Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Day in the City

"A Day in the City", 10" x 8" watercolor on 140' Daler-Rowney cold-pressed paper
A dangerous thing happened recently.  I got out of the house.

I have been in contact with artists all over the United States and the world by reason of this blog and my life has been enriched beyond measure, as I have said many times before.  And as I reflect at the end of this year and the start of the next, I am forever grateful.

But I decided that it was time to meet local artists as well.

An art museum just 5 minutes from my house provided the opportunity.  The Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in North Miami, began an artists' round-table recently.  Artists meet, talk about their work, share their thoughts, and provide critique.  There have been two in the last two months, and I have attended both.  An excellent moderator, Lark Keeler, provides provocative questions to encourage lively conversation.

After the second session, I left with more questions than answers.

It is apparent that most of the artists are deeply influenced by Art Basel and its satellite art fairs that have been held in Miami for the past several years.  Most are also art-school educated.  I am not.

I have attended Art Basel each and every year as well, though this is the first year I have attended any of the satellite fairs.  At Art Basel, there is, to me, a stark dichotomy between the works that I have been excited to see each year and the cutting-edge contemporary works that encompass much of the fair.  While I am motivated and recharged each year and love seeing what is being done by artists today, I am often totally blown away by the original work of "classic" artists I have seen such as Modigliani, Neel, Freud, Mitchell, Calder, Diebenkorn, Thiebaud, and Hopper.

Although I am sure they feel a part of a continuum of art history, the majority of the artists in the discussion group appear to be wholly fascinated by the contemporary artists - the more cutting edge the better.

I, on the other hand - I can't help it - am suspicious of gimmicks and wary of trends.

Some of the talk surrounded how an artist communicates with his or her audience, whether a back-story of the artist or the artist's intended message enhances or hinders the perception of the art.  Without such a back-story is the audience lost?

I know two people who do not know one another, that attended Art Basel separately that were so unable to comprehend the messages of contemporary artists, that have found the artwork to be at best incomprehensible and at worst ludicrous, that they have said they will not return.

Maybe they are not the intended audience anyway, as they do not have millions to spend.  (I'm being cynical again).  But should art be accessible to only an elite that have an art education?

I find value in and am inspired by enough of the contemporary art that I keep returning.  I am self-taught in art and art history - there are huge gaps, I am the first to admit - I admire skilled works, can often discern what the artist is trying to do, and am broad-minded enough to understand the exploration of and attraction to new mediums.  But I am left mystified and bemused by others.

I brought this up at the talk and after the responses have decided that I am going to make a concerted effort to raise my level of understanding of contemporary art.  Maybe you can call this a new year's resolution, I don't know.  I think it is just part of the process of exploration.  I have the will to learn.  A wary part of me wonders - am I trying to be part of the elite?

When my turn came, I showed them the picture "Around the Corner" in my post found here and I frankly had trouble understanding the reaction. I believe that overall they thought it was well-done in every part, but lacked significance, a clear message, a unique visual statement. The moderator kept showing how the picture would look cropped in various ways, the message being, perhaps, that there was too much to see and that I needed more focus. Maybe that was the idea - I'm not sure I understood completely.

Do not misunderstand me, I believe that all that was said was in the spirit of helping me to grow and explore, and the feeling in the room was excitement from the sharing and observations.  I share that feeling.

I just can't help but feel that if I were in Portland, for example, what would be valued would be completely different.  There is a vibrant art community there, and does the fact that Art Basel, showing the top galleries of the world, sees it differently, diminish that art?  I tend to doubt it.

In any event, I liked the idea to focus on each element of my picture.  I also liked the encouragement to be more creative in my representation.  I have felt this urge myself.  If I wanted to be a photographer, I'd be carrying a camera instead of paints.

So I returned to the same location in South Miami and sketched the distant building that first attracted me to the scene - but I tried to grab only the key parts, and then the mere suggestion of selected other parts.  I decided to do a more abstract piece, using the scene only as a starting point.  And "A Day in the City" is the result.

I would be very interested in your ideas on anything that I have said.  I think it will be some time until my thoughts are unmuddled.  But this is part of growth, I think.  (I hope.)

Oh, and one other thing.  I am thinking that maybe this small piece will be better as a diptych than as a single work.  There is a different feel about each side.  What do you think?  Here it is, "virtually" divided in two, with an inch off the bottom, so that it will be two 5" x 7" works (approximately, as I had left a small margin around the edges of the full picture - don't know if it would screw up the framing process to do this).  So, what do you think?

Thanks!  And a Very Happy New Year to you and yours..

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Excuses for not posting (and Moleskine sketches)

Excuse #1:  I have a new home studio!  Yes, finally, and in time for the new year.  Figuring out how to arrange it has been difficult.  

First the drafting table was facing west with the easel facing northeast.  

Then the drafting table was facing east, with the easel facing, well, northeast.  No one in the family liked that one.  

Then the drafting table was facing southeast with the easel facing northeast.  My wife hated that one!  It was visceral.  

Finally, as of last night, the drafting table is facing south towards the easel that is facing northeast!  Voila!!  Feng Shui!  Nirvana!  

There.  That’s done.  Where are the brushes?

Excuse #2:  For my new space I ordered a new computer.  (My wife has suddenly become awfully possessive about the one we shared.)  So the computer arrived and I plugged it in but it fell asleep and never woke up. 

Several calls to 24-hour customer support and there was nothing left to do but to return the lazy box back to the online dealer.  Fingers tapping.

Excuse #3:  The dealer told me (well, chatted to me) that I had to replace the laggard with the exact same computer.  They’re kidding, right?   No.  

Didn’t you read the fine print in the ad? they asked.

Squint – “ah, yes, there it is,” I acknowledged.  

Painters should always squint, I am told, that way you can determine the actual value of a thing.  

So true. 

Then when it finally arrived, I plugged in the new computer, turned it on, and the monitor stayed completely dark!

So I called them with my paw pointed forward, my painter’s eyes squinted, my teeth bared and my tail upright, ready for attack.  When I found out that it was all because I plugged both the blue cord and the white cord into the monitor and - shouldn’t I have known that I had to choose one or the other? - I slunk/slinked/slank away with my tail between my legs.  

They said something like this:  You choose the blue cord, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You choose the white cord, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  

For the record, I chose the white cord.

Now the computer purrs like a kitten and follows every white rabbit down its hole.  Really.

Excuse #4:  So then was time to install all the stuff I need on the computer:  the browser, the bookmarks, the pictures to paint.  Not quite done with that yet.  I haven’t installed Photoshop (and the version I have may be too old for this computer).  My  scanner is hooked to the other computer, and my wife is standing there like a mamma bear at the mouth of her cave.  What do do?

Excuse #5:  I bought a new lamp for my drafting table but still need to buy the day bulb.  It’s dark in here.  Hey, do you notice that once you start buying cool studio stuff, it’s hard to stop?   My needs grow by the day.  Shoulda chosen the blue cord.

So there you are.  Five good reasons for not posting.  There are more, but I don’t want to disturb you more than necessary.

I am ready to leave the dark year of 2012 behind:  to carry the losses in my heart and mind, but move forward as well, beyond the barrier of the new year.  I am poised in my studio, ready for action.  Brush in one hand, pen in the other.  Both held upright as though ready for a meal.  And I’m famished. 

Thinking about it, there's something else customer service said to me: 

I'm trying to free your mind, Dzan. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

So true.

And how about you?  Are you ready for the new year?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Around the Corner

8" x 10" watercolor on 140 lb.  Fabriano Artistico hot press paper
It was the geometry - the squares, the angles, and the repetitive elements that drew me in.  Although no single building is highlighted, just parts of each in this slice of the South Miami scene, I found this view (slightly modified from the real thing) strangely satisfying. It was drawn and painted (mostly) on site.

Today I will let this picture speak its thousand words (if it has that much to say) without my help.  Can you hear it?