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.
The line between acting as a photographer and acting as an artist is quite distinct. As a photographer I’m using the camera for gathering images I think I can use later - colors, contrast, lighting, objects. Anything I find interesting for any number of reasons. With each capture I’m making a photographer’s decisions about exposure, focal plane, composition, lighting, drama, and so forth. I’m gathering them up and I’m placing them in my basket like harvesting grapes, and from there they will be dumped into my computer, subdivided only by which camera I used to capture them.
And they may sit there for weeks, even months, before my attention comes back to a particular capture, crushing it in my computer to create, hopefully, art. A photograph, after all, takes a few seconds, and during a photo shoot lasting a couple hours I might come home with over 100 captures; some duplicates, of course, but each one something I think I can use later. The same amount of time will result in one work of completed photo art. One. And as some of the more sophisticated projects take six or ten hours to complete, often much less than one. This is not to say I’m acting any less creatively as a photographer than as an artist, quite the contrary. As readers of this blog know, there are some captures I hardly touch with the computer. They are perfect as photographs. Indeed, many completed artworks would not have come out the way they did had I not captured the initial photograph in just the way I did.
However, the separation of these acts also separates their intent. Captures taken right next to each other within a few minutes for which I’d had a similar notion may result in wildly different works created months apart. I may ultimately decide I’m not that interested in the second after all.
For the photographer, time is instantaneous. For the artist, time is relative.
Sometimes the magic just works.
* * *
I had a conversation recently with a guy questioning if we’ve become soft, ‘we’ being society in general, comparatively over the past 100 years. His point that all these conveniences we have and all these technologies we use have made us less able to function as human beings. Each new convenience makes us less able to cope without them.
First off, there was probably a guy 100 years ago, 10 years before the invention of sliced bread, BTW, who feared they were soft compared to 100 years before that, when economic distribution systems were such that there was no bread at all unless one made it themselves if indeed they could access both flour and yeast. Secondly, all these conveniences and technologies are just tools. A tool is just a device that makes it easier to do something. We are tool making creatures. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Take the tool away and we might be pissed off, but most people, given a loaf of unsliced bread, can still figure a way to break it into edible sections; might take a bit of experimentation, but we’ll figure it out. We’re just as likely to be pissed off when a tool for doing something easier does NOT exist – not YET – and even more likely when we can’t figure out how to use the tools we have (leading to thoughts of returning to bygone days when there weren’t as many tools to learn, forgetting, of course, that those bygone days were crap. But I digress). More likely, it’s people out of the past who would be unable to function in today’s world than vice versa. Remember your grand father or your great grand father (I realize time stretches farther for some of us than others)? Can you imagine them trying to set up a wi-fi network, let alone understand it?
Can you imagine them trying to decipher a 2019 news cycle? Bogles the mind, doesn’t it? Whether the magic works or not, be grateful for the opportunity to fall under it.
Off capturing photographs this past mid-September I found myself constantly thinking, ‘You know, dummy, in a month the fall foliage will come out and this shot will look a thousand times better’.
Of course, the month went by and I was preoccupied with other activities and didn’t get back to the scenes where I’d had that thought. So it goes. Which is not to say I didn’t get anything, fall-colors-wise. Creating seasonal art is a rite of passage, or at least a habit – for many artists. Fall foliage now, Christmas art in a month, spring flowers in five or six months. Those are the three categories to which my portfolio is stuffed with work, and still each year I add more of it. That’s because each year I think I’ve done it better than the year before. Each year I’ve learned more, and I get to try new things. Each year the art gets better and justifies continued creation.
Or, arguably, it’s less a justification than a rationalization. I want to BELIEVE the new things are better than the old things so I can keep creating and feel good about it; so I can believe I’m not simply doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That would be crazy. No – the new work is better. It is. I know it is. At least I think I do.
The ‘fade-out’ that concludes many songs we all know and love was created back in the AM radio days as a means of cueing the disc jockey (DJ) that the song was about to end, That gave the DJ the opportunity to start talking over the top of the music to tell the listener what they’d been listening to, and to introduce the next song, also while talking over the first few notes. It saves a precious few seconds of broadcast time, and some would argue made for a more dynamic presentation of the music. It’s become an anachronism, sort of like the grill on the front of an automobile, while at the same time being a legitimate and even expected stylistic component of song construction.
My favorite DJ growing up – and that was when AM radio was predominate – was Larry Lujack out of WLS Chicago. Lujack was always the most fun, had the wittiest things to say, much of it bitingly insightful sarcasm At the conclusion of the countdown for the best selling singles of 1969 – 50 years ago next month – concluded with the revelation that of all the great songs that year, the best selling was ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies, he said, “I absolutely positively refuse to believe this song is number one”. And he never said another word about it, ignoring its very existence.
For what it’s worth, number 36 on that list was Johnny Cash, ‘A Boy Named Sue’. Just thought I’d mention it.
* * *
Three posts planned for next week, all bright autumn abstracts for all you fall color aficionados.
I had the good fortune just recently to capture photographs inside an old shoe factory that has been stripped, gutted, and is waiting for redevelopment. It is filled with big, blank, dark open spaces with a few smaller offices covered in dust, grime, peeling paint, and a little junk nobody seems to have wanted. Chief among the junk (not pictured) are the toilet fixtures; they weren’t left in what used to be restrooms – even darker and danker corners I didn’t desire to venture into – they were pulled out of their holes and stacked into piles (I have no idea what became of the holes, but suspect such unknown is the root of my fear of stepping into their former restrooms).
Of paramount concern now is what to do with the captures. Shooting it is not the issue – used two cameras and both performed admirably, especially my little Nikon1 with the 1.8 aperture lens. I have some lovely images waiting for my attention. But once my attention wanders that way what do I do with them? How do I use them to create art. I probably have more difficulty with interiors than anything else. I’ve four in the can at this point, the first of which was exhibited in my November 15 post, each completely different, and, well, none of them trip my trigger.
Some of my favorite work, though, sat for months before I hit upon something. So, hey, no worries.
* * *
Oh, wait, make that five in the can. Did an abstract back on October 11. So abstract, you tell me, does it count?
* * *
Any number of curiosities in this old building, most of which open easy rationalizations as to why they were left behind. Not so much the subject of today’s work. Why would you leave this behind in a crumbling office of a factory building you knew was closing? Wouldn’t you at least keep the vase? You can imagine it in full bloom as its recipient turned their back without investing so much as the emotion of disdain. Knowing full well it would decay there. A romance trapped, never progressing, never ending. Just eroding.
Seeing is breathing in. Creating art from it is breathing out.
Yeah, I stole that, I admit it. The exact quote was “READING is breathing in, WRITING’ is breathing out”, and if ‘The Google’ is telling me true it was first voiced by a woman named Pam Allyn, who is an author and literary expert and the founder of LitWorld. I was with a bro when it popped up on his Facebook page and he read it to me, which prompted me to announce I was stealing it, which I’ve done and paraphrased here because, well, I can. (give me credit for properly attributing it). My version isn’t any less true; it can be applied to any creative act as such acts are, for the artist, acts of breathing.
Only ‘seeing’ without creating is like suffocating. What’s the point of living if you can’t produce something from it?
Only ‘creating’ without taking time to see or feel, that’s burn out. An unthinking routine is a form of dying.
Having exhaled a most astute and warm breath we only hope it is subsequently inhaled fraternally. But if we fear breathing out into black, empty space we become reluctant to breath at all.
Fear not the black dog.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.