation to blame everything happening on the pandemic. But that ain’t it.
I’m going to go ahead and post this rather unimpressive work instead of throwing it out along with the next couple I created, to prove a point. Things don’t always work out.
Way, way back last year sometime (yeah, I tried to find the exact post, and couldn’t – there have been a lot of these, haven’t there), I opined that the photo artist has to nail the function both of the artist and of the photographer. Miss either and the work won’t fly. I’ve also mentioned that I walked away from photography back before digital emerged because it had become too expensive. Where that expense I think most rears its ugly head is wildlife photography. Photographers in general are slaves to a) access, and b) equipment. One has to be able to get to the correct location, be there at the correct time, then have the correct hardware required to capture the shot. Wildlife photography can mean hiking miles into wilderness while carrying enormous lenses costing thousands of dollars and enough provisions to withstand a siege of days and days and days to capture just the right image in just the right light. I have enormous respect for professional photographers, wildlife photographers specifically.
Here's what I have: a backyard beer garden / aviary that attracts a few seasonal birds, a zoom lens that cost a couple hundred and tops out around 220mm, and a few minutes now and again to try to capture something. While it’s actually worked for a few works, the reality is I just can’t get close enough for the captures I want, and I can’t justify the bucks it would take to purchase the equipment necessary to do so.
So the artist steps in. He takes that capture that’s not that good and tries to enlarge the subject, and then, because the blow up usually pixelates the birds, starts going into abstract filtering to uncover something resembling art buried in the pixels. I’ve actually created a few pretty fair works that way. This is not one of them. The other new works in this series, which are even more disappointing, will stay on the hard drive. You do your best, then you move on.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.