This work reminded me how much I enjoy working in noir, and how much I enjoy using the near-infrared technique. I haven’t engaged it much since last year’s tornado damage series, after which I went deep into extreme color abstract, which has dominated my attention ever since. I had a color abstract in mind for this work as well before the noir rose up and took over. And that, actually, is how it goes, or how it should go if the artist is open. The work itself will communicate, during the act of creation, what it wants to be. Sure, could be the artist’s own subconscious talking, but it’s still coming through the work.
There’s a whole ‘creator vs. creation / God vs. human’ level going on here, but I shan’t digress thusly …
Take a look at my most recent post, then come back and look at this one and it’s clear the two are meant to complement each other – they’re meant to be displayed together. They’re both the same proportion, the same subject matter, essentially the same style, with lighting and effects that create balance. They’re easily envisioned decorating a kitchen or a dining room together. Complementary works of this nature is something I don’t do very often. Compare them to the second to the last work, similar subject, but quite different arrangement, lighting, and color. That’s more like what I do all the time; varying each work at least a little bit from the last one. Every work is a new exploration.
Many artists, though, specialize in a particular style or technique, and create entire portfolios of complementary work. Those artists are more likely to be commercially successful. Decorators looking to achieve a certain atmosphere are more likely to draw from imagery they’ve seen often enough to be familiar with; they can simply pull a catalog and there’s umpteen works in a consistent style. A designer turning to my work would be engaging in a much more adventurous approach.
There’s nothing wrong with the work of either artist. I completely respect the complementary approach. What I do may be more fun, but the other way, after all, may pay the rent.
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An extra post this week; as I had three works of basically the same imagery, these last two intensely so, it seemed appropriate to exhibit them together.
I was reminded recently of something I did years and years ago which at the time I thought was wonderful, but which was actually pretty crappy and juvenile. Of course, at the time I was pretty much a juvenile, and pretty much crappy in a juvenile way besides. If I look back too closely I see a whole bunch of stuff that falls into that category; not necessarily juvenile because at a certain point one no longer carries an age which affords that excuse, but certainly crappy. Fortunately, I don’t look back that much.
Once there was a story of a guy who was given the opportunity to relive his youth and fix his mistakes. Having done so, he returned to the present to discover he was a shadow of whom he once was. There had been no impulsive risks or selfish dreams, no mistakes, which had to be overcome, His life had been an exercise in prescribed, established procedure. He never learned to draw a line from which, after forgiving himself and everyone around him for everything that happened prior, he could move forward. His purpose was past-procedural, and he had no future.
Since at least the impressionists 150 years ago art has been about disrupting ‘normal’.
In this Season Of Covid I keep trying to reconcile the phrase “getting back to normal” with the facts which tell me there is no normal. Has never been an applicable, universal ‘normal’. There are routines, and there are social structures and constructs within which people function. In my social sciences degree these were called systems, and systems are fed by paradigms, or ‘value sets’ that define those functional parameters. Even those highly institutionalized labels defined a process of injecting new information prompting a paradigm shift which creates systemic change and ultimately influences to a restructuring of the whole. But now I’m just showing off. People want to get back to their routines which defined their sense of ‘normal’.
Here’s the deal: Once the routine, the ‘normal’, has been disrupted there is no fully going back. Life will always be just ever so slightly different. Maybe even a lot more than just slightly. This will drive certain individuals whose economics and control issues are derived from absolute unchanging structure right out their water. This is what I meant when I recently suggested that Covid is just a further extension of the technological, social, and economic changes that have already driven certain individuals towards advocating moving society backward by use of authoritarian measures. A century ago, we saw the adoption of such measures in full force.
Prior to the impressionists, art seemed to be all about finding normal, all the way back to da Vinci whose revolutionary uses of perspective redefined the way we see. As of the impressionists, then through all forms of modern art since, it is as though our collective sight has moved past normal into the subliminal; past the overt and towards the light we cannot see.
Art appreciation may be just a question of attitude.
A year ago I routinely exhibited at four local galleries, all of which were seeing declining sales. When people stop buying art it’s a good sign an economic downturn is in the wings, so, you see, I knew a year ago that a recession was coming, even before Covid-19. One of those four closed for economic reasons in the weeks before the virus hit. A second has gone down because of the virus, though it could eventually reopen in some form. A third is undergoing a change in directors and is exhibiting nothing during the transition. So I currently have work exhibited and just a single gallery, and it’s the gallery I’ve had the least success at. I’m actually grateful for even that.
Everywhere galleries are closed or restricting hours. We still have dimwitted nincompoops who refuse to wear masks, so entering an enclosed space of any kind remains a calculated risk. Where does one go to view art?
The answer, actually, is anywhere. The lines of buildings; the sculpted, painted sheet metal of automobiles; the stark shadows of an alley; the curve of the horizon against a blue sky; the colors in the supermarket. Art is everywhere if one is open to it; if one interprets life as a thing of grace and beauty and meaning. The person who figured out how to stack fresh vegetables in the most appealing way has created for us a gallery of exquisite visual imagery.
I’ve tried to emphasize just that in my work – the art of ordinary things.
How will the pandemic show itself through art?
Only a handful of works from the 1918 Spanish Flu are out there, paintings depicting isolation and despair that could be identified with any period of suffering. Photography is rich with images from the period, most as much documentation as art. The 1918 pandemic also coincided with the synergistic romance between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, resulting in Stieglitz most prolific period and some of O’Keeffe’s most sensual work. But a reflection of that pandemic – not really. An upswing in abstract art has been noted, as though artists were trying to push their work into a more emotional realm, but that has been attributed mostly to the rise of photography as an art form. That, again, much due to the influence of Stieglitz.
The Black Death clearly showed itself in 13th century art through the depictions of skeletons and death imagery – there is no parallel in art from the pandemic of a century ago. What art trends emerging were indistinguishable from the rapidly changing society around it.
Perhaps this pandemic is simply one more element of change, transformative but ultimately no more significant than ongoing economic and sociological shifts, We don’t see each other the same way we did just a couple decades ago, we don’t talk to each other the same way, we don’t work or play or eat the same way. Now we don’t breathe the same way.
A little more overt, each time. So moves the art.
Final in my series of monochrome works which, as with my most recent post, turned out not monochrome at all. These works, which I decided to combine into a single post to save time, are related to ‘Stardust’ posted just a week ago; but where that work was clearly monochrome, these are clearly not, though I did not add a single thing that I did not add to ‘Stardust’. I started with a noir work, then added an extrusion layer in a blue hue. The difference is that in these works I applied different blending modes. The computer was simply “blending” the layer with the blue hue against the grey layer. Differing modes resulted in differing hues emerging in the blend. I loved both versions, so I created separate works of each. Including ‘Stardust’ and the original noir, that gives me four distinct works from a single photographic capture.
It strikes me that it’s exactly this sort of thing that drives traditionalists nuts, and by “traditionalist” I’m referring to those whose hackles rankle when the computer is used to create art. A pen or brush artist would put in enormous work to create four parallel works, whereas I’m simply applying my ‘eye’ and the computer is doing most of the work. I can consider any number of alternatives in my creative process, whereas alternatives using traditional processes may be painstaking.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest there’s an analogy there to how one approaches life; to the labor intensity involved in change. When change requires an entirely new canvas versus a mouse click.
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.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.