The Not-The-Word-For-Today is ‘Artplay’.
I was going to make it the word for the day when I thought I’d made it up. I wanted it to describe the process leading up to today’s work. Turns out there are a couple galleries using that name, a digital media company, and a Japanese computer game producer using it. Well, hell.
Here’s what I need, by definition – make up a word for me:
<New Word>: The process of playfully experimenting with art techniques to discover new styles or aesthetics, often associated with, but not limited to, visual arts.
Every artist in every media does this. But what the heck fire do we call it?
My curiosity was spurred by a discussion with a fellow photo artist at Sunday’s Capital Arts reception, who said to me and to which I agreed, “There’s a point where you just have to stop”. And I agree with it because, yeah, there’s a point in which you’ve taken a work as far as it’s going to go and anything else either accomplishes nothing or messes it up. However, another approach to this is illustrated in today’s work, in which the artist, after reaching the end of one work, simply goes back to its beginning and starts over again.
Today’s work began with a nicely picturesque photographic capture from the roof of The Last Hotel in downtown St. Louis. In the first version, I felt reluctant to significantly alter that capture and applied only minor filtering. In the second, I threw out the minor filtering and applied more heavy-handed techniques and saturations, which made me happy for a while, until I decided I didn’t like the resulting hues. In the third, I again returned to the beginning, this time using a different approach to filtering and saturations that took the work in a darker, more surreal and less abstract direction. Still wasn’t getting to what I saw in my head. Finally I had a revelation as to what I was trying to achieve and created this fourth version, which I think finally gets at the aesthetics and emotions I was looking for. Notice that this final version creates a sunny, optimistic vision, whereas the early versions took on a darker path. I’m sure I could find a psychoanalyst to come up with a diagnosis, but perhaps we should just leave that alone.
It strikes me that, perhaps, this kind of play is something most associated with computer-based art, like photo art, due to the need to save work, yet wipe it out and go back to original imagery. Photo art always has a base to go back to – brush artists, or even digital artists, go back to a blank canvas. That said, I’m going to credit this process with da Vinci, who never accepted the idea that a point in which the artist must stop exists, who spent years futzing with his art, who worked on the Mona Lisa until the day he died. In many ways, da Vinci was the world’s first photo artist; but that’s a subject for another day …
More artplay from the rooftop of The Last Hotel in St. Louis, slightly different perspective, different approach to filtering and layering as compared to the earlier work posted January 10, ‘Gateway Into Night’. Working on more reverse effect visuals here; surrealism with less abstraction.
This is the third version of essentially the same cityscape captured at the same exact time. Should be finished with it by now, yes?
Ehhhhhh, turns out not …
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Writing this in the wake of the Kobe Bryant news. A reminder to all of us of the fragility of life and the razor’s edge on which it balances. And neither money nor technology necessarily helps. A reminder useful only in reminding us to forget about that, less the thought of it rob something of the joy in each moment.
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 …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.