Here's a new one in progress. Unlike some of my other recent self-portraits in which I've pulled back from the mirror to show its surroundings, here I have centered in on a mirror tile that I've gridded with twine. I'm looking to get the painting of the twine to look as physical and 3d as possible. Grids have been used for centuries by painters seeking to accurately transcribe reality. The photorealists, too, have famously employed grids towards the end of capturing more precisely the look of a photograph. In including the grid of twine and emphasizing its physicality, I allude to the perceptual painter's goal of ensnaring a section of life's experience. In making the grid appear more physical than the mirror it entwines, I privilege the process over the image, drawing more attention to the means than the ends. See paintings in previous posts that explore similar themes.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Monday, December 2, 2013
Monday, November 4, 2013
Here's the latest state of the self-portrait I'm doing in my backyard, part of my reflections in nature series. Spent Sunday working on the face, and I'm pretty sure I like the earlier version (seen below) better. A bit better. Ah, well- such is painting.... fraught with disappointment. Gonna put this one to the wall for a week and start something new. I'm resolved to finish it soon (still needs a bitta work) but I think a breath of fresh air will do me good. Hope I'm not finishing this in the snow!
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Here's one I'm working on in my classroom. A previous advisor said to not do any more ducks while I'm in the program, but, what can I say? I'm stupid sometimes. I think this might be the 52cnd in my long-running series of rubber ducks, all pretty much done from this duck. That guy and I have weathered a lot of long hours together. As the object of my focus one could argue that he's a stand-in, or surrogate for me, in this mirror’s reflection.
Here's one I've started of my wife Helen's panda watering can. The way this stamped metal figure, obviously man-made, offers up that little piece of bamboo could be seen as a metaphor for the painter's goal of depicting nature for the viewer, a process fraught with mediation. Or something like that. First and foremost, I think it'll make a nice image.
Here are the planning stages of the new self-portrait in the landscape I’ve been working on the last month or so. Finally found a suitable spot- the tree in my backyard. I figure this will make it easier to put in the time this painting (which'll be pretty big) will require. In addition, it's a more truthful reflection of my real habitat. In the second study I taped up a string grid, which I plan on including in the final painting. I think it's kind of a funny way to reference the painting process, and also as a bit of a nod to perceptual painter George Nick (he doesn't include the grid in his paintings, but he does use simple, gridded viewfinders he makes himself when does his larger works from life). I guess you could see it as a good-natured jab at painters like Chuck Close, too, who grid up photos; I'll bet he's shaking in his boots! Well, maybe not...Conceptually, the string also represents another barrier between the viewer/painter and direct, unmediated experience. Here are some thumbnails-
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Shown below are some earlier states...
Monday, July 15, 2013
Here's an earlier state.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
MFA Semester II
1 March 2013
The Relationship between the Archive and Elements of Traditional Oil Painting
Sven Spieker, in his book The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy, traces the lineage of most archivist activities to the procedures first introduced by the Privy State Archive in Berlin. It was there, in 1881, that the principle of provenance was first introduced (Spieker 17). Documents at the Privy State Archive were not arranged merely by subject, but according to the time and place in which they were produced. This was a significant shift, for in Spieker’s words, “it is these conditions- this place- rather than meaning (or history) that the nineteenth-century archive aims to reconstruct.” (18).
One can see these concepts continue to guide the work of contemporary artists working in an archival mode. Using physical materials to which a particular time and place are attached, these artists work to evoke a past real or imagined. Discarded files, photos, ephemera- all become artifacts asked to stand for the past by proxy. Creating or confounding meaning, these artists use stuff to stand for time. While it may not be so novel or de rigueur, there is another, older art form that shares much in common with the techniques and intents of the archivist: traditional oil painting.
While one may balk at the notion that, as a lone document unto itself, a painting might constitute an archive, an important point must be considered: a traditional oil painting is constructed of many individual decisions, one built upon another. While it may appear to the untrained eye to be a singular burst of expression, oil paintings built on the time-honored technique of starting first with an underpainting yield to the educated eye a subtle timeline of the work’s creation. Work painted in this method is begun with an underpainting done in thin washes of earth tones to establish the basic drawing and lights and darks. Once this is dry, the painter can begin to go in with full color, adding increasing amounts of oil to each successive layer or painting session (a process known as painting “fat over lean”).
There is a chronological order indexed through these layers, like sedentary rock. These layers allow art authenticators to view earlier states of the painting through the use of x-rays. Even the naked eye is offered tantalizing glimpses into the history of the painting: the newer, fresher strokes of paint not only overlap the previous ones, but they typically are more glossy, as well, a byproduct of the fat over lean process. Even in heavily varnished works whose overcoat gives the painting a uniform sheen, one can still deduce where the underpainting peeks through, as it is almost invariably painted very thinly, with muted earth tones. In this light, a traditional painting can be seen as the manifestation of many moments, which can be viewed discreetly or en masse. Each of the painter’s strokes indexes an experience, a phenomenon witnessed. As Canadian archivist and video artist Jayce Salloum so succinctly puts it, “Fixing the temporal, space and time become conflated. (Merewether 186). Just as the Privy State Archive filed its documents according to the time in which they were produced, the painter’s decisions announce their own provenance through their position within the strata of paint layers.
This process of painting fat over lean serves more than an aesthetic concern, however, for one of the primary reasons for layering paint in this way is to maintain the flexibility and integrity of the paint film such that it doesn’t crack or otherwise destroy itself. In so doing, it serves the aim of many an artist and archivist- to preserve time and experience. One of the reasons this painting process has remained popular for so long is that it is one of the most permanent and stable. It is, in a word, archival- a term emblazoned across any artists’ material worth its salt. Artists go to great lengths to ensure that their work will withstand not just the onslaught of critics, but of time, as well. While some painters may experiment with materials they know to be ephemeral, most do not wish their testimony to be undermined by fugitive media.
Permanence should not be seen as an end in itself, however. “To amass an archive is a leap of faith, not in preservation but in the belief that there will be someone to use it, that the accumulation of these histories will continue to live, that they will have listeners” (Merewether 186). Although this statement comes from Jayce Salloum, an archivist who works with video, it applies no less to traditional painters. This is a concern that haunts artists of all stripes. No artists want their work to be a tree falling in the forest that no one sees. Why, after all, put in all the hours of solitary work for what usually amounts to very little money or critical acclaim? Yet thousands of painters labor away under these conditions this very second. Part of the reason for this must reside in the fact that, among other things, what painters document are their own lives and experience. The very permanence of traditional painting materials surely emboldens the ego of many a painter. If, after all, a properly painted canvas can survive with minimal care for centuries then one still has hope that their voice may eventually fall on responsive ears, and some small measure of immortality achieved. In other words, the fact that the medium is archival is, in itself, an incentive to continue.
Legacy is a notion that is of paramount importance to many painters, surrounded as we are by the extant works of generations upon generations of past masters. The fact that some artists identify themselves as ‘traditional’ signifies the value they place in being part of this continuum. Painters’ dogged insistence in clinging to a medium many have long considered outmoded speaks to this notion, as well. In working with the same exact materials used by the masters of yesteryear, they forge a link between themselves and their forebears, a link that is still not lost on the public or institutions.
Outdated or not, as an archival form traditional painting still has much to recommend itself. As new data storage systems come into being with increased frequency, so, too, do they become outmoded. Without the proper platform to read them, many storage devices and the information contained therein are rendered obsolete. Painting’s strength, however, lies in its very directness. All a recipient needs is eyes for a painting to divulge its information- no network connection or batteries required.
Painting’s role as a documenter may have diminished slightly since the advent of photography, but it has by no means disappeared. Sure there may be an increased element of subjectivity, but there are certain records (not the least which include courtroom and battlefield sketches) in which that element is prized, not as a corruption of the record, but as an integral and informative part of it. Emotions are no less a part of our life’s experience than the paperwork, photos, and other detritus we share it with. If the last few millennia are any indication, I expect that painting will remain a valued and viable element of humanity’s collective archive for some time to come.
Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008. Print.
Salloum, Jayce. “Sans Titre/ Untitled: The Video Collection as an Active Archive”. The Archive: Documents of Contemporary Art. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 185-193. Print.
As per the suggestion of my mentor, I've been doing some drawings to help work out some of my compositions. I'm hoping it'll help speed up my process, too; that last little painting was a bit of a time drain. Here are some drawings from around the house and out the window: