March 5, 2015

the next best thing to COMMUNITY

Gilbert and George
Preparing yourself to paint on canvas must be similar to an actor getting ready to perform. You've got to get totally inside your head and be in control but completely lost in it at the same time.

My husband has been wanting to make a film of me painting. It's been a long time that I've been saying no to him because I would much rather paint than have to talk about me painting. I am under the impression that if I were very good at speaking in general I wouldn't have become a visual artist. He insisted I wouldn't have to speak, so finally last week I said yes and he showed up to my studio with cameras in tow. Some artists don't mind other people around them while they work but I am not one of them. I spent the day self-consciously fake posing and got absolutely no work done! No surprise there.

What I hadn't realized, though, until that moment was just how wonderful it is to have not only the ability but the contentment to work by oneself all day long.

It is such a luxury to have a private art studio. That being said... at the same time it does occasionally get a little lonely. Standing on your feet alone in a closed room for five or so hours a day does eventually take its toll and can lead to a bit of urgent restlessness. Sometimes I wonder how I or anyone else can take it.

My studio building is extremely quiet. It really needs a community room for those of us solitary workers who need some company every once in a while.

I've been having this conversation with a lot of different people lately.  
People like me, who need the solitude to work but who also desire a proper community to engage with at the end of the day. 
Sometimes I wish I had been an artist 50 years ago when like minded artists really were all actually starving and huddled together out of necessity and common interest. When artists weren't too busy to visit each others studios or contemplate their purpose in life.

Triadic Ballet
I'm told social media is the new stand-in for real community these days but I'm having trouble completely believing that.

Take Jerry Saltz for instance. For the last eight years New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz has been actively engaged in lively art dialogue with his almost 5000 followers on Facebook. He's described it as a 21st century Cedar Tavern or Max's Kansas City. Of course as I write this several of Jerry's 'friends' have just gotten him temporarily kicked off the site for images they disapproved of. It would've been much more fun to see some real fists thrown over the debate, but all this is to say we take what we can get these days.

I like Jerry's page. I've occasionally chimed in to some of his discussions, and for a while it was definitely feeling very real and prescient, however, there's something off-putting about not knowing exactly who you are having an argument with. It's hard to keep up an active conversation with an endless barrage of obscure little profile pictures of people you know nothing about. You could find out you're arguing with an artist whose work you love or with someone who isn't even an artist and just likes to argue with people on Facebook. Or you could start to think that you're actually friends with some of your 'friends' only to find out they disagree with pretty much everything you stand for.

James Ensor
I'm a big fan of Facebook but at the same time it leaves me with a bad after-taste, a virtual, non-reality tinny zing. I am certain that so much of the dialogue on Facebook is mere virtual dialogue and sometimes I just want to look someone in the face when I talk to them.

Community.
There are a ridiculously large number of separate definitions for the word, some involving physically living close to one another and others referring to the idea of unification, common interests, etc.
Wikipedia states
A community is a social unit of any size that shares common values. Although face-to-face communities are usually small, larger or more extended communities such as a national community, international community and virtual community are also studied.
The article goes on to discuss identity, intent and belief.

artists @ Blue Mountain Center. photo Karin Hayes
Further contemplating the idea of communities that do not require a computer hookup, I decided to look up Artist Residencies in the hopes of finding an environment where groups of artists actually commune in person, at least temporarily. After serious research I've discovered there are about a million Artist Residencies all over the world also called Artist Communities, Communes, Colonies, Collectives, or Retreats. They exist just about everywhere for every genre, purpose, belief and intent! Most of them, however, do emphasize the luxury of isolation in lovely tranquil settings.


artists @ Blue Mountain Center. photo Shelly Silver
So far out of the hundreds of Artist Residencies that I've perused, only a handful of descriptions have mentioned hanging out with the other artist residents. Project 387 in northern California boasts a community driven "creative exchange around the dinner table and in the studio". I like that.
Headlands, also in California, offers a "dynamic community of artists... allowing for exchange and collaborative relationships to develop". Also a winner.
Blue Mountain Center in upstate New York goes so far as to state, "by the end of the session many of our most solitary, introverted residents are loath to lose the comforts of communal living". Now that I like the sound of.

In the long run I suppose there are plenty of artist communities out there in the world. I want to say that globalization has somehow homogenized the world and made it more difficult to have an authentic identity, intent and belief. I want to say that the internet could never be a good enough or suitable replacement for real life community and that there's nothing that could replace actual physical interaction between people... but,
I do realize I am typing this on my computer and will at some point click a button that will send these words virtually across the planet. I may even get a few comments from people I've never met and probably never will. For now I'll take what I can get. I'll probably check my Facebook as soon as I write this. Maybe I'll send out a few applications this week. I might even inquire about that community room for my studio building...

You can visit my Facebook page here
or better yet, visit my studio in real life at
211 Fishkill Ave. #206C,
Beacon, New York



March 4, 2015

unique truths

How does one tell a "unique truth" 
as Richard Foreman talks about in his book Unbalancing Acts?
As he puts it, "we feel our lives as a series of multidirectional impulses and collisions."
"It is the impulse that is your deep truth, not the object that seems to call it forth. The impulse is the vibrating, lively thing that you really are."

Art is able to do this, to get to the core of what is really real and who we really are. It not only is able to relay an artist's own mind and spirit but it allows the audience the freedom to experience their own impulses simultaneously. In this way not only is the artist telling their unique truth but the audience as well is experiencing their own unique truth through it.

I think we recognize these truths when we realize that no other artist can give us this particular experience, and once we recognize it we could never mistake that work as belonging to anyone else.

My ultimate criterion for all great visual works of art includes such unique truths,
as well as a term I jotted down from I don't remember where and is now hanging on my studio wall, "extraordinary visual encounters".

As I'm writing this I'm trying to think of examples that apply: A work of art that could never have been done by anyone else; a unique truth and vision that is so powerful it becomes embedded in our subconscious and enlightens our perception of our selves and our world.

I would include the following:

Picasso's Guernica.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso








I think Monet's Waterlilies.

Monet's Waterlilies at the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris

Monet's Waterlilies at the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris








































I want to say Rothko's Chapel but I'm not sure if it is more of an extraordinary spiritual encounter than visual, and if that originates with the artwork or the context thereof.

the Rothko Chapel


the Rothko Chapel
















Francis Bacon.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon

















































































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February 18, 2015

Seductive in White

It is mid February and I have been freezing for the past two weeks. All I see when I look out the window is white. How to make that not depressing? Look at some amazing artwork in white!

Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman



Robert Ryman
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin

Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly
Ad Reinhardt

January 26, 2015

Taking Advantage of Art History

I'm currently reading a fascinating biography on Arshile Gorky.

Arshile Gorky

Arshile Gorky
One of the things I think is so interesting and that I'm discovering more and more as I read other artist biographies, is the reverence, devotion, and obsession in some cases, that these old great artists had for art history, and even for their fellow artists. Gorky walked around with a book on Ingres for years. De Kooning followed Gorky around for years even though it sounds like he was a real jerk to him before they became friends. And it seems like everyone from that 1930's era was completely fawning all over Picasso and his cronies.

Picasso in his studio

They copied each other, they studied each other, they knew every drawing and painting ever made. They became apprentices, and when they'd copied every single work they could, they suddenly emerged with their own voice and their own way of making things. Amazing.

Amazing because we don't do things that way now. I mean, we learn art history in school because we have to. We collect our heroes along the way, but I think one of the downfalls of my generation of artists is that we don't think we need those old great artists from art history. For some reason there is a whole generation of artists now who think they've invented the wheel and are actually making art that is that most ridiculous and impossible word of all... original.

I suffer from this myself. Not that I believe in originality, but I definitely do not hang out at museums nearly as much as I should. Outside of school assignments I can't think of a time I ever sat down and started copying another artist's work. I think maybe it's time.

Even at this point in my artistic life it still makes sense why it would be beneficial. As an abstract painter I'm pretty much dealing with the same issues that every abstract painter has ever dealt with. So why not take a few cues from artists who've already figured it all out?

Cezanne
I just need help figuring out whose work I want to copy...


Joan Mitchell

Picasso










January 20, 2015

PASSION

painting by Cecily Brown
The word has been coming up quite a bit lately
as certain words have the habit of doing.


Whether it's for art or love or friendship or just living life, being passionate is one of those necessary human elements you can't get away from. Or is it?
Maybe passion is more of a human function we can't get away from? An element is an essential feature, a fundamental part of something, while function is more of a job, an occupation or mission. . .
big difference that starts with the C word:

Choice.


I wrote a poem once that ended with the line, "passion lies on the closet floor with the dirty laundry".
I know I didn't write that line about me because I'm not sure even the most enormous pile of dirty laundry- even if it covered the whole planet- should ever keep one's passion at bay.


If you're an artist you're passionate. The two go hand in hand. Can you think of one without the other?

painting by Cecily Brown

Yet when working in the studio reality becomes altered. It's a strange phenomenon. Passion becomes broken up into tiny molecules floating separately around the room that eventually start to mingle with other molecules of doubt and fear and frustration. I'm pretty sure it goes something like this: passion is that nature that has no mind, no logic, no thought. It is pure impetuous feeling and nothing else. But humans do not run on feeling and nothing else. Along comes thought and reason who like to hang around with fear and doubt. We are rolled up balls of contradictory rationalizations, organizing and picking things apart.

This is how I see myself and my artwork: Internal globs of being strewn around and fighting it out. But I am a creator and the beauty of all this is that I get to pick and choose, at least in the art studio. I can rearrange the order of things, clarify or cancel out. I can be reckless or steadfast, or what I usually am, a little of both.

I've spoken before about ambition, which has a lot to do with passion, and am always wondering the same thing, about whether or not it is a given or a choice. I still have no answer. I think we have all the control and none of it at the same time. At least in the studio these thoughts get played out in paint and line and form.  
Physical things that attempt to describe the invisible. That's what abstraction is at least. 

All I can tell you is that passion
is definitely not on the closet floor these days...

painting by Cecily Brown































January 15, 2015

"don't try"

the house all to myself for a couple hours last night,
I thumbed through some poems from Charles Bukowski's  
The Pleasures of the Damned

here's some Bukowski inspiration:

Charles Bukowski's gravestone reads "DON'T TRY"
When asked What do you do? How do you write, create?
Bukowski replied,
You don't. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or  immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like it's looks you make a pet of it.

a short poem from The Pleasures of the Damned:


secret laughter

the lair of the hunted is
hidden in the last place
you'd ever look
and even if you find it
you won't believe
it's really there
in much the same way
as the average person
will not believe a great painting


for all his raucous persona in real life,
I always thought Bukowski's poems were exquisitely perceptive and charming

here's a good documentary if you don't know much about him






January 12, 2015

Momentum in the Studio, continued

Thoughts on keeping momentum in the studio... 

Here's what happens when you let your paintings dictate their own path... they keep it going. 

They don't suddenly need a break after a few months to change direction. They naturally reinvent, reconfigure, and turn back around on themselves. 

You find yourself immersed in the work 
losing your way, and then finding your way.

You get lost
you find yourself
you get lost
you find yourself 
... repeat

You stumble onto a color, a texture, or a technique that takes you through five paintings, and then suddenly you stumble onto another set of colors, textures or techniques, and you forget all about the first ones you were so intrigued by five paintings ago... But then you find them again. 

abstract painting #1

You've pulled from one source here and another source there but it all becomes one long conversation. You just have to allow the work to keep going long enough to circle back around. If you hold out long enough, you'll eventually get back to that original infatuation, the thing that entranced you to begin with. 


At a certain point one has to stop dictating to the artwork and allow the artwork to dictate to them. Otherwise you end up the way I used to be, always starting and stopping a new series after a few month's time. By allowing each artwork to have a life of it's own and go off on it's own tangent, you're able to maintain a certain momentum. 
I used to think every canvas had to say everything and had to include every single idea and/or technique that I was ever interested in. I now know that that is not only impossible, it is extremely debilitating.

There's no way to recapture an exact feeling, idea, or moment in the studio, but 

if you give the work the space it needs, it will slowly unfold on itself and recapture the feeling all on its own. 

well, seemingly on it's own...

Momentum in the Studio- part I





January 8, 2015

Momentum in the Studio

Every moment in the studio is it's own fleeting irreplaceable moment. You can't get it back. You can't recapture your exact mood or state of mind no matter how hard you try. When I leave the studio for the weekend I come back to a wall full of quizzical paintings. Sometimes it's hard to imagine what I was going through just two or three days ago. It's hard to remember, and it's even harder to try and put myself back there and pick up where I left off.

Sally Mann photograph 2004

In one way the starts and stops are good because with them comes less single mindedness and a more well rounded set of thoughts and feelings. But it's also nice to feel like you're on a moving vessel and not one that is constantly jerking around.

My mother used to yell at me when I sold or gave away a painting she liked because I'd always tell her I'd make her another one but never did. I tried, but you can't go back.

With every series I've worked on, it's the same. I work for as long as I'm completely entranced. Once I lose the momentum I know it's over. I'm usually good for about 10 paintings in a series and then it's on to something else. Of course the something else is related, as most work ends up as a continuation, but it is different.


That cycle is beginning to change. My paintings are demanding much more of me... hence the quizzical looks... Things are moving at a much swifter pace than usual. Even within just the last few pieces I've completed I feel like I can't turn around or look back. I think for the first time I am letting the work do it's own thing and flow right through me. I just have to keep up the momentum and keep it flowing...

Momentum in the Studio- continued