Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shocking Developments

At the end of last week's episode of Work of Art, they showed coming attractions for the episode that aired tonight, with the theme of shocking art. This included guest artist Andres Serrano and his famous photo Piss Christ. The first comment on one of the show's blogs on the Bravo website was a viewer claiming to be deeply offended by this quick view of the photo and promising a boycott of the network if this wasn't edited out of the show. My first reaction was to be a bit surprised that anyone is still shocked by this piece, since its period of notoriety was about 20 years ago. (my second was that anyone who is easily offended probably has many other reasons to stop watching Bravo) Serrano's piece was one of several of that time period that were routinely presented by conservative types as proof of the evils of contemporary art, even as they rarely understood what the works were about.

So in tonight's episode (spoilers in this paragraph), the contestants were given the single direction to create shocking art. This turns out to be a more difficult assignment than one might expect. The problem is that artists have been trying to shock people for centuries, and while the average person on the street might be surprised and offended by some art, regular art viewers have seen it all before. If all you have going for yourself is a shocking concept or image, the art connoisseur will likely be bored. And tonight I found the episode a little boring. The contestants all seemed to take the theme as permission to be naughty, and most went for variations on sex and religion, the two quickest routes to controversy. The problem is that the artists seemed to be having fun, but there was little attempt at making "art". Very few of the products were visually interesting. Neither of the two on the short list of successful pieces were particularly shocking, but at least they had layers of meaning. This time they sent two contestants home- last week's winner John (a cartoony painting of adolescent appeal) and conceptualist (four gone in four weeks) Nao, whose performance piece was weird, but lacked direction and was not anywhere close to shocking by the standards of performance art.

I don't consider any of my own art to be shocking; after all I have been proclaimed the "Master of the Mundane". Not that this hasn't stopped some people from being offended, and I told a few stories about this last month. I have no specific interest in trying to shock the viewer, a strategy that may cost more opportunities than it brings in. On the other hand, I do like being a little subversive now and then. Draw the viewer in before they discover that things are a little off. A good example is the print at the top of this post, from my Ecclesiastes series. The print is 12" x 8", large enough for the hot fudge sundae to be easily recognized from across a gallery. It's only when they come up close that the flies are noticed and anticipation becomes revulsion.

A Shopping Mystery part 7

Got up to the Studio a little earlier than I typically do, and got to work on the block. I made a few early decisions and continued the process of cutting out the white sections. (floor and figures mostly) I then used my V gouge to cut thin lines through the black areas, and then used the same tool to do the vertical lines that form the optical gray tones in the composition. I had just planned to get started on this part today, but things were going well and I had nowhere in particular that I had to be, so I decided to keep going until it was finished.

I found a piece of newsprint and did a pencil rubbing of the block at this state, seen below along with the block itself. I do the rubbing to see how the values in the composition are working without having to actually ink the block. The differences between black and gray are not as apparent in the rubbing, but I know how those will translate into the resulting print. Another benefit of the rubbing is that it can demonstrate any spots I missed. My initial inspection showed no major omissions, but some things could be more clarified.

I took the rubbing home to further study this evening, and make a list of changes. I hope to finish these last cuts tomorrow and get it printed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Shopping Mystery part 6

Down in the basement where the Studio is (and all the lights were functioning normally today) things don't heat up as bad as they do on the upper floors of our un-air conditioned building, but on hot humid days like the past few the air can get a little heavy down there. So today I dug out of my home basement a relic of my old grad school studio- my standing fan. My grad school studio was on the top floor of a converted factory building that also lacked air conditioning (the professors' studios were air conditioned, and the giant warehouse that stored old rusty furniture and surplus toilet paper was air conditioned, but none of the student spaces), and on summer days we would bake. Our individual studios had small overhead fans that did little, so eventually I went out and got something that would make life in there tolerable for most of the day. In fact, I even made it the subject of a woodcut.

In past summers here in New Jersey sometimes we located an extra electric tabletop fan somewhere in the building, but I haven't seen any around lately, so my 16 year old fan was called into service. It did just fine.

As for the art, I continued with the cutting process, but not before making a few more subtle adjustments to the drawing on the foreground figures. I went on with the white areas that are part of the register stations (at least the pieces I'm sure of) and started a little on the floor tiles.

Although a lot of the block looks untouched, what's left to cut is not that much. One or two more sessions should do it, keeping me on track for my deadline on the project.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Shopping Mystery part 5

Decided to use some of the few hours between World Cup games today to advance the current block a little more. However, a little complication upon arrival at the building- the light in the stairway to the basement was out. Well, that bulb burns out fairly often, so I felt my way down the stairs (it doesn't help that they're painted black) to the basement and hit the light switch in the main hallway. No light. That's not a bulb problem, but an electricity problem. I climbed back toward the light (that little hint of blue in the center of the above photo) and went to the 1st floor (which had power and lights) and the boss's office. We found our way back downstairs and investigated. The little hallway leading to the cafeteria was also without power, but lights worked in the main room and in a side room that held the circuit breaker box. (the Studio and the bulb just outside it were unaffected) He found a few that were tripped and restored them. The police had alerted him that the heat wave and resulting use of air conditioners was causing power losses and surges around town- this might be a result. For the moment the problem was solved.

First on the agenda, fixing a piece of the drawing. The cashier had been bothering me, particularly the arms. Individually, both arms were fine, but the overall pose looked all wrong. Mostly today I was modifying the arm on the right, rotating it about 180 degrees and adjusting proportions. Needs a little more work, but this is much better.

So I got out my tools and started cutting. My usual start- areas that I know will be white. In my limited time I worked on the register/scanner area. The wood is hard, but it cuts cleanly. Next time I hope to get a bigger piece of the block done.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Shopping Mystery part 4

I continued work on the new block today. I filled in the last area- a piece of another register aisle, two more figures. I'm not quite satisfied with the original cashier (the anatomy isn't quite working), but I'll deal with that later. Otherwise I think it's working well. So it was time to move on to cutting. This block is very hard, which means the shapes will cut clean, but I'll expend a lot of energy doing it. For today I got the cutting of the outer border out of the way, as seen below. I'll give the blades a little sharpening before I begin the real cutting.

On the Cover

My thoughts on this week's episode of Work of Art. (spoilers coming for those who care)

Tonight's challenge was to create cover art for a randomly assigned novel, from a list of six literary classics. The big bonus was that the winner would get his or her design used on an actual Penguin edition of the novel. Pretty cool. The top two from the judges' crit both made decent commercial designs. The winner's piece (John, The Time Machine) was a bold abstract design that reminded me of a lot of sci-fi cover art of the late 60's/early 70's. Miles the printmaker decided to take the time to actually read his book (Frankenstein) and produced an artwork that captured some of the spirit of the book, which is very very different from the movies based on it. I'm pretty sure many of the other contestants were relying on a synopsis. Some of the art wasn't bad, but not the kind of thing that would work well as a book cover- in particular the titles would have been too small when reproduced at paperback book size.

The three artists on the eviction short list all produced problematic pieces. The art from Peregrine and Jaclyn didn't work on any level (not good art, no relationship to the novel, and for the latter, a misspelled author's name) and they were lucky not to get the boot. Judith, on borrowed time from the beginning, was finally sent packing. I get the feeling it's what she wanted. She told the camera at the beginning that she was a Fine Artist, and this challenge was a mere work assignment, not something she believed in. So she would just do her thing. The result- a mess with an unreadable title. For the third time she was unwilling (and likely unable) to meet the requirements of the challenge. My opinion is that she decided it was time to move on and gave the judges something that would make that happen.

Me, I like the occasional challenge. I've never been offered the chance to do a mass market book cover (my one cover publication to date is the academic journal above, using an previously created artwork), but I do regularly produce prints for specific theme shows and exchange folios. The recent For Love Not Money project is a good example; the results can be seen here. Back in the 90's I decided to enter a contest to produce a series of illustrations for a book. Frankenstein was on the list, but being afraid I'd be too influenced by Lynd Ward's version, I chose to illustrated another book on the list I knew- James Joyce's Dubliners. I did not win, but I ended up with some cool woodcuts that I have exhibited many times. Most of what I produce is fine art, but I'll do work for hire when the opportunity arises. Fine art is great, but it doesn't always sell.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Shopping Mystery part 3

Back to the Studio today for a little while. Part of the time there was spent working on the new block. As I had planned, I put in some time making some adjustments to the two figures. I also cleaned up much of the register station, added a lot of detail stuff, and even filled in some likely value choices. The one thing I wasn't sure about was the empty area in the upper left corner. So on my way home I stopped at the supermarket (I needed some stuff anyway) and made a mental note of how it should look. Next time I hope to finish the drawing, maybe even start cutting.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Shopping Mystery part 2

A few weeks back I told the story of a recent visit to a local supermarket and a mystery charge added to my total. I decided that it could be the start of a future supermarket print, and set the idea aside for the future. However it wasn't long before something came up that made me decide to put it next on the agenda. Later this summer the Belmar Arts Council will be having a show called Belmar Urban Myths. The idea is to create a narrative based artwork that tells of a Belmar area urban myth- one that you've heard in the past, or one you made up yourself. I didn't know any of the former, and had no immediate ideas for the latter. But then I remembered my supermarket incident. One of the possibilities for prints in the supermarket series is "what if" stories. So this print could serve as my entry for the Belmar show, as well as be the latest in my ongoing supermarket series.

I considered a few "explanations" for the scanner incident, how the can of dog food could have been added to my total without me or the cashier seeing it. My first thought was a secret agent type descending from the ceiling (like the famous scene in the first Mission Impossible movie), but it wasn't that interesting, and didn't work compositionally. A few days ago, as I really started thinking about it, I came up with the idea of a dog being the logical dog food thief. With both the customer and cashier's backs turned for a moment, it could pop up, scan the can, then disappear again. In fact, why not let it live under the conveyor belt in a little dog house? This way the store doesn't complain about missing inventory, with random customers being stuck for the cost of the food. I'll admit it's probably not what happened to me, but it will fit for both the show and the series.

A few days ago I did a quick layout sketch of my idea, seen above. I used some quick sketches made at the supermarket this week, plus two earlier prints in the series that were set near registers, as visual references. Then today I started the block sketch. I got as far as what is seen below.

The basic composition is fine. The two standing figures need a bit more work, but they are pretty much what I was planning. After the figures are resolved, I'll fill in the rest of the register details. I'll need to figure out what can be seen behind the cashier, but that can wait for another day.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I got up to the Studio early in the afternoon. Molly was there with one of her ongoing intaglio students. Today I started some paper sketches of the next block, but I'll save the story and images until I'm ready to start drawing on the block, as is my custom. I took advantage of the nice weather to walk over to Parlor Gallery in Asbury to see the latest show. The place was empty, except for staff, who were involved in a discussion of that art reality show. They agreed with pretty much everything I've been writing here, but we also agreed that we're all going to keep watching it.

Back to the Studio to work a little more on my drawing, then I got into my car and drove up to SICA in Long Branch to see this year's Fresh Meat show, art from some of New Jersey's newest graduating MFA students. Normally I see this show every year, but this year in particular I had a further incentive- I know one of the artists. Shown above is a painting from Lisa Ficarelli-Halpern, who took one of my woodcut workshops a long time ago, and our paths cross every few years. In general I liked this year's exhibition much more than last year's. The work seemed more resolved in general. The individual drawings in Montclair State's Gavin Gewecke's piece didn't do much for me, but the 9' square grouping had some nice rhythms of mark making and value. Ji Yong Kim (also of Montclair) exhibited a series of small etchings. Not very exciting in themselves, but showing more skill than I had in my etching days, and it's always nice to see that someone's studying printmaking these days. The show remains up through July 2nd for those who wish to see it themselves.

Skewed Reality

Another week, another episode of Bravo's Work of Art reality show. This week's challenge involved turning the artists loose on a warehouse full of discarded appliances and electronics, with the task of turning it into found object sculpture. (spoilers coming, but if you care about this show, you've probably already seen it) As one would expect, some of the contestants were more successful than others. (from what I remember, the majority of them work primarily in two dimensions) For the second week in a row, a conceptualist got the boot (and another came close) for producing work that seemed to make more sense to its creator than to any of the judges, even after an explanation was given. Once again Miles the printmaker (he managed to work some screen printing into his sculptural work) was declared the winner, getting another week of immunity.

No "reality" show can really be said to be real. Even pure documentaries involve editing and selecting of scenes. Competition shows set up artificial obstacles for the contestants, and that is what takes these shows away from reality. For example, in this show the contestants are mostly established (if not all financially independent) artists, given about 2 days to complete an assignment that most would never do on their own. That kind of thing happens when you're an art student, but if you're at the level where a solo museum show is a possibility, you are working in the mediums and subjects that you are most experienced in, and you take as much time as you need to finish an artwork. In the judges' critique following the exhibition, one contestant (the one who would later be exiled) was asked if the piece he just created was something he would include a retrospective exhibition of his work, and he wouldn't make that claim. I think that most artists would not put something on public display that they don't feel confident about, but the people on the show had no choice. And this concerned me- a disclaimer at the end credits that the judges consulted with the show producers and the network in making decisions about the art, which I interpret as the possibility of contestants being retained or removed from the show for reasons that have nothing to do with the art they produced.

The show wasn't all bad. For every scene of an artist exhibiting rude behavior toward another, there were a few scenes of contestants giving each other technical advice and assistance, despite being in direct competition with each other. I find this believable. Maybe we're mostly nice people, or maybe we're just showing off how much we know, but it rings true. And I like the critique portion toward the end of the show, where judges discuss a mix of successful and unsuccessful work with the artists- it's not super intensive, but it does provide the audience with some insight into the art process, something the typical television watcher has no clue about.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Drawing on a Warm Summer Night

Technically we have several days to go, but today had a bit of a summer feel for me. I felt it stuck in Parkway traffic during the afternoon. But even more I had the feeling in the evening at the figure drawing group in Belmar. At the start of the session, our model complained of being overheated, despite being the only one in the room without any clothing. We turned off a few of the spotlights, cranked up the air conditioner, and all was well.

Drawing went well enough. My first charcoal drawing had a lot of issues. The 20 minute portrait piece above was a considerable improvement. Even looks like her a little bit. The last drawing of the night was yet another long reclining pose. Not wanting to do another one of those sideways faces (as in here and here), I moved around to the other side of the platform and did more of a figure study. Both pieces seemed to impress the other artists present.

Tonight's model is the same one who I hired last year for some boardwalk print sketches, including a few that were used in the recent miniature golf print. I brought the framed copy that I had at the critique a few days ago, so she could see how it turned out. (I showed her the block drawing in progress the last time she worked for us) She really liked it and is looking forward to seeing how the other sketches fit into the next one. However, I plan to work on another print or two before I return to the boardwalk series.

With the drawing done, and the room all put back in order, we headed out into the warm humid night air, and that summer feeling came back again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Critique in Asbury

We broke from our usual critique routine in two ways tonight. First, we had it the 2nd Monday of the month, due to a scheduling conflict. Second, we held it at Langosta Lounge, a popular restaurant/bar on Asbury's boardwalk. The reason for the location was that Molly recently finished a whole bunch of tables for them and this would be the only way she could present them in a critique. We ended up with quite a large group, including several new faces. Below are some examples of the work presented tonight, including a variety of paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures.

After the last artworks were critiqued, we moved the chairs out of the way to clear the floor for a dance performance. Molly has been working with a choreographer on a number of projects in recent years, especially the past few months. A large fabric piece that she's been working on for a while was put to use as four dancers from DeXdance performed a piece using it, and some other props created by Molly. Some potential customers at the door looked very confused, but the crowd in the restaurant really enjoyed it.

Quite an evening, but we weren't done yet. After helping put everything away, most of us reconvened at art629, a gallery space on Cookman Avenue, several blocks away. One of our regulars, Adam, has a two person show up right now and he wanted to get some feedback from the group.

Quite a full evening of art. As for Molly's tables, they were crowded with diners the entire time we were there and we never actually got to see them. I'll have to stop by some other time and check them out. As enjoyable as things were tonight, after dealing with the noise of a crowded restaurant, we are unlikely to hold any future critiques there.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New and Improved

As the 6th anniversary of my main website was approaching, the software that I was using finally got a long awaited upgrade. I started the process of improving the site a few weeks ago. I decided to keep the same classic look, but everything else is improved. The site now has twice the pages, including some devoted to individual major print series. Also twice the images, many of which have never been seen online before. And most of the old photos have been improved as well. (the earliest ones were from scans of 35 mm prints, from the years before I owned a digital camera)

I'm sure there will be further enhancements and expansion down the line, but this is as good a time as any to announce the update to whoever reads this blog. So if you haven't stopped by my main website over the past few weeks, I invite you to do so soon, and see the improvements.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Reality of Art

This week was the premiere of a new reality show. (well, probably more than one, but I'm only going to discuss one here) Generally I avoid them. The seeming requirement of stocking the casts with contestants who obviously lack the skills, intelligence, and basic grasp of reality to compete, as well as enough people with antisocial and other personality disorders to guarantee the level of conflict that the genre has decided it requires, is more than enough to keep me from watching. However, I felt that I had to make an exception for one based on the subject of art.

The show is called "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist". A dozen artists of various ages and backgrounds are brought together, will undergo a series of challenges, and the winner will get $100K and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. I sure could use all that, but I'm not in the cast. (however, I do have some related experiences and connections, which I'll get to in later paragraphs) For the first challenge, artists were randomly paired and asked to create portraits of their partners. As expected, some were unwilling or unable to meet the assignment. Some artists displayed rudeness and excessive ego toward all the others. (not surprisingly, some overlap in these two groups). And they get to live in a nice group house, have a beautiful studio and all the free art supplies they want, neither of which is typically part of reality for artists.

There were a few pleasant surprises. The group includes an actual printmaker (a screen printer, but that's better than nothing) and he won the first challenge over all the painters. And I have a connection to one of the artist contestants, Peregrine Honig. The name was familiar, but at first I wasn't sure from where. I thought the connection might have been my old friend Tom Huck, and a little internet research confirmed that. It turns out that we were both participants in the original Outlaw Printmakers group show that traveled around the country in 2004. I have no recollection of what her contribution to the show (I saw the NYC location) looked like.

I'll probably continue to watch the program for a while, though I may not write about it here regularly. The artistic challenges have me a little curious, but the coming attractions for the season highlighted examples of the kind of interpersonal conflicts and oddball behavior that turn me off all the reality competition shows. Unfortunately, without all that stuff I don't like, there's no way they would allow this to air. The artistic process just isn't that interesting to outsiders. Back in my grad school days I had an experience that illustrates this point. One of my fellow grad students was a huge fan of Details magazine, a men's magazine heavy on fashion and lifestyle. The magazine announced a plan to visit readers around the country, and my friend somehow talked them into making Carbondale one of their stops. He hung his art all over the studio building (expecting that photos of it might be in the magazine), and invited a group of us to be part of the interview process. The interviewer asked lots of questions about alcohol, drugs, sex, etc, which we mostly answered, but we kept steering the conversation back toward art, a subject we felt was far more interesting. Several months later the issue came out. Many pages were devoted to their visits to other parts of the country, with the discussions of alcohol, drugs and sex dominating. From the Carbondale session a single question ("What is the worst job you ever had?") and only two short answers, from neither me nor the organizer. No photos of art either. It would seem the editors at Details had a different opinion than we did of what was interesting. Our consolation prize- all our names in fine print at the end of the article, along with all the dozens of others interviewed around the country.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The End of the Game

I was in the Studio for a few hours today, taking care of a variety of tasks. First was finishing the coloring on the 3rd proof of the miniature golf print. Just little bits and pieces, such as the clown shoes, metal golf clubs, and colored golf balls, examples of which can be seen above.

The just completed proof was hung back on the wall to finish drying. The second proof (1st on okawara) went into a frame. Back several months ago when I was framing another boardwalk print, I went ahead and cut an extra mat, and had a piece of plexiglass made as well, to go along with an extra frame I had ordered. I don't need this piece for any upcoming shows, but I do want to show the print at some upcoming critiques outside the building, and it will be easier and safer to carry it from place to place in a frame. All I had to do today was mount the print to the backing board, put the cut window mat in place, peel the protective covering off the plexi, and put it all together in the frame.

Took care of one other thing while there- sanded the block I started preparing last time, and redrew the panel border lines. My goal is to at least settle on the final idea for the print by the end of the weekend, and get started on block drawing within a week of that.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Green Day

Rare are the days when I only have one thing to do, and today was no exception. The art portion of the day began well into the afternoon when I showed up at the Studio. Took care of two tasks. First, I cut a board, measured the image area, and surfaced it with wood filler. I set it aside to dry. I decided to save the sanding until next time. This will be the block for the next project. Next I took the latest proof of the miniature golf print off the wall and colored in all the putting greens. This was the last major color to be added. There are still a few little things here and there to be done (golf balls, putters, etc), which should only take a few minutes. That can also wait for next time.

From there I drove down to the Boatworks to attend a reception for an art show called The Green Man. I have no work in the show, just stopping by to see the art and document it for the BAC blog. I did get contacted yesterday about another show, one coming up this fall, but I'll save the news on that until I know more details.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

An Annual Tradition

I spent most of the day driving to and from, or at, the Printmaking Council of New Jersey. Today was the annual meeting, which usually includes a guest speaker/presentation, lunch, and a discussion of our current economic status and future plans. I arrived just as guest artist/speaker Fran Bull was finishing up (though I did later have a chance to talk to artist-in-residence Caroline Garcia and see her work in process), but was in time to help set up the traditional pot luck lunch (see above). At the meeting which followed we reviewed some of the highlights of the past year (increase in education programs, our very improved studio set-up) and talked about big plans for the fiscal year, especially our new master printer program. We will be facing the challenges common to all non-profit arts organizations in the coming years, but with some hard work and planning, we'll be able to remain an important part of the local arts scene for years to come.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Almost Done

Put in a few hours in the Studio today. Picked up where I left off on the last golf proof, putting in all the blues. The last major color to add is the putting greens themselves, but that would take more time than I had available today, so I put in the rest of the clothing and called it a day. One more time will finish it, and then I'll begin preparations for the next project.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Change of Pace

Ever since the current figure drawing group coordinator took over, the models tend to be attractive women in their 20's and 30's who rate considerably more money than we paid when I taught a college figure class, not to mention what the schools I went to paid models (below today's minimum wage). Once in a great while he brings in a male model, which makes for a change of pace. Tonight was such a night. I do this for practice, so I guess it's good to get some practice with the other gender once in a while. The drawings posted here (15 minutes above, 20 minutes below) each have many flaws, but some nice qualities as well. This is the second time in a row that the last pose of the evening was reclining, a view that I find challenging, but I seem to be getting a little better at those sideways heads.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Brief Stopover

On the way home from work this afternoon I stopped by the Studio to put in a little more time on the most recent proof. Today I added the various reds and browns. Didn't have my camera with me today, but if you want to see what it looks like now, it's pretty much exactly what was seen on this day.