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15 September 2013

The "problems" of painting, today--and do we even care?

I read an article earlier this week that really resonated with me. Now, I don't agree with everything in the article (but, when has anyone ever agreed with everything someone else has written?) but I do believe that the author has a point regarding the dilemma of contemporary painting.

Here's the article:

The author is basically asking contemporary painters to both work within the "tradition" of painting, while creating new works that have relevance to today. (This is not nearly as easy as it sounds!) Many painters working today are simply rercapitating "older" ideas: from "Classical" and other "realist" periods, or from Cubism, the Abstract Expressionists, Pop, etc, rather than working to develop new ideas.

Of course, it's one thing to try to develop new ideas--and another to actually develop them!

The author knows this, and seems far more willing to forgive artists who strive for something new--and fail, than artists who don't even try, and instead "retreat" into established (and long since "over") art-historical periods.

Now, I know what you might be thinking at this point, and you're mor than justified in doing so: Keith, you're a fantasy artist who used to paint airbrushed science fiction pin-ups, and now you make weird spider paintings! What the hell do you know about avant-grade, cutting-edge art in 2013, anyway?!

In all honesty, perhaps I don't know very much at all. I certainly haven't created any ground-breaking art, so far.

Few artists, of any age, genre, or period in history, ever have, or ever will.

But, I think it's important for us all to know, and consider, what we are doing, what it means, and why.

It, upon encountering the subjects this article discusses, we say "fine, but it's art-speak nonsense, and/or not for me", then so be it.

I posted a link at Wet Canvas, in the Oil Painting forum, since that is the forum where most of the "serious" painters at WC hang out. The first couple comments were snarky, and a later poster commented that the article was "over my head".

The thread has now been removed (not even "closed", but actually removed; not only can you no longer add comments, you cannot even see that the comments--or the origianl post with a link to the article--thwt had been posted already!)

Again, whether we agree with these types of viewpoints about painting, or not, I think it's important for artists to be aware that this "level" of thinking about art is "out there", and to give it some thought, befor accepting or rejecting it.

Wet Canvas apparently disagrees, so the participants in the Oil Painting forum--most of whom will never seek out this sort of thing--now will in all likelihood--never run across it again.

Thwt isn't the end of the world by any means, but I nonetheless believe that it's a shame.

08 September 2013

Break Through...

I really don't think this can be said enough: keep working. If you are discouraged, keep working. If you feel unsure about your work, your skills, your subject matter, your "talent", your technique, your materials...whether your work will ever be lauded, accepted, understood, liked--or even whether it will ever be seen by anyone other than your close friends and family--

--keep working!

Your work won't make itself. If you have doubts, you cannot get better by staring at your easel, your desk, your computer, or your workbench.

Your work will only improve if you improve it!

Over the last week, Ive been working on "The Presentation of Spiders". Yes, I have kept hope alive for more than a year that I could finish this painting, and that it would be good, would not look "overworked", and that I would like it.

If you've been following this blog for a bit, you know that I started the piece as a Grisaille, intending to create a complete black-and-white rendering of the piece, and then glaze transparent colours over that, to complete the painting.

Those plans didn't exactly work out, and Ive often had serious reservations about the painting over the last year.

Over the weekend (starting Friday night) Ive nearly completed the second figure, and greatly improved the hands on the middle figure.

My "breakthrough" moment came when I realized that I had been conceptualizing myself as an "indirect" painter--and in trying to force myself to paint a certain way, I wasn't serving the painting...not at all!

Now, I am (primarily) a "studio painter". I am (primarily) a slow painter, and I am (primarily) an indirect painter.

But, the idea that I should paint only in transparent layers past a certain point, was really frustrating to me...was truly holding me back. People (yes, including artists!) love to simplify things, and we love to label. It's easy to describe ourselves using simple sound-bites ("direct" painter; en plein aire painter; paint from life, figurative, portrait, conceptual, etc. It's easier to use "accepted", "generally-understood" labels to try to explain our work to our audience, to other artists, to our friends...anyone who shows an interet in what we, as artists, do.

For years, I've thought of myself as an "indirect" painter--someone who paints in multiple layers of (primarily transparent) oil paint, instead of as a "direct painter", working in a single (generally opaque, generally working "wet-into-wet") layer, creating paintings (again, generally) in a single sitting.

But, unpacking these labels, their oversimplification is obvious.

I do work in layers, but Im just as likely to layer opaque paints over my earlier efforts, as I am to apply transparent colour. I'm just as likely to want my brushstrokes to show, as I am to blend them into nothingness using sable fan brushes.

The truth is, I'm all over the place--and it's a place where few, if any, single-concept labels apply. Sections of a painting might be painted in a single layer, while other sections in the same painting might be paints in dozens. Large areas might be painted "from life"--or from photos--while other sections are worked entirely from imagination.

So, the painting is proceeding in layers, but the layers aren't all-opaque or all-transparent--they are going to be whatever they need to be, to get this painting finished in a way that satisfies me, and gives me the look I want. And to hell with trying to stay within the confines of an arbitrary ("pure"--which should have been my first warning!) conception if how to paint.

The key is, I didn't "discover" my error by contemplation or study, but by working; working to solve a particular problem in this painting, working to compete an area on this piece, to move the piece along, to carry it forward, further towards completion.

So, whatever the problem, stopping working cannot possibly help.

Whatever you do, keep working!

04 September 2013

We have Neko Case tickets!

liora and I are going to see Neko Case, in Lawrence, Kansas, on 15 October!

The new album was released today. (I'm going to order a copy of the CD on Friday.)

We see a concert or two every year. So far, in the five years we've been together, we'be seen Lifehouse (her favourite) two or three times, Tori Amos (awesome), The Tony Levin Band/Adrian Belew Power Trio (in Detroit, again, awesome!), Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik, and I saw Slipknot (with Coheed and Cambria) and The Smithereens with her son, Jeff.

I've seen lots of concerts over the years, and I'm pickier these days (with ticket prices often reaching into the middle three-digits) and I'd much rather see a performer I haven't seen before, than see the same band year after year.

Anyway, looking forward to 15 October!