This week I have been looking at a couple of artists who have very different approaches to surface treatment. The first is Hannah Cole who studied at Yale and Boston University, and shows internationally. Cole says when she moved to New York she started walking everywhere and began to notice all of the patterns that people just rush past every day. She works to recreate these patterns and textures in hopes that it will connect to a larger audience and "it brings that feeling of beauty or magic to something someone knows already, but has never thought of as special.”
Cole paints everyday surfaces with painstaking detail, trying to capture the textures and patterns that inspire her. She says that part of this is meditative, and part is her Yankee determination. She has also transitioned from oil to acrylic since having her first child which I find interesting since I made the same transition many years ago. She says that since she paints in so many layers acrylic actually makes more sense for her as an artist. While I feel there are many advantage and disadvantages to both media, I feel acrylic best meets my needs at present as well.
The other artist that a professor of mine suggested I look at this week is Sara Sizer. Quite the opposite of Cole's layering paint to create her work, Sizer uses bleach to remove color from the fabric used in her work.
Using different colored fabrics made of a variety of material, Sizer has found that the bleach responds differently with each, lending itself to the creation of a variety of colors and textured patterns. Through experimentation Sizer has also refined the process of bleaching the fabric so she can create very large areas of color as well as very refined detailed areas. The result are very simplified abstract paintings that have a glow to them. Some of her work seems to hone in on a subject that the viewer can almost make out, others simply make interesting patterns. Either way it is enough to intrigue the viewer to draw closer and investigate. I hope to do just that this summer. Sizer shows her work in Berlin, Germany where I will be participating in a study abroad program this summer, so I hope to see her work first hand.
Variations of the Mundane
While exploring the use of the mundane as subjects I came across artist Jeffrey Cortland Jones. Typically pegged as a "white" painter, Jones tried to capture the variations of warm and cool, matte and glossy, painting white blocks on top of white blocks. creating a composition of subtle shades of white that aren't white at all. I am considering his work a variation of the mundane because his inspirations come from everyday scenes that can be broken down into a color block system.
Working mostly on a small scale, Jones attempts to create an intimate experience for his viewer. In his under graduate work he was working on a monumental scale, since he was being told that "bigger was better." After viewing a painting by Anselm Kiefer in person though, Jones reconsidered the issue of scale. He was highly disappointed that he could only get close enough to experience about a third of Kiefer's painting. He decided then that he wanted his viewer to be able to come up close and experience his work in it's entirety without the possibility of someone walking between the viewer and the work. An interesting way a to look at the question of scale.
Upon exploring Jones' website I discovered that, in addition to painting, he is also an avid photographer whose photos are without a doubt a launching point for his paintings. Focusing on the play of shapes and colors, light and shadow, even his photographs lend themselves to the simplicity of color block images. Several of his works are images very similar to my own, depicting the beauty of shapes and textures found in ugly, over looked places.
Another artist that a friend suggested I check out is painter Alison Moritsugu. Moritsugu is a Hawaiian born artist who strives to communicate the importance of how we look at and treat our environment and natural resources but depicting landscapes in the Hudson River style on actual tree stumps and logs.
Moritsugu creates a tension in her idyllic pastoral and landscape images by painting them on fallen logs - the very thing she is depicting. This juxtaposition forces the viewer to consider not only the beauty of the natural landscape, but also the evidence of its destruction. In addition, she is creating a very traditional two-dimensional painting on a three-dimensional surface that often deconstructs the the image - something that I have been exploring with my multi-panel paintings. When Moritsugu paints on multiple log surfaces she also activates not only the the area between the logs, but also the viewer's space since the logs protrude from the wall or the log itself.
Alison Moritsugu manages to create a variation of the mundane - a landscape - that forces the viewer to consider the innate contradictions that exist between the image and the materials, and the flat image surface that is depicted sculpturally on the very subject she is painting. A very interesting variation indeed.
Inspired by the Mundane
Jennifer Trouton is an Irish artist who seems to find inspiration in many of the same mundane spaces and things that I find beautiful as well. In addition to similar subjects, Trouton has also explored many of the same uses of space and surface area that I have been working with. She has several pieces that are composed of a number of gridded panels, as well as diptychs. While the objective of these blog posts is to find artists who inspire us, it's strange to come across someone who has followed a lot of the same paths that I have.
In Trouton's work, "Looking at the Overlooked," she explores the traditional idea of still life in a contemporary way. The piece comprises of 304 small works on board. Text and photographic images appear throughout the piece blending seamlessly with painted images. True to the tradition of still life, the completed works have a strong attention to detail with their subjects referencing the world of the every day life. Trouton says of the work, "unlike my predecessors, I am not interested in that which is stereotypically beautiful. Instead, attention is given to routine spaces and the discarded commonplace objects of our quotidian existence. Images more fitting for the excessively commercial and profligate society we occupy today were commodity replaces commodity with a ceaseless rapidity; respect for and need of tradition and time honoured craftsmanship is negligible."
In addition to her still life paintings of the mundane, much of Trouton's work is also about rural Irish life, traditions and deterioration. She has created many works that address the deteriorated structures and homes in the Irish countryside. These subjects resound with my own attraction to deteriorating buildings and abandoned spaces. There is just something intriguing about the dichotomy of hope and hopelessness in a deteriorating structure.
Trouton also has a series that included diptychs of patterned wallpaper paired with draped fabric that are reminiscent of growing up in the Irish countryside. Although my approach to the space of the canvas is different, these pairings also offer similarities to the bed painting I recently completed. I suppose that is due to her use of two canvases, draped fabric, and dual images to tell her story. My initial idea for the bed painting was a traditional diptych similar to Trouton's approach, I decided to splice the images together and create slightly off-kilter spaces between the images to diminish the feeling of stability in the work. My work can be seen below.
Troutons use of mundane spaces and objects seem to act as a prompt for the viewer to reconsider the subject and thus draws the viewer in to explore not only the image itself, but how it what it reminds them of and how it makes them feel. At the same time her images could feel lonely and desolate - things left behind, or quiet and comforting - reminders of a simpler time.
As I mentioned before, Jennifer Trouton not only works with similar subjects, but also explore the idea of multiple canvases, just as I have. Sometimes she does this by including numerous panels with similar subjects on each, and other times she creates a window from the panels by spreading the image out over the surface of multiple canvases. While I can't honestly say that my work has been influenced by, or inspired by Trouton's work, I can say that it's nice to see that someone has been successful thinking in much the same way as I have, so maybe there is hope!
The Real Thing
This week one of my professors introduced me to the work of Antonio Lopez Garcia. Garcia leads a group of Spanish Realists who typically work from life and depict things that are often considered commonplace. While at first glance Garcia's work looks photo-realistic, upon closer inspection the viewer can often find that while there are areas of precise detail, there are also areas of looser, more painterly brushstrokes that add character and interest to his work. When you look at his "Open Refrigerator," you can't help but notice his attention to detail, but when you look closer you notice that the side of the refrigerator door is simply implied or suggested.
Garcia represents real spaces that are truly interpretation of the space and time. Because he paints form life, his work is created over a period of time, so the light is always changing. This requires him to make decisions about how he will represent the light in his work. Often, like in "Sink and Mirror," he will also slightly distort the image to create a more dramatic affect.
I find Garcia's approach intriguing. I am drawn to his subjects and the common ugliness that makes so many of them absolutely beautiful. The way Garcia represents his subject is also something that I appreciate. I would never consider myself a photo realist, I don't think I have the patience for that, but I do love to create areas of intricate detail that are complimented by areas that are more painterly. This was a quality I always admired in the work of John Singer Sargeant, and, while Garcia is more of a realist, I feel that those qualities still exist in his work.
While researching Antonio Lopez Garcia I came across an article called "Artists on Art - Antonio Lopez ," by artist David Jon Kassan written in November of 2012. While in Madrid Kassan actually visited the studio of Garcia and even had the opportunity to paint his portrait while he was there. After reading the article I was intrigued and had to look up Kassan's work. He uses a very similar technique to create his portraits, using amazing realism partnered with some looser, painterly areas. But the realism he achieves in the flesh tones is uncanny. His life-size portraits capture the wrinkles and veins of his subjects, but he also capture the personality and emotion of his subjects in a way that completely draws the viewer in.
Kassan says, "My work is a way of meditation; of slowing down time through the careful observation of overlooked slices of my environment.”
Many of Kassan's backgrounds are rough, deteriorating walls that echo the changing, and aging of his subjects. Kassan says, "Time is an unbroken continuum of experience, change, growth and decay, and both subject and background are visceral embodiment of this process." Kassan’s inclusion of urban exteriors in his paintings invites the viewer to appreciate that which is typically overlooked and deemed mundane.
Interesting enough, both Garcia and Kassan tend to take years to complete their work. Both consider their work a process of discovery as opposed to something to be rushed through. I look forward to having the time to enjoy the journey and the process of creating my work a little more after Graduate School is complete.
While I am not interested in painting portraits at this juncture, I couldn't help writing about Kassan - his work is captivating, and ironically I learned in my research that he grew up very close to where I did in New Jersey!
Words and Practices
Yesterday some friends and I explored some art galleries in Atlanta, discovered some new artists and some interesting ways that they have distinguished themselves in the contemporary art world.
While I have seen many artists who work with found objects and use a description or title to create a deeper meaning, I feel that Lonnie Hollis is one the the most successful that I have encountered. As an artist who has worked hard over the years honing skills as a painter, I often view this approach to work as a cop-out. Hollis's work struck a cord though as being particularly powerful. The descriptions he uses of personal experiences and their impact on himself, and our world as a whole successfully tied together assemblages of found items with the stories he has woven together almost as artfully as the work itself. While Hollis's work really doesn't relate to my own at this point, it has helped me to better understand the power of how the written work can help an artist make a clear, unoffensive statement.
Another artist that intrigued me for a very different reason was John Folsom. The first thing that struck me about Folsom's work was his use of a grid in his large landscape paintings. The lines of the grid fade in and out, sometimes more pronounced than others. The work itself is created on a large panel, but the obscurity of the grid lines intrigues and even teases the viewer to come closer to investigate the picture plane. Upon closer inspection I realized that not only is the grid adhered to the surface of the work, but the work itself is not what it appears from a a distance. At first glance Folsom's work looks like large oil paintings. The truth is that Folsom prints large photos in a tile format that he pieces together on a large panel board. Once the pieces have been reassembled. Folsom paints on them to enhance the image. Sometimes he uses bright colors to emphasize particular areas, other times he uses subtle colors to create atmospheric affects. Once the work is compete he covers it with a coating of wax medium.
The atmosphere and perspective of Folsom's finished work truly draws the viewer in, and his techniques are perplexing. While I enjoy the finished look and feel of his work, I do't think the painter in me would ever find satisfaction simply painting on top of the photographic images. However, there is something about the use of the grid that really just intrigues me. While much of my recent work employs a grid in one way or another as a surface for my paintings, I must admit that the look and feel of Folsom's work tempts me to explore the possibility of painting a faux grid over the surface of a painting upon completion. This would really almost be reversing the process used by Folsom to create what I imagine to be a similar affect. Definitely a process worth considering further.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the SCAD Museum and see the work of Jose Parla in person. I can't emphasize enough the difference it makes to see artwork in person as opposed to in a photograph, or on line. I keep going through pictures, both on line and on my camera to find some that really capture the feel of his work, but pictures just don't do them justice. What you can't see in even the best pictures is the heavy impasto and textures including broken pieces of stone and concrete that embellish both his paintings and his sculptural work. The textures add an element of depth and physicality to Parla's work that just doesn't translate in a photo.
Parla's artistic roots go back to a childhood as a graffiti artist on the streets of Miami. Today his work sells for as much as a million dollars and adorn places like the world trade center in new York. Harkening back to his roots, his work is composed of many layers of color and texture that resemble city walls littered with posters, advertisements and graffiti. Using a variety of colors painted one over the other creates a visual noise that is reminiscent of the city streets he is representing. Parla also often includes layers of calligraphic lettering in his work. While the words are not legible, they are definitely beautiful and entice the viewer to explore a little more closely in order to figure out some sort of secret. The elegant curves of his work compliment the thick layers and hard textures.
Seeing the textures in Parla's work first hand was a real treat, especially since I have been experimenting some with the use of impasto in my own work. I enjoy building up modeling paste on the surface of my work, but worry about keeping a balance so the texture doesn't overtake the painting.
One of my recents works using some texture.
In contrast to Parlas' work, I have also recently been exposed to the work of painter Susan Lichtman. Lichtman uses a very limited palette to create her colors and values, and often limits the values as well except for emphasis. She uses what she calls "red herrings" in her choice of value and color. By this I mean that she paints most of the painting in a very limited value range and emphasizes a few surprise areas with bright values and colors. She typically like to keep the actual figures somewhat obscured so the viewer slows down to move through the painting. You are drawn in by the highlighted area, and led to explore the dark to see what else is happening.
Lichtman works both from life and from memory to create fictitious interior narratives. She refers to them as fictitious because they are based on people who have come and gone from her home, but the scenes she depicts have never actually happens. Often she will even us blurred lines to imply movement and the passage of time in her work.
Lichtman paints areas of flat color with values strategically placed beside each other to create a sense of depth and movement that is quite surprising under such constraints. Surprisingly she starts her paintings focused on a small detail, typically a still life that interests her and builds the composition around that, working specific to general as opposed to the way most artists work - general to specific.
I think one of the things that draws me most to Lichtman's work is that it seems to be about the mundane. Simple spaces of everyday life approached in a simple way that draws the viewer in to make them want to know more of the story. While Lichtman uses a figurative narrative in her work, I prefer to simply allow the viewer to consider the space itself and bring to it whatever preconceived ideas they may have, and consider whatever narrative they may begin to imagine.
All of these concepts seem to be in stark contrast to Jose Parla's work, but I am intrigued but both artists none the less.
You Never Know...
In December I had the opportunity to attend several of the Miami Art Fairs. This was an amazing experience that allowed me the opportunity to see an amazing array of work from around the world that are created using some of the most unusual processes.
When I first came upon David Knuth’s work at the Untitled show in Miami I was drawn to the simplicity of the images. They appeared to be large areas of gradating color fields that met at a sort of horizon line. They seemed to fall somewhere between a landscape and abstraction. To me they had a simple beauty to them.
Upon closer inspection, Knuth appeared to have used a pointillism technique to create these large paintings which seemed rather labor intensive considering the scale of the work and the size of the small dots that composed it. As I was examining his paintings I overheard the gallery curator explaining to a potential customer how Knuth created the works – with a little help. As it turns out, Knuth enlists the help of hundreds of thousands of house flies! Knuth feeds the flies a concoction of sugar water and watercolor paint. The flies are contained to particular areas on the painting where they then regurgitate the paint onto the surface of the painting creating these tiny dots of color. The mark is called a flyspeck. The paintings are comprised of millions of little dots created by the flies all over the surface of the canvas. Although the artist does controls what colors the flies use, and what area they have access too, he also leaves quite a bit to chance when depending on his many assistants.
The lesson I learned was to inquire! Although you may think you have an idea how something is made, you may very well be completely shocked to find out how misinformed you really were. When I ran into a friend later and told her about Knuth’s work she didn’t believe me until she spoke to the gallerist herself. I don’t know that I would ever use flyspecks in my work – at least not on purpose, but it was a very interesting lesson about the techniques and processes artists use.
A while back one of my professors suggested that I look at the work of Giorgio Morandi. Morandi is an Italian painter and printmaker primarily known for his simple tonal still life paintings of nondescript, everyday household items. He would often paint bottles, bowls or vases that could be found in any home, taking something seemingly irrelevant that anyone can relate to and putting it in a place of importance as the subject of the painting. His paintings are very simplified, not only in subject, but also in his approach. Morandi uses a limited palette with such subtle shifts in tone, often given them an almost flat appearance. This flatness is one of the reasons I really struggled to understand why my professor had suggested that I look at his work. I tend to use a full range, and often emphasize the variations of light and dark in my paintings.
Ironically, when I was researching Uta Barth last week I found that she was heavily influenced by the work of Morandi, so I revisited his work. I find that since I have been breaking my images down and concentrating more on the individual parts of the whole I can better relate to the style of artists like Morandi. I still love the rich textures that I can achieve using strong chiaroscuro affects, but I can also appreciate subtle tonal images like those of Morandi. A small shift in value can imply a softer presence of the subject as opposed to attempting to force the subject into the viewer’s world. This can be very appealing in a time when everything is so busy and over-stimulating. So many artists today just seem to be trying to do as much as possible in the space they are working perhaps hoping that something will stick. I love that Morandi’s work is what it is, and that he didn’t seem to feel he had to make it any more complex in order to impress the viewer.
I also enjoy Morand’s simple subjects. I understand that he would work very hard to achieve the right balance in his compositions, but they emanate a sense of quiet and serenity that really appeals to me. I find that my recent approach to my work seems to lend itself to more simplified subjects which also happen to be overlooked. It’s nice to see an artist who does this.
Morandi’s style is simple and painterly. His name has come up twice more in conversations this week, so I plan to continue to study his work and hope it will influence what I am doing.
This week I want to talk about a couple of photographers whose work I have been interested in. While I enjoy taking pictures of interesting places and things, especially when the light hits the subject "just right," I have never been able to view myself as a photographer. I don't know quite why that is. It probably has to do with the fact that I often feel compelled to later paint the image I photographed. As I was doing some research for recent paintings I came across photographer Todd Hido's work. While Hido works with a variety of subjects, I find myself intrigued by his vacant interiors and obscure exteriors. I have also been directed to look at the work of photographer Uta Barth's very simplified images which exude an abstract beauty that tends to be less common in photographic compositions.
I’m not sure what it is that attracts me to Todd Hido’s work. Perhaps the ambiguity of the subjects is something that intrigues me. Many of his exteriors are random apartments or houses that are photographed at night. There isn’t anything extraordinary about them – they could be any house in any neighborhood that you’ve driven past a thousand times. Many of the works that interest me are shots with dramatic lighting and a sense of atmosphere that is created with a combination of color and light. One of the physical qualities that results from his use of light is a sort of simplification of the subject. The buildings and vehicles become more like basic shapes with an emphasis on some of the extreme lights and darks. These physical characteristics result in ambiguous images that can leave much interpretation up to the viewer.
Hido approaches his interior photos in much the same way. They aren’t about what’s there, but almost more about what is missing. Dingy empty rooms. Is your glass half empty, or half full? Is this a place that is full of anticipation and hope, or of sad memories and broken dreams? It’s nothing, but every viewer walks away seeing and feeling something different. As one who likes to paint spaces like this I enjoy the various levels of information. There are dark areas that seem void of information or like something is hidden there, other places have piles of dirt, or trash that create small areas of visual interest, and often there are empty windows that fall somewhere in between. To me so much of his work relies on the mood of the viewer. The images could easily be regarded as irrelevant common areas. They could be viewed as voyeuristic and creepy, or they could also be seen as nostalgic and beautiful.
As one who has always been intrigued by the play of light and shadows, I feel this is one of the primary things that attracts me to both Hido’s work, and that of photographer Uta Barth. Barth uses a different approach to her work, but accomplishes many of the same effects. Like Hido, Bart also uses light and shadow to create important compositional elements in her work. Many of her photos are entirely, or almost entirely about the shapes created by shadows. While some of her work includes parts of the photographer like a hand holding a curtain, or a foot at the bottom of an image where the shadow of a body is cast, I feel that her most successful work happens when the image remains more ambiguous and just allows the shadows to create lines and patterns. A fan of Morandi's still life work, Barth also has a series that utilizes the reflective qualities of colored glass bottles reflected on a wall to create her images.
I find her use of indirect images intriguing. I am one who has always appreciated these images myself, but haven’t seen them represented as the primary subject of artwork this way before. Like Hido, Barth uses parts of common images to create beautiful minimal work. Her simplistic subjects sometimes reveal themselves, but other time they remain obscure. I think the simple lines and soft lines are what make her photos quite unique. Typically photography provides clear realistic images as opposed to those modifies by a painter, but Barth manages to use photography to capture very minimal abstract compositions that often require the viewer to look a little longer to work out the details.
Spaces and Places
Amer Kobaslija, Janitor's Closet
Before grad school my artistic focus was typically on things that I felt people wanted to look at. Things that made them feel good. Although I can find aesthetic beauty in some pretty obscure places, I never thought others would be interested in paintings of these things, so I stayed with subjects I felt viewers would be more comfortable with. Last semester when I began to juxtapose images that were in close physical proximity, but vastly different in subject, I found that my peers and professors alike were more interested in the less romantic subjects that I typically cast aside. This new exploration of what I perceive as "unwanted" spaces has led me to paint images of both interior and exterior spaces that lead the viewer to pause and reconsider those things that they may look past everyday that actually hold an element of interest upon closer examination.
One of the artists I was referred to Amer Kobaslija. Ironically, after looking into his work I attended a presentation at a SECAC conference in October where one of the presenters was an art historian talking about Kobaslija's work. While it would have been exciting to meet him personally, it was interesting to learn a little more about his background and his work. Kobaslija is a Bosnian artist who fled to south Floriday in 1997 with his parents. His work is typically based around what he refers to as "places and spaces" - interiors and exteriors. Many of his interiors are dirty, messy, cluttered spaces. He even did a series of public restrooms that I found interesting since one of the paintings I did last semester was a dirty bathroom that received a very positive response in spite of my doubts about the subject. his exteriors are often desolate ruined landscapes. One would think that, as a refugee, he would focus on the ravages of war, but he doesn't, at least not in any literal sense. He has done work depicting the destruction following disasters like hurricanes, but his work usually doesn't include human figures, and tend to focus on the destruction of the landscape as opposed to making any kind of political statement.
Kobaslija's approach to his subject is very energetic and actively invites the viewer to pause and explore the space he is depicting. He uses loose painterly brushstrokes to create a very active, detailed painting. His works vary in scale from several feet across to just a few inches, but regardless of the scale he manages to keep his viewer engaged in the work. Kobaslija often uses either a birds-eye view or a distorted fish-eye perspective that distorts the view of his interiors and creates interest. While many of his paintings show very cluttered spaces, and force the viewer to explore the canvas almost like a scavenger hunt, I find that some of his more recent work is very similar to the spaces that I have been painting - simple and empty, yet still beautiful. He manages to create interesting compositions with simple every day spaces.
Amer Kobaslija, Chelsea Restroom V
Amer Kobaslija, Door View
Working on my MFA in Studio Art at Georgia Southern has taught me the importance of understanding not only what I am doing as an artist, but also what other artists are doing, and how that can impact my artwork.