Manifest International Painting Annual 4
My copies of the Manifest INPA 4 arrived today, and when I saw the three boxes containing them I realized I went overboard while ordering and now own three hardbound and four softbound copies of the International Painting Annual. I’m lucky and honored to have had two paintings picked for inclusion in the book, which may be the finest collection of work I’ve seen in any Manifest publication. There’s a special emphasis on the human figure in this one, and it’s quietly rousing to see bodies and faces, as well as the human skull I contributed, rendered in so many different ways, filtered through so many different perspectives and sensibilities. It’s a humbling, but consistently thrilling, experience to leaf through the book slowly and take in so much amazing work. The competition picks three winners–an astonishingly talented Erin Wozniak first and foremost with her comparatively tiny, simple and yet utterly alive figurative painting. The rest of us are presented as finalists–a nice way of singling out the three most remarkable artists and yet still offering ample recognition for the 92 others picked for the book, selected from 1560 entries by 563 artists from 32 different countries. This year, I’ve failed to get into the first four shows I’ve entered, which is how it goes some years, so the book arrived as a nice reminder that recognition is a cyclical phenomenon, coming and going on its own schedule, to its own rhythms. I’m going to post quite a few of my favorite paintings from the book over the next few weeks, with some brief comments. It’s great to read, up front, how Manifest is still gathering momentum, expanding its exhibition space and its programs, offering more and more opportunities for solo and group shows, simultaneously. If you want to see what people are doing with paint right now around the world, order a copy from Manifest. It’s well worth the price.
A Study of a Human Skull, David Oleski
At our recent lunch, Rick Harrington reminded me of David Oleski’s work, and I returned to it, at his website, with pleasure. It’s gotten more subtle and complex in execution, and yet in a way even simpler in its effect, than when I looked a few years ago. It’s a remarkable way to start with Impressionism, especially Monet and Seurat, and somehow also evoke work from a century, as well, finding a home that somehow seems to link Mark Tobey with Morandi. I dread most greens, but he appears to have devoted countless hours to finding new ways to see that color. I like how his areas of color seem to sit quietly and stay where they are, without any sense that one area of paint is moving toward another, no hint of gesture, as if a realistic image of a pear has settled into simpler patterns, all the details disappearing like sediment into a map of peach, green, yellow, and ochre. It’s a mystery how he breaks up what he sees into the cross-hatches he’s trying now. His statement, below, suggests that he contends with something I’ve encountered–that many potential collectors see his work as decorative, since it’s beautiful and devoid of metaphoric content. It’s all perceptual, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an attempt to give vision a resonance that evokes something like wisdom and joy. It would look great in a room, but that doesn’t mean it’s decor. I like, in his statement, he talks so much about craft and materials.
I came to the realization that many people don’t really understand what it is that I do. I paint in oils, on stretched linen. These are the same materials used by some of the greatest painters throughout history, from Monet and Van Gogh to Rembrandt and Valesquez. I use non-yellowing linseed oil, and a non-yellowing white, so the colors will not darken with age, even after a century. I paint on the highest quality Belgian linen, which is stronger and will not become permanently stretched and loose like cotton canvas, and is more resistant to bacterial growth.
Next, read about my frames.
This is one of my frames. I have these custom made at a frame shop in north Philadelphia. They’re a dark cherry-stained poplar, and the corners are joined with splines for the strongest and cleanest joint possible. The final clear coat is a satin finish, to best showcase the tight grain of the wood. The frames have a three quarter inch face, and are two inches deep. Every painting I finish is framed with one of these fine pieces of woodwork.
I work on only one painting at a time, working continuously for session after session until it’s finished, and then I’ll use the back end of a brush to scratch my name and the date into the wet paint on the lower right corner. I only work from observation. When I paint apples, there are apples in front of me, when I paint tulips, I’m looking at a bouquet of tulips, and I’m racing against the flowers blooming and wilting with each passing day. I only work by natural light, so I have to calculate my sessions to either finish by sunset, or plan on another session. This process dictates that the painting will always be about observation, and I will always strive to capture how I see, not merely create a painting. The way I work is very thorough and meticulous, to match each color of a still-life and lay it down in a very specific and calculated manner. This is how I learned to paint in art school, and I continue to learn more and more about space and depth and atmosphere with each study that I finish.
All I do is paint, every day, bordering on it being an obsessive/compulsive disorder to either fixate on the current painting or obsess over starting the next one. This is all I do, every single day. My prices have steadily increased every year to maintain demand and assure the investment value of my work to my current and past clients. All poetic reflection aside, I believe what I do is valid and substantial in the eyes of history, and I’m creating a legacy that will live on for many years after I am gone.
REMINDER: YOU ARE INVITED (and should bring some friends):
Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon Spring Community Meeting
Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon invites all arts enthusiasts to our Spring Community Meeting on
Tues., April 14th from 2:30–3:30PM
in the Shield Room at The Bear Hotel,
2101 NE Spalding, Grants Pass, OR 97526 (type address into GPS, not Bear Hotel!!)
All attending will have the opportunity to sign up for an Arts Alliance Charter Membership for just $20!
The Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon is an organization of artists, arts organizations, arts advocates, and the public, dedicated to building a strong, creative and sustainable arts community in southern Oregon.
In the spring of 2013, leaders from various arts organizations gathered with a vision to strengthen partnership and improve communication for the benefit of the greater arts community. Since then, we have regularly held panel discussions, public, and steering committee meetings to gather input as to what the Arts Alliance should be, and created mission and vision statements. Meeting locations vary throughout Southern Oregon in Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass, Jacksonville, and Kerby in order to be accessible, to encourage participation by the regional arts community, and to demonstrate our commitment to being an inclusive, positive, communicative, creative, informative, collaborative, and valuable resource to the arts community and the public.
With ongoing input from our arts community, we decided to create an active and robust Arts Alliance to help our arts community thrive. Our vision for the Arts Alliance is to accomplish this mission through:
- Developing a strong, supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having art as a common interest.
- Strengthening the economies of Southern Oregon communities by increasing the demand for art and increasing arts advocacy.
- Supporting activities that raise awareness of the importance of the arts and create opportunities for all to participate in and experience the arts.
2015 is the pilot year for the Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon. Presently we are planning its launch and preparing for this by building a website, creating a map and calendar, designing and creating marketing materials, continuing to streamline communication and build membership. We would like to express our gratitude to the Oregon Community Foundation for the grant that is helping us accomplish the Arts Alliance Launch in Spring 2015.
We hope you will be among the artists, regional arts leaders, gallery representatives, and art enthusiasts who join us on April 14 to make their voices heard and continue working toward the fulfillment of our collective goals!
Learn more about the Arts Alliance of southern Oregon and keep up with our events, news, and latest developments on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArtsAllianceSO
Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon community meeting- this Tues., April 14th from 2:30-3:30PM, Shield Room, The Bear Hotel, Grants Pass- SEE YOU THERE!
Arts Alliance of Southern Oregon
PO Box 24, Jacksonville, OR 97530
Philip Burke’s Jagger
Can’t wait to see this just an hour’s drive away. From ArtVoice:
A few weeks prior to his exhibit entitled The Likeness of Being: Portraits by Philip Burke, which opens on Friday (4/10) at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Burke met with Artvoice at the office of L.B. Madison Fine Art near his home in Niagara Falls, NY, where much of the work for the upcoming show was being gathered in preparation for display at the gallery.
Moving quickly around a small, sunny room crowded with canvases stacked several deep against the walls, it’s clear that Burke is enthusiastic about his upcoming exhibit—the largest of his career. He points out some early works of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, commissioned for Vanity Fair magazine when it resumed publishing in 1983. The works are smaller—maybe 2 feet by 3 feet—done on cardboard canvasses. “You can see I was poor,” he laughs, “Not that I’m rich now.”
From Manifest, check out the impressive prize this year for what has to be the most exacting art competition anywhere. Time to get to work:
The 6th Annual MANIFEST PRIZE
$5000 award + solo feature exhibit of the winning work
Open to works of any media, any genre/style, any size…
We are very excited to announce that the annual Manifest Prize (ONE) award is increasing to $5,000. This underscores our non-profit organization’s strong desire to reward, showcase, celebrate, and document the most exceptional artwork being made today, and to do this in a non-commercial public context. Further, it is to incentivize the creation of excellent art. Manifest’s mission is centered on championing the importance of quality in visual art. This project is one aspect of the realization of that mission.
The entry process for the 6th annual Manifest Prize award (ONE 6) is now open.
There are no restrictions on submissions to The Manifest Prize. Artists who have been included in previous Manifest projects are always welcome to submit to any future project, including the Manifest Prize.
MEDIA: Open to any and all traditional and non-traditional visual arts media.
Submission deadline: October 1, 2015
For complete info visit: http://www.manifestgallery.org/one
Kebler Pass, detail, with curio cabinet
A show of Rick Harrington’s paintings opened a few days ago at the Vilona Gallery in Boulder, Colorado. Rick, and his son Todd, met me at the Gatehouse for lunch last week, followed by an hour-long tour of the Memorial Art Gallery. As a road warrior, Rick is my hero. He has logged many thousands and thousands of miles, tens of thousands probably, driving his work to juried fairs around the country. He works hard and then plays hard, too, fly fishing or whitewater kayaking somewhere within a drive of his shows out West and elsewhere. His painting and his immersion in these recreational ventures into the wild are two sides of one activity for him. Someone clever might be able to make the case that they may simply be one activity viewed from two different points in time. He says the process of exploring and interacting with nature, as a prelude to the painting, immerses him in the world, while en plein air painting makes him more of a static observer. His most ambitious work so far has been a series of large, quasi-abstract landscape paintings attached to windowed boxes full of natural artifacts he has collected from the particular place depicted in the painting. (It reminds me of Burchfield’s quirky, obsessive attempt to depict sounds and other non-visual sensations in his paintings, all in the hope of triggering a deeper identification with nature in the viewer). For the past sixteen years, Rick has relied exclusively on his painting for income. His wife, Darby, is a college administrator and a writer, and her steadier income has balanced the ups and downs of Rick’s. Since 2008, the battle has been tougher, but he’s still making it work.
We talked about the shows I’d seen in New York City, and Todd agreed that Donatello was not only one of the greatest sculptors in history, but also one of our favorite Ninja Turtles. Rick can be hard to hear in a crowded restaurant. He has had surgery twice on his vocal cords and his raspy undertones are in the Jack Bauer range, so you have to put down your smartphone and lean in and focus when he speaks. I asked him why he started doing these large landscapes after having so much success with his abstracted barns.
Rick: Five years ago or so I was looking at galleries, and they were responding more to the landscapes than the barns which was good as far as I was concerned. It would go really well, but at the last minute they would say, but we’ve got this other guy. I would look at what they were talking about. I wouldn’t necessarily see the similarity so much in the work but the similarity for the purpose of selling: the same palette, whatever.
They would say someone who would buy this of yours would buy this other guy’s.
Rick: Right. Which is not at all what I think about when I work. Selling. At the same time, I had to take it into account. That got me started questioning why I was doing what I was doing.
Questioning the barns?
Rick: No, just straight landscape. At the same time I had to deliver a painting down to the Hudson Valley and we stayed overnight and went to Dia Beacon. We saw Richard Serra’s work. There’s that piece like a ship’s prow that blew me away. Then we went to an upper level that had been a turntable where they used to turn locomotives around. When we walked in there, I thought God, I have to work big. Same way I felt when I saw Rothko for the first time. Back then I wasn’t a good enough painter to do it. The old saw is if you can’t paint, paint big. But if you paint big, and you can’t paint, it just sucks, really big. To paint big, it’s hard.
Scale makes it completely different in terms of the brushwork.
Rick: You have to paint so boldly. I’m determined to try a new application of paint. The marks I’m seeing in my head, I have to use big knives or cardboard with cloth over it to hold the paint. I want really big marks. It’s like painting at the outer edge of my ability. It’s paint as its own language. The idea really is, I want you to feel you’re inside the view.
Be inside the scene.
Rick: The ones I’ve done so far up to 12 feet . . . it’s frustrating. That the 12 feet isn’t large enough, that to paint even larger is so much harder, and that it’s all such a gamble–that’s the frustration.
You’ve seen Welliver’s work in person, right?
Rick: Yeah. It’s a constant battle. That piece I put up in that buyer’s home. That painting in that kitchen is four by five feet. It doesn’t look that big. It’s a huge kitchen.
It thought it was a dining room, from the picture.
Rick: That power of scale and then to me not only do you want the image to be compelling, as you move in, do you want the paint itself to be compelling?
Rick and I have had discussions of Walton Ford’s work along these lines. We’re both great admirers of his originality, and with Rick, Ford’s recurrent theme of humanity vs. nature strikes a basic chord. Yet both of us had the same reaction when we’ve seen the work at Kasmin—a reaction I’ve had to some of my own finished paintings as well—where, when you get up close, the way the paint is applied feels disappointing. It’s shorthand that works perfectly from a distance. Yet when you get close to the surface, and it sounds ridiculous to put it this way, but it feels as if he’s disrespecting the paint. In Rick’s terms, the paint isn’t it’s own language, but is completely subservient to the idea and the image Ford is creating. There’s no sensuous commitment to the energy of the paint on the surface—as nothing but paint. It’ll never be an issue for a collector or a critic, when it comes to Ford, but whatever felt lacking at that up-close range in those paintings, this is what Rick wants to be sure is present in what he’s doing now.
Rick: Darby and I went to a beer-tasting dinner with a college friend the other night, and we sat with a professor and a friend who are both psychologists, and we talked about what we all did. They said “what do you do?” I said I’m an artist and was going to let it drop, but Darb asked me to get my phone out and show them. One of them immediately—on the iPhone you can keep enlarging the picture–she said, “that texture is like you’re there. It’s like you’re in the woods.” It’s what Van Gogh was trying to do: to paint the tactile feel of being there. But to me it’s what I like about being outside, all that stimulus calms my head down. It’s what I love about kayaking.
Embedded in that little anecdote, with most of the connective tissue missing, is Rick’s argument for being a painter, as well as his hunger to do it. First, it’s a reason to be outside where the rush of stimulation feeds his A.D.D. sufficiently to calm his mind and reconnect him with the silence of nature. (Painting is one justification for going outside, probably down on the list beneath the fishing and the kayaking.) Second, to experience a place with such intensity that he can convey it in a number of different ways through the act of painting, not simply by getting a viewer to see a representation of the landscape as Rick saw it, but also to apply paint in a way that also conveys the energy of the natural world, as Van Gosh did with his brushwork.
So I asked him how he got from the larger landscapes to the boxes.
Rick: The question, why the larger landscape paintings? Why do I have a bag of rocks and bones with me when I come home from Alaska? When we first moved to South Lima out walking, I found this nice granite rock weighed about 80 pounds. Beautiful orange granite. I carried this rock home two miles. I could carry it 150 yards and then my forearms were so shot, I’d put it down. I’d say, “Take the dog. I have to get my rock.” What? “I’ve got this rock.” Walking along, Darby said, “What are you doing?” I would just drop it. You can’t even use your hands after a while it’s so heavy. I started thinking, wait a minute. I started shoving it under some brush. She said “What are you doing?” Hiding it. “Who is going to want that rock?”
I’ve always been a pack rat that way. Why? To anchor myself in that place. So I started working with that. Sketches, found stuff, casts I make, skulls and bones and rocks. I cast grizzly tracks. I take plaster with me and gauze and embed the gauze in the plaster. When I was a kid I used to do plaster casts of animal tracks. And they all got thrown out. I’ll be with guys around a campfire drinking and I’ll walk away to cast some tracks. You’re an idiot! The next morning though, it blows them away.
You were saying before that this whole series of paintings is a sort of an ecological campaign on your part. . .
Rick: Yellowstone. We were at Yellowstone. It’s like the first time you’re in Yosemite and you’re looking at granite cliffs as tall as Manhattan. You get to the point in Yellowstone, especially as a kid you get up at dawn. Hardly anyone who goes to Yellowstone does that. People are out there all afternoon but the animals aren’t there. They’re all bedded down because it’s hot. You have to go out early. So we had had lunch and walked into an exhibit. Came across a permanent exhibit of Thomas Moran’s work. He went on an early expedition to Yellowstone and he did a bunch of sketches and paintings, and they used those to help convince Congress to establish the park.
Suddenly you’re a Hudson River painter.
Rick: But with the AbEx influence.
I didn’t mean you, I meant anybody, looking at Yellowstone.
Rick: I can’t wait to go back to Yosemite. I took photographs but didn’t even stop to sketch. Photographs cheat the scale. The first time I realized that was when I was scouting whitewater. You take a photograph and look at it at home and you lose the scale. For a long time I was afraid to paint Letchworth Park. I was afraid of getting bogged down in the details. I came home from paddling one day and realized I could paint it. Part of it was just being ready to paint it. That was really my own evolution as a painter–the evolution of the way I interpret what I see.
Behind all of it is the hope that the painting can wake people up to nature.
Rick: That book The Last Child in the Woods. One possible response to A.D.D. is to take kids outside. To me kids are just like dogs. Wear them out. Coaching soccer you get kids all amped up for a game. I’d make them run laps before the game. Parents were complaining, “You’re going to wear them out.” I didn’t care. Show me a ten year old fit enough to play soccer, all you’re going to do is take the edge off. I’m a frustrated environmentalist. If you want to have a conversation that wins the average person, screaming won’t do it. My hope is, like with this Alaska painting, which still scares me to try and do it. I might put $500 dollars worth of paint into it. This last one, I like the paint. If I’m afraid of messing up, I don’t paint well. If I can do a painting compelling enough, beautiful enough, experiential enough, I hope it makes the argument to preserve a place. Many places.
You have to be in that little zone where you’re fairly confident but not quite sure.
Rick: To me it’s sport. You practice and practice and practice. Quit worrying and play. If you’re scared running whitewater, no. If you’re confident in your preparation you can be so fluid that you can be your best self. The first terrifying swim in whitewater I took, like Biblical flooding water. When I swam I got rescued by a power boat. Then I watched a raft, guy went through it backwards, didn’t take a stroke. He knew the path so well. And was so confident. Like any sport, all the practice builds familiarity, and you can leave behind the tension of performance and just play your best, but in a relaxed way, completely free of the concerns about making mistakes.
Afterward, we went across Goodman and wandered around inside the Memorial Art Gallery, and I’m always amazed at how extensive the collection is, how you can live in a community the size of Rochester and drive only a few miles to see a Rembrandt or Titian, Bellows, Porter, Kensett, Homer, Thiebaud. We wandered upstairs and paused briefly in front of a contemporary Chinese scroll painting. It reminded Rick of a dam that will be built in China and he started talking about the effect of dams on the environment—illustrating even more effectively how there’s no way to separate his devotion to nature and his devotion to painting. While we had moved on to a display of seppas, spacers for samurai swords, he was still talking about salmon and the ecological balance of a watershed that depends on them:
Dams are problematic on lots of levels, from the weight of the water behind a damn that size (and the affect that weight has on the bedrock surrounding it), to the elimination of the annual flood cycles, to all the consequences regulated flow has on the downstream ecosystem in ways that are never even thought of ahead of time. In terms of the environment, the Three Gorges dam will destroy a whole ecosystem. Politicians and business people want to say we can’t afford to miss those money making opportunities, but don’t seem interested in any long-term effects, the downside of development, which is often so complex and interwoven, so far reaching, that they can’t be imagined.
Dams disrupt salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest and in British Columbia with the decline of fisheries. Salmon provide a massive import of biomass from everything they eat in the ocean. All fattened up they return to their streams, where they die after spawning, and provide a massive protein dump–hundreds of millions of tons- that is the basis of so much of the food system in each river drainage. From maggots and worms up through bears, wolves. You can detect old salmon DNA in trees. The whole ecosystem developed based on that over centuries, and we decimated it in 75 years. Damns have all but eliminated the natural runs, for a host of reasons. The fry get damaged dealing with the damns downstream, and become easier prey in their weakened state – it goes on and on… to say nothing of the barriers to returning fish making it all the way back up to the spawning grounds. Runs in the Columbia system are thought to be about 5% of what they once were. Imagine how much food there would be if they were back to that level. And the hatcheries touted as the solution turn out to be even further damaging to the native fish, in terms of competition for resources, and possibly most problematic, homogenization of the species. Each creek, each river, has a strain of fish unique to it- affecting the timing of runs, the size of the fish, the path of migration, etc.- that keeps the species as a whole broad enough in characteristics to adapt to environmental calamities. We have narrowed it all down to whatever is most efficient to raise in pens, and dropped duplicate fish into all the streams. Primarily supporting the commercial fishing industry, where the big lobby dollars come from. Salmon farming is another topic all together.