Thursday, November 3, 2016

a few new things

I spent the summer, after moving into the new studio in a good deal of pain, and finally ended up in surgery this past fall.  While I was trying to cope through the heat and exhaustion of a Tucson summer I was able to focus on the changing colors of the sky.  I wanted to watch the events above but not paint them in any literal way.  Watercolor is great for fast applications of washes.  I was thinking about Eveningglow, one of my abstract observational oil paintings from Minnesota, where I tried to capture light from evening walks.  The first watercolor is in that spirit where I washed one color on top of another and turned the surface 90 degrees.  I would come into the studio with a color in my mind and place it on the surface, trying to leave some white of the page.  Usually only one paint application per day so that the surface had time to fully dry.  Some days I could get away with two, it's so hot here.  Then another color on another day.  The process is super important to me.  A painted image all at once seems to imply a certain level of pre-meditation.  I'm not interested in that kind of visual manipulation.  Ideas are great, but when a painting is all mind and no lung I get a bit bored. The same holds true if it's too feelly.  I mean paintings need to make the viewer breath as well as think, otherwise we're caught in a Cartisian mind/body separation all over again.  I think the two working together is the way we experience the world, so that's how I try to make a painting.

In these watercolors I respond to the the light of the page still emanating through the density of washes.  I also respond to the failure of watercolor to remain on the surface after repeated washed.  In the center(ish) portion of the painting you can see ghost markings beginning to surface.  I like when a mark is created as a byproduct of process.  It's a mark not made by the hand, failure of materials as a distinguishing feature of art production.  To my mind this is an exciting moment.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Old things

One of the greats things about the new studio is having walls again.  It's been a long time since I've been able to unpack old paintings and look at them.  This one is 5 of 5 Sky with Key arranged randomly.  I painted it about 15 years ago.  Back then I was really interested in the surface of polaroid film.  I loved the way the rollers squished the dyes and emulsion onto the little card thing to make a photograph.  The process was just amazing.  This painting started as a polaroid of a cloud scape out of the window of my Best Studio Ever.  In those days I would scan the Polaroid into the computer and break it up into smaller gridded parts.  I'd adjust the color and balance in Photoshop and print the image.  Those I would use to make the painting.  5 of 5 Sky uses 11" and 15" panels.  I called the recognizable visual representation the True View (the name used in traditional Chinese screen paintings).  I was curious when I hung it this time if there would be a sensation of sky and cloud if the image was unrecognizable.  I like the twisting turning thing that's happening with the random arrangement, and I still get the feeling of some sky event.  The bigger question at this time that I was thinking about was could a painter define a linguistics of landscape?  Through color, space or something of the like.  I mean do we know what the world and space looks like?  The color tiles are the main hues used in the overall piece, that's the Key in the title.  It's a pun on the key of a map and also the word 'key' as higher value pigments.  

new studio

I had to move studios all of a sudden in March.  My landlord was in danger of losing his property and told me I should go.  That was a tough one.  I was beginning to settle into the old space.  I loved the light, the lizards and the little back room became a wonderful small painting space.  But it had it's drawbacks too.  It was on Grant and I hated the traffic, it was loud and there was a lot of foot traffic going to the quicky mart.  It's good to be in a new space.  The studio is a more painterly one.  There's light from a very large skylight.  It's beautifully even and comfortable to be in.  The space is physically cooler than the Grant space, the ceilings are higher and thereby creates less feeling of confinement.  I read an essay on art studios once and the author suggested that a higher ceilings create a greater sense of loft.  Thoughts are free to roam in an open space.  I like this, but am aware of my own predilections for Classical thinking and those higher loftier spheres.  I think there's something to be gained from more contained spaces too, almost as if contemporary life happens there.  In some ways I miss the old space, maybe I just miss the settled and safe feeling I have while making things in it.  I don't have that sense yet in the new space.


Since moving to Tucson I've been thinking about death a bit.  So, I've started painting a few death masks from 18th C Britain that are a part of the National Portrait Gallery collection.  There's something wonderfully relaxing about the image and process.  I mean, there's no tension in the physical attributes of the individual.  I wouldn't call it peacefulness.  It's more of an absence of the expected.  I find that appealing in some way.  The paintings are smallish, based on the size of the Musica Britannica that came out in the 60's & 70's.  I've been reading a lot of English Renaissance music--they had a thing for death and tears that I find very compelling, a liminal parallel to the conditions of our time, a bubbling sadness if you will.  So there's a relationship of the size of the surface to the size of the information I'm consuming, it's something familiar that you can hold in your hands. The paintings themselves are are hand made oils over egg tempera on chalk ground on panel.  There's a layer of rabbit skin glue between the chalk ground and wood panel too. It's nice to have all these parts and layers, somehow it helps buoy a little painting in a sea of history.


I was thinking about the strange power of art and artists.  As a visual maker you have to listen to yourself and trust yourself.  Oddly though, you also have to listen to others and look at other artist's work.  It's tempting to take advice or borrow someone's ideas.  It's difficult to stay firmly rooted.  These two images come from two different Memling altarpieces.  I was interested in the subject matter.  St Michael and St George slaying demons and dragons.  The metaphor seems simple.  We all need protection sometimes.  I used charcoal made from my Minnesota willow tree applied with my fingers.  I was thinking about what CR said many years ago, "Ha, painters are always trying to find the fingerprint of God."  Well...if not God, at least myself in time.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pink Spin

I've been having a hard time with photography and reproducing these newer paintings.  The reproduction seems different in nature these days.  I was once satisfied with the photo process, but the experience is different now and somewhat dissatisfying.  I felt, in the past, that the experience of emulsion fit with the way the eye experienced or saw the world.  I don't think that's true any longer.  The digital experience is a mechanical one without an organic base.  Reproducing work feels different now.  Something is missing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

sumi ink

At some point this past spring I began playing with Sumi ink on the wrong king of paper.  It created an interesting accident.  I've been using Arches 88 (a super absorbent silk screen paper) while pouring ink.  Once I pour the ink onto the surface I have to move quickly but can manipulate the direction and flow of the ink wash.  Each time there is a pause in the flow of ink the paper pulls part of the pool into itself and creates a line or a ring (I'm not really sure what to call them). I can keep moving the ink or let the ink absorb into the paper.  The more I move the puddle the greater the initial mark.  The slower I work the more saturated the ink becomes. A nice thing I've discovered about these two media--Archess 88 has no size & Sumi ink is water soluable--you can pour water onto the initial mark and release some of the ink that has steeped into the paper.  These subsequent washes create a pretty dynamic secondary and tertiary mark. One that is controllable too and similar to the first.  I wonder if this is a kind of representation of brewing tea?
The drawings themselves are pretty interesting too: they tend to have an anthropomorphic quality-one that leans toward a substructure.  But there is an uncanny demonic sensibility in them as well.  Oddly they remind me of Baudelaire's Fleur du Mal.  I can't seem to stop comparing contemporary life to the unsavory, and Baudelaire was after all its champion.
This one image is a little sweet.  When I was working on the Alphabet of Stars I kept telling myself I would stop when I found the Unicorn in shape.  I stopped before i found it, but I was very much reminded of it in this drawing. Perhaps it should be titled In Search of the Unicorn.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


This was one of the other pieces I made around the early part of the 21st C.  The slide is dated 2003.  The other thing that began to happen while this work was germinating was I became desperately homesick.  I wanted to be back home in Nantasket.  Living in the midwest had always seemed difficult but at this time it became very hard.  I used painting as an escape from my physical place and sank deeper into nostalgia and my work.  Everything around me was a reminder of where I wasn't.  Yet I knew I couldn't afford to live the way I could in the midwest and after all what would I do back east?  Then it struck me again that I was born a creative laborer, and I'd probably be working in a ship yard mending someone else's boat. I could paint, so I thought I could be a painter in a shipyard.  This is when I made the transition from traditional oil paints to boat paints. The boat paints were very sexy: amazing leveling ability, bright and candy colored.  They were made to be masked as well.
So again, I was interested in using this tacit knowledge of place to say something.  I had been towing around this copy of the Blue Jacket Manual since I was a Sea Cadet in the Navy when I was 10 or 11 years old.  I started thumbing through it and came across a lot of very useful information.  I really loved the illustrations on how to fold clothing, but never had a use for it.  But I used the nautical alphabet to spell out F O R G I V E M E.  The painting reads from top left down and to the right. Each of the elements are 11" square.  It's a fairly big piece once it's assembled.
The idea for the piece was really simple.  I wanted to apologize to all the people I grew up with for leaving and for wanting to leave the place that we all came to know each other.  I mean, so much of who I am is because of this tiny coastal New England town. I started to think in terms of metaphysics too.  We were all bound together in space and time.  There was something immutable about the experience.  I felt that I had somehow betrayed the first group of people that I knew and loved, and that that betrayal somehow still caused me pain.  I felt that as we aged it was shameful I wasn't there to help the people I knew through the process.  The painting was a public declaration of a spiritual and ethical problem. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

1...4...3...Means I Love You

I've been thinking about some of these pieces that I made while working in what I call a nautical theme.  It was a series of work that I started in 2001 or 2002.  There were a couple of pieces before this one that lead me to thinking about the language of the coast.  It was also after my grandmother's funeral in 2001.  She was buried in the Russian Orthodox tradition.  Two things began to happen over the course of a couple of years.  While I was at my grandmother's service I found the high key pallet and clarity of the Russian Orthodox icons and frescoes illuminating.  I could see all the colors used an how the color defined shape and helped create movement.  Something similar happened while I was back home in Hull visiting family and friends.  I would take these walks around the peninsular from XYZ street--beach side--and head along Nantasket Roads to the high school and back along to the bay past the coast guard, the village, the alphabet streets and cut across after the water tower back to the beach side and back down to XYZ street, all the while shooting Polaroid.  But what really impressed me was watching some of the big tankers come through Nantasket Roads.  This sounds silly, but what was amazing was that I could see them so clearly, all of the colors and shapes on the vessel were meant to be seen.  I noticed too that this was the case on smaller vessels too.  It's easy to see a boat on the water.  So these two experiences added up to a kind of clarity of sight. 
At the time I had been squishing a lot of paint on to surfaces and using computer generated images and my vision tended to be slightly blurry.  To see light and color with clarity was something that interested me.  I took that further step to think about the kinds of language one knows just by growing up in a certain area of the country.  In my case I was thinking about a tacit knowledge of the nautical. 
1...4...3...Means I love You uses the nautical symbols for the numbers 1, 4 & 3.  When I was in high school it was something one would use as a farewell in a note passed to a lover.  The myth was that Minot's light on calm evenings would flash this sequence of light (I recently read somewhere that the light is actually broken).  We transposed the sequence to represent the number of letters in the phrase I love you.
Each piece is approx 4 foot square.  I wanted the painting to be larger than life size and oriented on the landscape horizon so that it might somehow surround and embrace the viewer.  The piece took on some water damage from a leaky roof, so I peeled them apart, hammered grommets onto the canvas and added the addendum--version 3 Distressed State.  I like that they've become flags more than paintings.  And after all when isn't love sometimes a little ugly?


Friday, February 4, 2011

evening glow

I've been working on this painting for over a year now. I started it just before the first snow of 2009, somewhere in November if I remember rightly. It was a landscape at first out the 3rd floor window, then I started a self portrait and finally switched to figuring out the medium. I was looking for something that would replicate the surface of the boat paints that I had been using but gave up simply because I didn't want the chemicals in the home environment. I thought there must be a way to make a medium that doesn't rely on synthetic resins and other nasty products that seems to be popular with artists these days. So I was looking for something that would self-level, be luminous and have a fluid feel with application. This piece uses a lot of Venetian Turp and Stand oil. I realized several things at this point: so many of the paintings from antiquity that use resins and oleo resins are still luminous and salient, and perhaps maybe the commercial products artists tend to use today speak of a mercantile nature, I know I don't want to be that.

new start

It took me such a very long time to get painting again. I think the birth of Nikolai really surprised me and the loss of the old studio was a deep wound. I loved painting in that large space and I think I mostly liked the aesthetics of the whole thing. Going to an old ag/industrial space seemed to fit the idea of what a painter or an artist is supposed to do. In retrospect now I see that's an ideal set up by academic and popular mythology. One doesn't need a commercial studio space to make paintings.

I thought too that I could convert the 3rd floor of the house to a studio and that would be the end of things. I was wrong. I have a great 3rd floor now but no walls. A painter needs wall simply to put the work up and let it exist around oneself. Without it one can't see. And after all seeing is the thing I'm ultimately interested in.

But after much labor, disappointment and confusion I finished the Chort (Chris's fort) last summer and it's a pretty good working space. I made a commitment to make my own paint and to work on a smaller more domestic scale too. So far it's been a rewarding process.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This is the last of the line drawings that I made. I started it on the 3rd floor of the house by dropping the ink onto the paper and assigned different pencil weights to correspond to the different values of hue, ie black = darkest pencil weight (I think it was an H), and yellow = lightest pencil weight (either a 5H or a 6H), and all the other tones in between.
I was only able to start just a little bit of the drawings at home and had to finish the majority of the drawing in Salzburg on the artists exchange I was on in 2009.
It was a complicated drawing. I used a loop while drawing and it was also the first time that I used another sheet of paper to extend the rings. I thought that the edges would be more concrete if I drew beyond the edge of the paper and didn't include those lines into the drawing (that became another drawing).
My idea for the different weight of line was to think about the different generative powers of the different values of colored ink drops. In a strange way I was thinking about Brueghel's print Big Fish Eat Little Fish, and the consumptive nature of things.
I never showed the drawing in the US, but did have it up at my open studio is Salzburg. Sadly only a handful saw it there. I ended up trading it to Reuben for two of his pieces.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the power of the remover to remove; Fugitive Slave Laws--Froude, James Anthony ink on paper, 2008

the power of the remover to remove;
australian terrier--Austro-Hungarian monarchy, ink on paper, 2008

the power of the remover to remove; Dinesen, Isak--Diptheria, ink on paper, 2008

dissaperance, graphite on paper, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Alphabet of Stars 03_08, ink & graphite/paper