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Art at the X

Spiral Bowl with Flat Screen, oil on linen, 16" x 24"

Spiral Bowl with Flat Screen, oil on linen, 16″ x 24″

I’ll be showing Spiral Bowl with Flat Screen Xavier University Art Gallery’s “Art at the X” from Aug. 25 through Sept. 22. It’s been a number of years since I’ve shown there, and I’m happy to be joining the exhibition again.

The Wordbody Blog Turns Ten

Sunrise, Sunset:

Today also happens to be summer solstice—
a great reason to watch the sun set!
Ten years ago today, I started the Wordbody blog before flying off to a tiny island in Micronesia. To celebrate, I compiled an entirely random assortment of things I learned between then and now.  

1) Earplugging fear. Might as well start with the main event. Ten years ago, I flew to Saipan to teach public high school because I was afraid of public speaking. I decided it was time to face that ol’ fear. A wise man once said, “The dogs of doom bark at the door of your destiny. But when you step through the door, you usually find a Chihuahua with a megaphone.” Truth. Today, I teach locally and globally. And I do love it. It is part of my destiny. When those dogs start barking, plug your ears and keep walking.

2) Own compassion. We’ve all heard it before: we can only be as compassionate (or honoring, or respectful, etc.) to others as we are to ourselves. But it’s really, really true. We can’t give what we don’t have. Speaking of giving….

3) Give like a river. I read this somewhere, once upon a time. What you put in from where you stand on a river’s shore will likely be carried downstream. And what you receive may come to you from upriver—from an entirely unexpected, unseen source. As I continually learn this, I’m getting better at releasing the illusion of reciprocity (bonus: this is a great antidote to bitterness).

4) Some reflexes & assumptions can kill you: While driving over the Siskyou Pass in sub-zero winter behind mud-spraying semi trucks, don’t reflexively squirt the cleaner fluid on your windshield. (If you do, you have about two inches of visibility beneath the wiper line to see enough to pull over!) Assumption scenarios with fellow humans can be equally dangerous.

5) Happy day. Years ago, while traveling in Asia, I read Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. By that point, I had lived and worked on several continents, and all but North America knew to take more than two weeks of vacation a year. In Weiner’s search for what makes people happy in Thailand, he found that the Thai people are less likely to take big, long vacations. Instead, they have learned how to build breaks and rest into their everyday lives. I loved that idea. Since reading that, I’m constantly reminding myself to intersperse my freelance work day with hammock time, cups of tea, reading poetry, or just staring out the window. Happier (and more productive) me.

6) Metaphors for the “Big Lessons.As a writer, I love metaphors. As an artist, I also love visual ones. You know the adage about giving people a clean slate? I remind myself of that figurative clean slate by keeping a literal slate (aka a mini chalkboard) above my door. It’s clean—nothin’ on it. A nice reminder.

7) Low fat! Low carb! Paleo! No! While standing in a wedding buffet line in my early thirties, I picked up a piece of bread. One of the women across from me noticed and pointedly said to her friend how great she felt when she avoided bread. That comment felt like a slap on two levels: it felt shaming, and it showed me how my own “didactic diet” had likely annoyed or even hurt others. Sure, if a person has a serious disease or food intolerance, it’s wise to let people know. Otherwise, food trends come and go. Unless someone asks, it’s probably better to figure out what works for ourselves and eat it—not preach it.

8) We are spirit, mind, and body—in that order. I wrote about that in a 2011 post called “Bikini Season for the Spirit.” Reading it again was a good reminder. 

9) The best investment. As a poet/painter, I’m not exactly a Fortune-500-level investor. But a couple of years ago, I decided to give up financial insecurity for Lent. For 2-3 hours a day after work, I read books, watched instructional videos, and navigated websites to figure out how to build a nestegg. When friends asked me what I was up do, I would tell them, and we’d end up sharing our good and bad financial adventures. Over those 40 days, I realized something. The best investments are relationships. My Roth IRA may fluctuate, and the few stocks I bought certainly will, but investing in people—regardless of reciprocity (see #3)—is always savvy.


10) Mistakes are often creativity in disguise. When I first returned home from the island of Saipan, I missed the 180-degree views of sea and sky. I had watched most sunrises and sunsets. One afternoon back in Oregon, I wanted to paint with some leftover red wine. I made myself a cup of coffee but bumped into something as I went to set it down. I splashed just enough over the rim to leave a coffee ring on my paper. At first, I was annoyed. I wanted to use that sheet of watercolor paper to paint! But then, as I looked at the common “mistake” of the ring, I saw the beauty in it. I dipped the cup in wine, and voilà: a tribute to watching sunrise with one beverage and sunset with another. Here’s to seeing coffee rings and other mistakes with new eyes.
 

Art and consciousness

campbell

The past two years have been a desultory mix of so many obligations that it has been nearly impossible to hew to a daily painting discipline. Typically, I’ve enjoyed two months of fairly uninterrupted work and then faced a month when I might have only a few days available for painting–earning some money as a writer, putting in time as a caregiver for my parents, working on our house, visiting my kids in California. As of this June, though, I’ve been able to paint every day and should be able to stick with this schedule into the foreseeable future, with only some short breaks here and there. It’s put me in a much better mood, in general, though that’s tempered by the fact that I’ve reached a point where I’m more critical of the work I’m doing, as I do it. I keep wrestling with a specter of what I recognize as a hyper-sensitive discouragement about results, when the results are actually perfectly fine because what I’m doing and seeing in the work is part of the evolution, the path. Ironically, I feel as if I’m at a threshold where my methods and skills are such that I can reliably do certain things now that weren’t possible before, so I have to fight an impatience that arises when I’m not surprised by what I’m doing. (I’m still struggling as I go, facing uncertainties, but it’s more within a broader range of confidence, so my success at this or that doesn’t impress me as much.) I need to be patient and do what I know how to do for a while, consolidate what I’ve learned about how to paint, in order to build a body of work over the next couple years–which means I have to fight the impatient urge to push past this stage into something a little bolder. More on that later.

Meanwhile, in an email alert from Open Culture, I learned that I can listen to hours of Joseph Campbell lectures for free now on Spotify. Quelle pleasant surprise. I immediately started listening to his lectures at Cooper Union in the late 60s, and after only a few minutes Campbell got right to the heart of the matter and confirmed that I will have some pleasant hours ahead of me:

One of the problems man has to face is reconciling himself to the problem of his own existence, and this is the first function of mythology is that reconciliation of consciousness with the mystery of being, not criticizing it. Shakespeare and his definition of art where he says, art (or the art of acting,) holds the mirror up to nature. It is a perfect definition I would say of the first function of mythology. When you hold a mirror up to your self, your consciousness becomes aware of its support, what it is that is supporting it. You may be shocked with what you see; or you may be pleased that you become aware of yourself, your consciousness becomes aware of that darkness, that Being which came into being out of darkness and which is its own support. The first function then of a mythology is the reconciliation of consciousness to the foundations of being and the realization of their mystery as something that consciousness is not going to be able to criticize, not even going to be able to elucidate, not even going to be able to name. It is something beyond naming, beyond all definitions, and when that is lost one loses the sense of awe, which Goethe calls the best thing in man. One loses the sense of gratitude for one’s privilege of having a center of consciousness aware of these things.

Tangents – What Are They and Why Care?

Off On A Tangent.

Tangents – what are they and so what?

Tangents - just me thinking

Purpose.  My intention in writing this article is to explore and perhaps shed some light on how the word “tangent(s)” is used in drawing, illustrating, painting and photography.  I would like to share with you how this topic came up in conversation.  Then, I’ll talk about the definition of tangent as it applies to artwork.

To illustrate the issue, I will include some examples of tangents in my own work and suggest some possible remedies. Finally, I will list some references and links for further study.

Summary.  Tangents come into play when designing two dimensional artwork such as drawings and paintings.  They are created when two objects, such as a line or shape, touch but do not overlap.  Because they can be visually awkward or ambiguous, tangents tend to draw the viewers attention.  By learning how to identify tangents, the artist can either avoid them altogether, or use them to advantage.

Tangents As A Topic Of Conversation.

Banquet Discussion. The topic of “tangents” came up over dinner while I was attending the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s Spring Convention. I can’t remember who brought up the topic but the gist of the story was that a fellow artist missed out on the top prize of a juried competition because of a tangent in her painting.

What? My little brain cells clicked into alert mode. But, what if the tangent was supposed to be there? And, what is a tangent?

I Know or I Think I Know.  I thought I knew what a tangent was and so did my table mate. However, she described a tangent that wasn’t anything like what I thought a tangent was. Could there be more than one tangent, perhaps two tangents, at least? We discussed the problem for a while and, failing to resolve the issue, went on to discuss other matters.

Gray Matter Spinning.  Well, you might imagine my little brain cells would not let the matter rest. What was the definition and who was right? Did I know what I was talking about?

Ignorance Is Not Bliss.  In a way, no; I did not have a clear idea of what I was talking about when it came to tangents.  Too many vagaries, from not being able to see the painting, to not knowing the definition of tangent as it applies to art.  Time for researching definitions and looking for examples.

Definition.

In geometry, a tangent is a line that touches a curved surface but does not intersect it.

Lets put this another way: tangents are two things, (lines or shapes) that are touching but not overlapping.  They are pretty much the same in artwork as they are in geometry.

Why Do We Care?  When it comes to looking at realistic images, we seem to like a visual order to things.  And, in the case of tangents, we like to know which shape or line is in front and which one is in back.  We like our spatial arrangement to be established and recognizable.

When the spatial arrangement is not clear, we have visual ambiguity; space collapses and the image looks flat.

The Fix?  Creating space by either shifting the line or shape or “pushing back” one of the elements by using aerial perspective (softening edges, muting tone, or moving color toward blue).  I will elaborate about spatial relationships and fixes below.

Examples of Tangents

Note, the bottom two examples are supposed to be of a simplified shape of a person (head, neck shoulders) and a shape of a tree. Just to clarify; thanks!

 

A Bit More Discussion And Elaboration.

Issue For Realism.  As I understand it, where this “touching but not overlapping” becomes a problem is in composing representational two dimensional art pieces.  That is to say, if I want to paint a realistic picture, tangents are something to be aware of and concerned about.   Because, you see, the tangents imply that the two shapes or lines are on the same plane.

Space!  Put another way, its all about spatial relationships. The issue with two dimensional works of art is that we are trying to depict a three dimensional world on the picture plane.  If the two objects are on the same plane in life, then the tangent may not be an issue.  But, what if they’re not on the same plane; what if one apple is deeper in shape than the other?  If they’re touching, but not overlapping, it creates an ambiguity.  The illusion of three dimensional space collapses and the image looks flat (as mentioned earlier).

Phew!

Creative Intent.  So, what if I like to collapse the illusion of three dimensional space?  Well, then, that’s me and part of creative intent.  And, when I create then collapse space, the result is not particularly realistic; its expressive, stylized or stylized.

A Word Of Caution.  I would suggest being clear in your design that your intention is something other than traditional realism.  Why?  We are still concerned with communicating to our viewer and we want to invite the viewer into our world; include them in on the joke, so to speak.  And, back to tangents, they can confuse your viewer.

Back From My Tangent!  Sometimes writing about issues we face while drawing or painting feels like waving in the air; its hard to articulate and communicate what I mean.  Naturally, this is where examples come in handy!

Example One:  Man With Hat.

It didn’t take me long to find some examples.  I just had to look at my “works in progress” and recent painting.  So, lets take a look at some examples from my “Man with the Hat” Series.

Yes, I have some “tangent” issues.  Consider my first example.  I had an idea to add a tree behind my “Man with the Hat”, insert a few leaves and title it “Last Leaves of Autumn”.  Seriously, it was my intention to have one leaf practically touch the face of my gentleman with a hat.

Oh, just to explain, I composed this design BEFORE the WSO convention, the discussion and research on tangents.

Still, I noticed something was awkward.  When I transferred the design to the painting, I added some space between the leaf and the shape.

Tangent, Example 1

Sidebar:  Watch Adding New Things At The End!

Trouble! Which brings me to my next insight.  I get into trouble when I add things to compositions AFTER being finished.  Its an “upsetting the apple cart” type situation.  When something new is added to a picture, its like adding a new subject at the end of the story; its jarring.  Then, you have to start “fixing” the composition.  It might have been better to start a new drawing altogether.

Multiple Tangents!  And, that’s why this next variation on the “Man With The Hat” has at least three tangents that have to be dealt with.  This is a “work in progress”, so I have room yet to adjust before I complete the painting.

Tangent Example Two:  Man With Hat and Dog.

Here goes example two.  First I decided to extend the tree branches behind the man.  Second, I had an idea to add a dog.  I’d seen a man with a dog at a bus stop and was inspired.

Nice ideas, but the composition was already fairly well developed so now I have tangent problems to fix.

More tangents

Isn’t composing fun?  Its all about problem solving!

References.

I found some interesting sites on the web that have more articles on tangents.  Cartoonists who rely on line work have a particular problem with tangents.

Empty Easel: Avoiding Tangents:  9 Visual Blunders Every Artist Should Watch Out For.

Schweizer Comics:  The Schweizer Guide To Spotting Tangents.

Monkey Lunch:  Tangent Slide Show.

Control Paint.com:  Avoid Visual Tangents, (video).

Conclusion.

Remember back near the beginning of this article and the dinner conversation I talked about?  Well, my friend and I were both correct.  Tangents crop up in pictures in many different ways.  However, once you understand what they are, you can identify them and use them to serve your own pictorial purposes.  Isn’t that wonderful?

I hope you have enjoyed this article on tangents as they apply to two dimensional artworks.  My intention was to shed some light on the subject, provide some useful information and share examples.  If you were like me and were not certain about the usage of tangents, now you know a bit more!

Please enjoy the next wonderful piece of art you come by, and, maybe, see if you can find a tangent or not!

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

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The post Tangents – What Are They and Why Care? appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Its About Egg – Broken And Otherwise

Potato Salad Friday – With Egg

Hi and Good Friday To You!

I was making a potato salad this morning, with hard-boiled egg, and was thinking about the paintings I’ve been doing lately with eggs and egg cups. What is so special about eggs? I don’t really like eating just plain old eggs, though I do add them to food, such as potato salad and cake batter (yum!).

Broken Egg

Eggs On The Brain – Just Thinking

Do you have a “thing” about eggs? Or, better yet, have you ever thought about it?

Well, yes, I’ve thought about eggs a bit.

Breakfast With Mom:  Eggs

To explain, when I was growing up, eggs were a regular part of our breakfast. Three or four times a week Mom would serve us eggs and I didn’t like them.   But, I didn’t say a word because when breakfast was ready, it was eaten without complaint. I do come from a family of six kids and Mom didn’t have room for picky eaters.

Mom would poach, scramble, fry or three-minute soft boiled eggs. Three-minute cooking was among my preferred method for eating because then I could dunk my toast in the eggs. Remember soft, white “Wonder” bread? That type of bread was excellent for dunking toast.

Egg Cups

The other thing I particularly liked about three minute eggs was the cup it was served in. Mom and Dad purchased wooden egg cups when they were living in Spain. The cups were simple but they had a nice shape.  And, they were from Spain!

So, every time I draw or paint my egg shells and egg cups, I pay homage, just a little, to Mom and her three-minute eggs.

Oh, this egg cup is not one of my Mom’s Spanish ones.  I purchased it at one of the local grocery stores.  Still, I like it.

About the Painting

“Broken Egg” is an acrylic painting done on heavy weight watercolor paper. Its size is 6”(h) x 6.5”(w). The painting is available for purchase for the price of $175 (unframed) plus shipping and handling. Should you like to collect the painting, please contact me.

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Art is not thought

Agnes Martin, Gratitude, 2001, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 60 x 60 inches

Agnes Martin, Gratitude, 2001, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 60 x 60 inches

Thoughts on how not to think, from Agnes Martin:

The life of an artist is a very good opportunity for life.
When we realize that we can see life we gradually give up the things that stand in the way of our complete awareness.
As we paint we move along step by step. We realize that we are guided in our work by awareness of life.
We are guided to greater expression of awareness and devotion to life.

You must say to yourself: “How can I best step into this state of mind and devote myself to the expression of life.”
You must not be led astray into the illustration of ideas because that is not art work. It is ineffective even though it is often accepted for a short time. it does not contribute to happiness and it is finally discarded.
The art work in the Metropolitan Museum or the British Museum does not illustrate ideas.
The great and fatal pitfall in the art field and in life is dependence on the intellect rather than inspiration.
Dependence on intellect means a consideration of observed facts and deductions from observation as a guide in life.
Dependence on inspiration means dependence on consciousness, a growing consciousness that develops from awareness of beauty and happiness.
To live and work by inspiration you have to stop thinking.
You have to hold your mind still in order to hear inspiration clearly.

Six Celebrations of Poetry

“A poem is not simply words on a page but a way of touching the stars and having the stars that have fallen into the sea touch us.”—Sawnie Morris
“I don’t think that art or poetry needs to set out to change the world but I think that it can change the world and make us more compassionate, more just, more aware.” —Michael Wiegers
“The struggle of the poet is to reach the natural sensations, emotions, and feelings that are often concealed or hidden by the mechanisms of civilization.”—Donald Hall
“My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important, actually, than any of the poetry he writes.”—Robert Bly
“A poem, like an oar, extends inner life into the waters of story and things, of language and music. There we in turn are changed, moved by the encounter’s supporting buoyancy, and also its useful resistance.”—Jane Hirshfield

“Poems are really messages to me whispering, Be calm, go deep, go slow.”—Susan Goldsmith Woldridge

Doppelgangers

Introspection, Dario Tazzioli, carrara marble.

Introspection, Dario Tazzioli, carrara marble.

I had some fascinating conversations with fellow artists at the reception for Doppelgangers at Oxford Gallery, where Jim and Ginny Hall have assembled another fine group show. It drew a large crowd, and it may have offered the largest number of pieces of any show they’ve ever put together, more than sixty. Many of the contributors took the theme as a pretext for submitting a pair of works, some two- and some three-dimensional, and yet everything seemed to fit perfectly into the available space. The idea of doppelgangers inspired or at least drew some exceptional work that had already been completed. As always, it’s impossible to do justice to everything on view, but again Dario Tazzioli’s sculpture was a magical affirmation that the artistic past is also its present and future. His Introspection, the bust of a young woman with a mane of flowing, wavy hair, carrara marble carved with a hand-turned bow drill—delivered to the show from Italy—stands as a quiet traditional tour de force, a testament to how nothing is off the table in art now. “Anything goes in art” used to mean that Warhol could fill a room with balloons and call it a masterpiece; now it means that the heritage of Donatello can still speak powerfully to a contemporary audience.

Tom Insalaco’s two paintings of faces offer the same lesson in a darker mood. They are the work of a man who has, for decades, been inspired by and driven to honor the Renaissance and baroque periods. He continues to quietly labor at his home studio in Canandaigua, NY, with more than one room turned into warehouses for his past work, all of it deserving a serious retrospective, but as if often the case with brilliant work done in obscurity, no one seems to be knocking on his door offering to revive interest in his remarkable career, which moved over the years from photo-realism to a reverence for the Old Masters. Since last year I’ve been studying and reading about Piero Della Francesca, whose work, especially, toward the end of his life, strikes me as powerfully alive and evocative and stylistically individuated in a completely contemporary way—which again suggests that emulating the mannerists or the Old Masters or the early Renaissance, or any other period, doesn’t need to be even a quasi-ironic undertaking, as it is with John Currin or Kehinde Wylie.

I had a long, probing conversation with Phyllis Bryce Ely about the recent work of hers I’d seen earlier in the day at Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs, NY: a pair of iceberg paintings from photographs her father took when he was serving as a Navy photographer documenting the construction of the DEW line in the arctic. These ghostly forms fed into her preoccupation with water—frozen water in this case reflected in the surface of the unfrozen kind—resulting in remarkable evocations of stillness and disembodied space, reductions of complex scenes into simple and flowing strokes of paint, that seem like fluid reverberations of what they represent—water shape-shifting into paint. I had a chance to finally meet Daniel Mosner, whose contribution to the show is an eerie depiction of what appears to be a woman whose face is moving from side to side so frenetically it’s nearly a vibrating blur—like those liminal, ominous figures who haunt the central character in the movie Jacob’s Ladder. In the background, through a doorway, you can catch a glimpse of what looks like a large, glowing flat-screen television. The paint is beautifully, confidently handled, luxuriant and full of subtle color. Mosner talked of how he works in isolation near Binghamton, NY, and how good it was to be with other artists for a while, and how he’s currently building a painting that sounds like a commentary on the history of modernism—a scene in which objects at different distances from the viewer will be rendered in ways appropriate to different movements from the 20th century, like striations in different depths of rock: realistic up close, Cubist in the middle distance, and expressionist in the most remote areas of the scene. “All of it will be unified by the light source,” he said, as if it were a matter of routine. He’s an exceptionally gifted painter, so I expect interesting results. Bill Santelli offered two paintings, from two of his four main bodies of work, one of them being the focal point of the entire show, as you walk in, the first work you see—a swirling abstracts, where the colors curl upward like smoke, highly simplified into the near-symmetry of a Rorschach blot, a red wound or flower in the center surrounded by a rococo sea of blues and greens. It’s one of his best from this ongoing series. Tony Dungan contributed an image of multiple human figures, built around his current obsession with a particular yellow-green hue, close to the one you’ll find on the backs and feet of runners as a warning to traffic. In Dungan’s hands this color is like a captured bird, pressing out against its confinement, full of energy—a glimpse of the life force itself. He works quickly and prolifically, and isn’t afraid to keep painting over whatever doesn’t please him, and he pulled out his phone to show me a large portrait that gave him such fits that he sanded it down, in an attempt to start over, but liked what he was seeing as he subtracted rather than added to the image. His experiments are always powerful: he’s someone who wrests unity from images that can be incredibly complex and, at first, seemingly fragmented.

The revelation of the show, for me, was Kenopsia, by Ryan Schoeder, hung brilliantly beside a pair of paintings by Matt Klos. Klos had a show not long ago of a series he did of abandoned homes in Fort Howard, Maryland, which was once a military installation and is now essentially a ghost town. Klos submitted two paintings from this period: one the image of a green house with a surrounding pillared veranda, an osprey’s nest in the eaves. It’s a plangently lovely image, a study in green, blue and brick, with the blue of the sky reflecting delicately off a shadowed wall, almost entirely angled away from the viewer—as if the actual house were slowly melting into the air, which in a way it was. Klos paired the painting with another scene from his studio, with this same painting sitting on a shelf, a clearly discernible object among many others lost in the ambient light. Both paintings pit the beauty of the image itself against mortality’s song of loss and decrepitude. Perpendicular to these two pieces, Schoeder’s large near-abstract actually seemed like a doppelganger of sorts for Klos’s unobtrusive, soft-spoken mastery. Schroeder’s large painting has a glowing, symphonic presence, drawing you in with the grandeur of its light, as you squint and turn your head trying to make out what you’re trying to see. Gradually, as you adjust your expectations, you begin to recognize an immense interior volume, a structure that seems to have been hollowed out, half full of rain or a storm surge or the massive dregs of a fire hose. This vacant, ghostly and cavernous space is intensely, brightly illuminated, as if you’re in a psychic waiting room for a near-death experience. In the center of this space rises a ragged, formerly-load bearing piling, like a pillar of salt or limestone but likely just cement. I was standing beside another visitor to the show, who was fascinated and bemused by the elusive quality of the painting, “I don’t know why, but it reminds me of the 911 memorial. Have you been there?”

“No, but I’ve seen images of it. I’ve written about it. It’s remarkable. The falling water,” I said.

“This feels like that, to me,” he said.

It was an amazing, intuitive leap to make about the painting since it looks almost nothing like that memorial, but it did evoke a feeling similar to the effect of that excavated crater, and the hint of water—not falling but motionlessly reflective—brought to mind the same kind of uneasy and yet serene gravity. I immediately got out my phone and looked up the word kenopsia: “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty . . .” So it struck me that, with the work form Matt Klos nearby, one corner of the gallery had been invisibly roped off as a shrine to kenopsia, a curatorial choice that only magnified the central qualities of all three paintings.

With this painting, I finally was able to make sense of what has been driving Schroeder in most of his recent work over the past few years: as if the title of this painting had arrived belatedly to lend perspective to his entire body of work up to now. He’s basically been trying to depict what can’t be seen, this kenopsia, over and over and over: in derelict spaces, long abandoned, with their jumble of deteriorating walls and floors and beams. In a tiny chapel with rows of empty pews. In subjects so crepuscular you can hardly make out what he’s trying to show you. He’s aiming his eyes at what can’t really be seen, maybe as a sort of analog for a Buddhist or existentialist void, but with this painting suddenly that space is illuminated like a stadium at night. I’m eager to see where this new light leads.

Figure Demo, WSO Convention (Part Two)

The Demo:  Three Artists, Three Approaches, One Figure

Having introduced the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s (WSO) Spring Convention in my previous post, I’d like to talk about the “Three Artists, Three Approaches, One Figure” watercolor demonstration (demo). Let me say that it was quite a privelege to be asked to participate.  I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with two fine artists from Oregon:  Deborah Marble and Chris Stubbs.

Demo In Progress

First I would like to give you an introduction to the demo concept plus some of the wonderful people who contributed to our success. Then, I would like to present some “lessons learned” about doing a demo.  Finally, I will share with you a brief video clip.  Hopefully by the end, you will be able to get an idea of the set up, the fun, and what a special event it this “Three Artists, Three Approaches, One Figure” was!

Introductions.

Mary Burgess, “Presenter Liaison”, Starts It All.

For this convention Mary Burgess was the “Presenter Liaison”.  That is to say that she was responsible for coordinating the break out sessions and the mini workshop committee.  It was Mary who asked me to participate in one of the art demonstrations.  As you might imagine, it didn’t take me but two seconds to say “YES!”.  Thank you Mary!

Demo: Reference Photo Man With Hat

The Figure Demo Concept.

So, the idea behind the demonstration was to have three artists each do a watercolor painting using the same model or figure. In this way, we would be able to show three different approaches to figure painting.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  I am grateful that Mary contacted us early because there was much in the way of coordination that had to be done.  But, it did come together and we were ready.

Chris Stubbs & Deborah Marble:  Working With Professionals.

Another thing I was grateful for was the professionalism of my fellow artists.  Both Chris Stubbs and Deborah Marble are experienced artists.  Plus, they have given several demonstrations  before.  Chris’s signature style includes lovely, lush skin tones.  Deborah’s particular skills include being fast and focused enough to be a court sketch artist.

For my part, I wanted to make sure I was on my “A” game.

Decisions, Decisions!

Two big decisions we three had to come up with were (1) do we use photo reference or have a model?  And, (2) what photo or model?  We ended up deciding on using a photo because that would give us time to become familiar with the model and prepare a demo pieces in stages, (see above).

WSO Three Figure Demo: Deborah Marble At Work

Del Moore and the Technical Support Team.

Well, let me assure you that having three artists on stage at the same time is not an easy accomplishment. I was so impressed and pleased with the support we received from WSO’s convention committee. As you might imagine, equipment was an issue. The committee’s technical team, headed by Del Moore, put together a set up where we had three cameras, projectors and screens. It was amazing! The audience was able to see each of us at work at the same time.

You might want to notice the set up in the photo at the top of the page and in the video (at the end).  Can you see that we each have a black “frame” on top of the table?  This frame had a light on each side to illuminate our work space plus it had a camera overhead.  The camera fed to projectors set up between us.  The entire set up was effective and un-obstrusive.  As a matter of fact, I thought the black of the work space was particularly nice!

Oh, the speed of this team in setting up and tearing down our demo equipment was impressive.  There wasn’t much time since our assigned room was in use before and after.  Del and his crew worked like seasoned roadies; my hat’s off (or a paint brush salute!).

Nancy Cheeseman, Professional Moderator.

The other thing that Mary did for us was to add a moderator for our session. Fellow WSO artist and professional moderator Nancy Cheeseman stepped up and did the job. And, what a superb job Nancy did indeed! I cannot imagine our session being such a success with out a moderator. She helped keep the audience engaged in what we were doing by asking each of us, in turn, a series of questions. Nancy also took questions from the audience. In the end, I think that the moderator helped us tell our art-making stories.

A Word About The Audience.

What demo could be complete without an audience?  And, we had a wonderful, supportive audience of artists from around the west.  While most attending were members of the Watercolor Society of Oregon, we did have several artists from the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies also present. Thank you all; you made it fun and extra special!

ChrisStubbs Man With Hat

For the Fun of Painting – The Demo!

So, with all this wonderful, professional support staff, what was left for us artists to do? Why, paint and have fun of course! It was a case of showing up with your work and getting our paint on…or going, or flowing!  😉

I think there are a few things that I would like to remember as a sort of “lesson learned” for the next time I do an art demonstration.

Demo: Three Artists

Lessons Learned.

Things that went well:

  • Detail Version. Artist Chris Stubbs brought multiple unfinished paintings, or “works in progress”. One in particular was an enlargement of the figure’s face. Chris is known for painting beautiful, colorful skin tones. By enlarging the face, it was easier for the audience to see how she achieves such wonderful glowing skin.
  • Special Equipment. Fellow artist Deborah Marble showed some improvised tools she uses for line work, for example.  It was not something you would expect to see and I think it added an extra dimension to her work process.  And, her tools were just so cool to see!
  • Different Speeds. The three of us had different styles and processes. Deborah, for example, can paint quickly (note her figure in the photo above).  Chris, though not as fast as Deborah, had almost finished her painting in the allotted 90 minutes.   On the other hand, I build my paintings slowly over time, applying thin layers of paint.  Mine was completed about four weeks after the fact.  We all had something interesting and different to offer our audience.
  • Multiple Versions of Demo Piece.  On a personal note, much like Chris, I brought four versions of my interpretation of the figure. Each version was in a different stage of completion. I found it helpful to have several stages to work on, (see examples above).

Demo: Stermer-Cox Version Man With Hat

Things to consider for next time.

  • Timing!  Because time is limited, I think it would be good to have a definite plan on how long to work on each stage.  And, time it during the demo.  This idea entered my head during the demonstration.  I had the feeling that I’d lingered too long on one stage.  Having to think fast, I quickly ended my painting mid wash in order to move on to the next phase.
  • Where’s The Watch?  I lost track of time altogether!  My small wrist watch is not so good for a quick glance.  Plus, the room was dark and I couldn’t see the wall clock.  Therefore, I suppose it might be a good idea for me to get a bigger watch, clock or timer.  The point I’m making to myself is:  you have to be able to see and keep track of time.
  • Task Per Stage.  For next time, I’d like each “stage” version of the painting to have a particular problem or task to demonstrate.  I had this idea in my head beforehand.  However, I ought to have defined the stages formally, which means on paper.  I am thinking that this would help me explain my process.  Therefore, note to self:  if its on paper, its a plan!

The Video

To sum up my experience, I’d like to say I had a great time.  Maybe I’m just a bit of a clown at heart, because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of showing how I work.  To that end, please enjoy a short video clip of me as I introduce my process.

Now that I’ve introduced the key players, shared lessons learned, and shown a brief video of yours truly in action, I hope you can see what a special, fun event this was.

What’s Next?

I’m still working on the paintings and having a great time with the man with the hat.  The question now is, how creative can I be?

Thank you!

 

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Aimless beauty

Iris Murdoch, by Ida Kar, 1957 National Portrait Gallery

Iris Murdoch, by Ida Kar, 1957 National Portrait Gallery

Iris Murdoch, from Existentialists and Mystics:

Following a hint in Plato (Phaedrus, 250) I shall start by speaking of what is perhaps the most obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for ‘unselfing’, and that is what is popularly called beauty. Recent philosophers tend to avoid this term because they prefer to talk of reasons rather than of experiences. But the implication of experience with beauty seems to me to be something of great importance that should not be by-passed in favor of analysis of critical vocabularies. Beauty is the convenient and traditional name of something that art and nature share, and which gives a fairly clear sense to the idea of quality of experience and change of consciousness. I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And of course this is something that we may also do deliberately: give mention to nature in order to clear our minds of selfish care. It may seem odd to start the argument against what I have roughly labeled as ‘Romanticism’ by using the case of attention to nature. In fact, I do not think that any of the great Romantics really believed that we receive but what we give and in our life alone does nature live, although the lesser ones tended to follow Kant’s lead and use nature as an occasion for exalted self-feeling. The great Romantics, including the one I have just quoted, transcended ‘Romanticism’. A self-directed enjoyment of nature seems to me to be something forced. More naturally, as well as more properly, we take a self-forgetful pleasure in the sheer alien pointless independent existence of animals, birds, stones and trees. ‘Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical.’*

I take this starting point, not because I think it is the most important place of moral change, but because I think it is the most accessible one. It is so patently a good thing to take delight in flowers and animals that people who bring home potted plants and watch kestrels might even be surprised at the notion that these things have anything to do with virtue. The surprise is a product of the fact that, as Plato pointed out, beauty is the only spiritual thing that we love by instinct. When we move from beauty in nature to beauty in art we are already in a more difficult region. The experience of art is more easily degraded than the experience of nature. A great deal of art, perhaps most art, actually is self-consoling fantasy, and even great art cannot guarantee the quality of its consumer’s consciousness. However, great art exists and is sometimes properly experienced and even a shallow experience of what is great can have its effect. Art, and by ‘art’ from now on I mean good art, not fantasy art, affords us a pure delight in the independent existence of what is excellent. Both in its genesis and its enjoyment it is a thing totally opposed to selfish obsession. It invigorates our best faculties and, to use Platonic language, inspires love in the highest part of the soul. It is able to do this partly by virtue of something that it shares with nature; a perfection of form that invites unpossessive contemplation and resists absorption into the selfish dream life of the consciousness.

Art however, considered as a sacrament or a source of good energy, possesses an extra dimension. Art is less accessible than nature but also more edifying since it is actually a human product, and certain arts are actually ‘about’ human affairs in a direct sense. Art is a human product and virtues as well as talents are required of the artist. The good artist, in relation to his art, is brave, truthful, patient, humble; and even in non-representational art we may receive intuitions of these qualities. One may also suggest more cautiously, that non-representational art does seem to express more positively something which is to do with virtue. The spiritual role of music has often been acknowledged, though theorists have been chary of analyzing it. However that may be, the representational arts, which more evidently hold the mirror up to nature, seem to be concerned with morality in a way which is not simply an effect of our intuition of the artist’s discipline.

These arts, especially literature and painting, show us the peculiar sense in which the concept of virtue is tied on to the human condition. They show us the absolute pointlessness of virtue while exhibiting its supreme importance; the enjoyment of art is a training in the love of virtue. The pointlessness of art is not the pointlessness of a game; it is the pointlessness of human life itself, and form in art is properly the simulation of the self-contained aimlessness of the universe. Good art reveals what we are usually too selfish and too timid to recognize, the minute and absolutely random detail of the world, and reveals it together with a sense of unity and form. This form often seems to us mysterious because it resists the easy patterns of the fantasy, whereas there is nothing mysterious about the forms of bad art since they are the recognizable and familiar rat-runs of selfish daydream. Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective vision. We are presented with a truthful image of the human condition in a form that can be steadily contemplated; and indeed this is the only context in which many of us are capable of contemplating it at all. Art transcends selfish and obsessive limitations of personality and can enlarge the sensibility of its consumer. It is a kind of goodness by proxy. Most of all it exhibits to us the connection, in human beings, of clear realistic vision with compassion.

-“The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts”, Existentialists and Mystics, pp. 369-371

* Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.” — Wittgenstein. Tractatus logico-philosophicus