Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Small Class

Tonight was the 3rd session of my Belmar based woodcut class. (the long delay since the 2nd meeting was due to scheduling conflicts at the Boatworks and a prior commitment that I had) Only one student tonight (the 2nd had told me that she had a work related thing she had to do, and still no word from or about the one who never showed up), but she kept me plenty busy. She had started an image on the first night of some dense woods, and by tonight she had finished cutting the first block- a complex pattern of tree trunks and branches. She wants to do this as a multiple block print, so we pulled a first proof in a cool light gray (the planned color for that block) on kinwashi. She liked the results, but that was just the start. Before pulling that first proof I had prepared an identical size panel, with two identical registration holes. I mixed a darker color of ink (water based), re-inked the original block, and inserted two registration pegs. I had punched a piece of slick white paper with matching holes, slid it over the pegs, and pulled another proof. After inserting registration pegs in the 2nd block, I put the proof face down on that block and rubbed the back to offset the print onto the wood. The above photo shows the various blocks and proofs.

As things dried we discussed how to proceed from here. As of now, she's planning to use this second block to create a dark shadow color that will add shadows to the tree trunks and branches, and some variety texture to the foreground. (sections of green foliage will be added from a third, still undetermined source) If she can finish the block by our last meeting, we'll see the results here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Whose Reality is This?

My thoughts on the most recent episode of Bravo's Work of Art, spoilers included.

As this season goes on, it is becoming more apparent that there are many different games going on here, and the artists, the judges, the producers, and the viewers are rarely on the same page. This week's challenge had the remaining 8 contestants randomly paired, and working on a Street Art challenge. Each pair was given a nice big piece of wall in Brooklyn and the simple instruction to create some street art on it. Thrown into the mix- a $30,000 prize to be split by the winning team.

Dusty and Young spend quite a while hashing out what to do before coming up with the idea of making something about milestones in life related to fathers- one having just lost one, the other having just become one. Kymia and Sara J decided to make something that dealt with both being from immigrant families. Lola and Michelle get the idea to make a series of windows into the building, showing scenes of debauchery. Sarah K and the Sucklord decide to play off the formal quality of the brickwork, and design a complex maze, with simple stick projections coming out from the wall. The judges vote Dusty and Young the winners, which means that Young has won at least a share of all 3 outside prizes that have been available.

Perhaps the biggest problem here is how to define "street art." The most common association is art that has been made in spaces without permission of the owners of those spaces. The common tools are spray paint, stencils, and wheat paste. Of course, the artists were not going to be sent out to illegally deface private or public property (while being filmed, no less), so what we had here was more like public art, which is made with the blessing of the wall's owner. (for example, the mural I'm shown working on above faces the street, but it's no piece of street art) Public art usually has some kind of message and must meet some kind of community standards. Most of the artworks from the show fit this category. The fathers piece met these criteria. It dealt with universal themes (the cycle of life) in a way that was inclusive for almost everyone who walked by it, both thematically (everyone can relate some experience), and literally (space was given for people to write their own feelings on the topic). Some have noted this is not the first time that Young has created (and won with) a piece that involved the audience being invited to write on it. Visually it wasn't particularly sophisticated, and it made no statements that would likely offend anyone.

The Kymia/Sara J piece showed two uprooted tree people, dragged by ropes by an alien (ET) being. The bold oversized figures were either solid black or white with some simple contour lines within, standing out against the red painted wall. It was not clear that the piece was about immigration issues, but it had graphic power, the kind of thing that would look interesting from a block away. The vagueness of the message may be what knocked it down to 2nd place.

The maze piece definitely felt like public art. Too formal to be the product of spontaneous street artists, it felt like the kind of abstract commissioned work that became so popular for public art in the late 20th century. No image means that you likely aren't offending anyone. No risk of offending anyone means not much risk of being interesting to anyone either. The projecting sticks (Sucklord's contribution) added nothing to the experience. It was no surprise that this piece came in last, and the Sucklord was sent home.

The windows piece from Lola and Michelle was a series of views into an imaginary apartment occupied by some kind of animal like beings involved in a wild party and other activities. They also created a bunch of stickers, for the audience to add wherever they wanted. They took it a step further, by encouraging people to put the sometimes obscene stickers on the immigration mural, which got Kymia very upset. The artists said it was all about having fun, but based on their behavior (especially Lola) toward Kymia and Sara over the previous day, this felt mean and ugly. As for the work itself, what we could see of the drawing was poorly executed, and the whole thing lacked any visual appeal or impact. However, of the four murals, it was probably the one that most felt like street art in that no one would commission this for a public space- the only way this gets on a wall is when no one is looking.

Meanwhile, the judges had some very different opinions of what was going on. In his blog, Jerry Saltz says he likes Lola and Michelle's piece the best, though he concedes that it looks terrible from any distance of more than a foot. On camera it certainly looked awful, and that's all I can go by. In his blog, Bill Powers goes so far as to scold Kymia for objecting to Lola's attack on her mural, saying it's all part of street art and she should just deal with it. Perhaps, if this was street art, but it's really a contest with artists making public murals, with $30K (as well as continued participation in the show) riding on a judge's evaluation that hadn't happened yet. Kymia saw it as an act of sabotage and I don't know that she was wrong. The judges all say they expected Sucklord to do better in what they perceive as his specialty, but his medium is action figures and trading cards, not graffiti, and they basically ordered him not to ever use his sci fi vocabulary again. He tried to do something that he thought would appeal to the judges and the higher art world, it didn't, and he was done.

As I watched all this play out I realized that the show is no longer about the goal of being the next great artist. For example, Lola, who hasn't shown much success with her art so far, has positioned herself as the mean girl in this scenario. I suspect that it's part of a plan to become a reality TV star, ready to be cast as a troublemaker on some other reality show. And while the big prize of the Brooklyn Museum show is still a few weeks away, I think that the Sucklord has already won this season. He is no gallery artist and was never going to get that museum show, but he has had several weeks of national exposure to go along with his marketable name and established product line. In the contemporary art world, fame means far more than talent. He will probably have more opportunities than whoever is the ultimate winner of the museum show, and he doesn't have to live among the crazy people anymore.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

St Benno part 6

Today I had what has lately been a relatively rare combination of events happen- a block of free time and being in the vicinity of Ocean Grove. Not wanting to waste this opportunity, I went into the Studio and finally finished cutting the St Benno block. Took about 90 minutes, pretty much what I had predicted when I last left off.

I had briefly considered pulling a few proofs, but a few things held me back. First of all, a lot of my printing supplies were still back at my apartment, as I've been using them in classes lately. If I had to, I could have found enough stuff around the Studio to do the job, but today I didn't have to. Second, I think I'd like to save the first printing for the next meeting of my woodcut class, so it can be part of the printing demonstration, as I expect my students will be ready to print by then. That's more than a week away, meaning it's time to start thinking about starting a new project. Probably a boardwalk print.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The End of the Day

Another Wednesday, another rainy day. Last winter we had a number of snowy Wednesdays, so I guess it could be worse. Sat in a lot of slow moving traffic today going up and down the parkway. Got home, checked the computer and got confirmation that we were on for tonight for figure drawing, with a good model scheduled. So, quick dinner, gather my stuff, and get there in time to join the people setting up. We did a couple of quick 5 minute sketches, then the model got into a long pose for the rest of the night. The 45 minute drawing above was my best take on that pose.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St Benno part 5

It's been more than a month since the last time I had more than two minutes to devote to this current block. Other than a few demonstration gouges at my Belmar workshop, it's been untouched since I redrew the frog. I ended up spending most of the afternoon painting walls over at SICA, but I wanted to get back to work on some art, so I put in a little time at the Studio afterwards. In that time I was working on a horizontal band across the upper middle, ground behind the frog and around and in front of the background vegetation. What's remaining shouldn't take more than about 90 minutes to cut. I hope to find a time to finish it this week, so it will be printed and colored in time for the December critique, as well as the last few weeks of my workshop.

Will Work For Pizza

I've been a fan of SICA (Shore Institute for Contemporary Art) and its mission to bring more adventurous art to the region since it first opened in Long Branch several years ago. Located in a huge industrial building that had housed an astounding variety of manufacturing and retail businesses over the previous 80 years, it offered a raw, but huge exhibition space, an almost equally large storage space, plus a cafe section (performances and hanging out) and artists studios. However, they made the decision a few years ago to transition from Long Branch to Asbury Park, and that day is coming soon. They recently announced their new location on Cookman Avenue (and a back door onto Lake Avenue), so much more convenient to get to (about 2 blocks from the Studio). I'm on the e-mail list and got a few notices about a request for help, a painting party to get the place ready to go for a possible event next weekend. Nothing gets my attention more than an offer of free pizza, so I decided to wander over from the Studio for a few hours and lend a hand.

The new space isn't as cavernous as the Long Branch building, divided by 8' walls into a several rooms of various sizes. (a few other dividing walls have already been taken down) The walls were mostly painted various shades of brown and greenish brown, and the mission was to make them gallery white. The photo above shows the first wall I tackled (part of a hallway) and the difference with the new paint. Below is that same wall from a different angle, and a piece of the room behind that wall, with the first coat of paint on each.

Another view of that interior room space, and the two walls of it that I painted.

While that was drying, I moved on to a small room next to it. Seems too small to be a gallery, so maybe it's destined to be an office. I got a coat on the wall next to the door opening and had worked my way partly down the adjacent wall when I was given a more important task- to go get the pizza. Just walked to the corner to order and pick up a couple of plain pies. Upon my return the crew of 6 (other jobs included more painting, spackling, cleaning floors, and some light construction) took a break to eat it.

After the break all the paint rollers and trays had been claimed by others, so I helped out by moving this large, heavy, awkward cabinet from that office room to the bathroom. I left the crew there to continue while I went to go work on some art.

SICA's new location is 608 Cookman Avenue, just off the courtyard behind the Words! book store. If they can finish the job, the plan is to have their 10th Annual Art Auction fundraiser there this coming Friday, November 18th. Check the website for details.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Updates from PCNJ

Back over the summer I had a piece in the annual member exhibition at PCNJ, which travelled to Jersey City for several weeks in the fall. That show ended a few weeks ago and my piece was returned to the headquarters in Somerville. They had asked the art to be picked up last week, but the building was shut down for the whole week with the aftereffects of the Snowtober storm. I ended up with a surprise day off today, as my employer was closed for the Veterans Day holiday. (my colleges don't close for the day, so I'm used to working during it) PCNJ is about 60 miles away, so I usually try to combine a visit with some other business in the area, but off the top of my head I couldn't think of another reason that I would be in that part of the state over the next few months. Factoring in weather and lighter than normal traffic, today seemed as good a day any to get it done. Other than dodging some windblown debris, no problem getting up there and picking up my piece. I checked out the current show in the gallery, a juried show called Giving Pause Reflecting Still. I didn't submit anything (shows built around vague internal/emotional concepts are great for all the abstractionist types, but don't suit my real world images, and in my experience the jurors who propose these things generally don't like my work anyway) but I still like to see what's on the walls. Getting home was uneventful.

And speaking of the traveling show, just last night I got these photos from fellow printmaker Marissa Woodrow (her piece is at the far left of the top photo, my boardwalk print at the far right), who attended a special gallery talk that was set up at the Jersey City location. I couldn't make it to the event, but it looks like it's a nice space. It was up for several weeks, so the art students would have had plenty of time to see the show. Beginner printmakers tend to focus on learning process and effects, and give less thought to actually making an artwork. My hope is that an exhibition of quality work from established printmakers will show the students some of the possibilities of printmaking and maybe inspire them to want to make interesting prints of their own.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Headline Making Art

My thoughts on tonight's episode of Bravo's Work of Art, with spoilers included.

Simon dragged the contestants out of bed very early in the morning and brought them to the New York Times building. They were shown a giant pile of newspaper sections, and told to pick a headline to base an artwork on. Simple enough. Some artists found headlines that had personal meanings for them, while some seemed like they just chose something at random. The assignment also required that the newspaper be physically part of the piece.

Most went with some kind of 3D work, including a few pieces that formed installations. It's sometimes hard to judge these things on tv, but nothing really impressed me tonight. The judges seemed a little out of touch this week. Finalist Dusty made a giant map of the U.S. out of crumpled newspaper, which included several giant black silhouettes of figures against the standard printed newsprint coloring. The figural silhouettes were pretty obvious, but at least one of the judges took a few minutes to realize they were there. Lola finally managed to be noticed, but her paper sculptures of weapons looked like something thrown together in a few minutes, not like something worthy of the top group. For the second time, top honors went to Young, for his installation about a dissident Chinese artist. It must have been the topic that impressed them, because the art itself was boring. No immunity tonight, but Young will get a $20K cash prize and his work exhibited at the Times building, to go with the two page spread in Entertainment Weekly he got a few weeks ago; even if he doesn't win this whole thing, he's really cleaned up.

While I didn't agree about the judges picks for the top artists, I did agree that the three in the bottom group weren't successful. Sucklord's piece wasn't so much bad as somehow being both too obvious and confusing at the same time. Sarah and Bayete's pieces seemed to have no relationship to the headlines that had inspired them, and were somewhat indecipherable in general. Bayete got the boot, but perhaps it was time. Being strictly a video artist, it seemed that he was often out of his element with some of the challenges. His inability to properly hang doors as part of his installation was one factor that cost him his spot tonight.

Now, my connection. Several years ago I made the above piece, called A New Year For America. One of those ideas that came to me quickly, but took quite a while to execute. This portrait of America includes a representation of a news story from each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and a few national stories, all coming from a few weeks before and after New Year's Day that year. I'm sure that some of the stories came from the NY Times, with USA Today being a good source, and occasionally online versions of newspapers from other states were reviewed to finish up my list. Gathering the stories took a few weeks, but figuring how to depict them and how to fit them into the one composition was more of a challenge. If I had it to do over again, I'd cut a few items differently, but generally I was happy with how it turned out, and it's been a popular piece in whatever gallery it's been hung in. Something this complex would be out of the question for the limited time given in the challenge (1 day + an extra hour the next day), but I could make something quite nice about any one story, which is all that was being asked tonight.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Crowd In The Basement

The monthly critique group passed it's fourth birthday last month and is still as popular as ever. Fourteen participants (including one new guy), and a few observers were crowded into our space, though art also was set up in three other basement spaces. Discussion of the first few people went a bit long, so it was more like 9:30 when we finally finished.

This month's work included (above, left to right) ink drawings from Dave, digital video from Adam, Michelle's box construction, Harriet's watercolor painting, and Mary's woodcut print and miniature paintings. That's just the beginning.

Pit fired ceramic vessels from Katie (above) and figure drawings from Vince (below), hung in the narrow corridor heading back toward the cafeteria.

In the cafeteria we looked at Edy's latest exploration of her cathedral images (above), then worked our way back toward the Studio, looking at pieces in our hallway (below) from Molly (woodcut block drawing) and Jane (3 panels landscape painting).

Back inside our Studio, we saw Lisa's latest scrap plastic sculpture (candy mint), Tim's abstract painting with random text, and Jill's painting of dogs.

I closed out the night. I had brought my St Benno block to show everyone that I had changed the frog from last time, but since there really wasn't much to talk about with that one, I brought out my Bosch themed board game. When I showed it last year it wasn't yet complete, and promised I'd bring it back sometime for us to play. We did that tonight, with Harriet, Tim, and I playing. Tim and I made it to heaven, while Harriet ended up in a demon's frying pan. It's not a game for everyone.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Artists Say The Darnedest Things

My thoughts on this week's episode of Bravo's Work of Art, with spoilers included.

This week the contestants were each paired with a child artist and a previously created artwork by that child. Mostly drawings and paintings, though also one print piece. The challenge was to create an artwork that was based on the child's work- addressing the same theme, visual style, etc. The work from the kids lacked the polished skills of professional artists, but some of the ideas were fairly interesting and would not be out of place in a professional art gallery.

Dusty was perhaps the most at home with this challenge, since he is a full time teacher and works with kids every day. His piece wasn't the most exciting, but it was well made and did make excellent use of the work brought by his child partner. I was not surprised when he vaulted from the bottom group last week to the the top 2 this time. Although Sucklord mostly works with toys at the conceptual level, few pegged him as someone who would engage with kids on an artistic level. But he really seemed to connect with the piece he was assigned and worked hard to make something his artistic partner would like. I thought that the resulting sculpture was probably more interesting as a toy than as fine art. He ended up in the bottom group, but survived for another week.

Sara was presented a large grid format print piece, words in various styles cut as some kind of relief print and printed as colorful blocks. She took part of that idea- cutting words into small linoleum blocks and making the resulting prints part of the image, but she turned it into her own tragic life story. When she found herself in the bottom group she became an emotional wreck and spent so much time sobbing uncontrollably that it seemed the judges were a bit hesitant to criticize the art, especially when they looked so bad when the same thing happened with Kathryn a few weeks earlier. Perhaps this will be the new strategy employed by contestants in trouble- cry and the judges will be afraid to confront you about your artistic failures. Tewz inherited a still life with a few vegetables. Like Sara, he expanded this based on his own (urban) experiences, making concrete letter shaped planters spelling out "GROW", with some grass like stalks growing from them. The piece could have used a little color, but I've seen much worse on this show. Claiming it had not enough of a relationship to the original piece, Tewz was also part of the lower group, and he was the one eliminated.

Sometimes it was hard to tell whether the kids or the adults were coming up with the crazier ideas. Michelle was given three pieces of paper of different colors, each with a pair of human eyes floating in the center. From this she got the idea to make one of her paper sculptures, but one that included the long necks of geese, with bloody eye sockets from pecking each others' eyes out. Simon and her fellow contestants pointed out that this was really not a good idea in a child themed art show, and citing last week's visit to the bottom group, she decided to listen this time and got off that ledge. Her new piece ended up in the safe group. Kymia's young partner had a simple painting of a carrot on the ground. Looking for more input, she asked the girl about what would be around the carrot if we could see more, and was told there would be the body of a girl on the ground, dead from having eaten literally everything around her, with the carrot being the thing that finally did her in. Kymia responded with a detailed fine line drawing of the imagined girl, her gut exploded from all stuff she had eaten (food, animals, the house, etc). Kymia was the other artist in the top 2 and she won the challenge, and immunity for a week.

I don't make a regular habit of collaborating with children in my artwork, but I do remember one recent case where I did. About 4 years ago we painted the first of the Belmar murals, the large one on the side of the Boatworks, showing our view over the river and our fantasy of what would be found under the waters of Shark River. Every year the BAC has a big project that can involve the community, and for this one people were invited to come one day and draw and paint their ideas for the underwater part. Some BAC members (including me) made things that day, but most of the participants were kids. The images were cut out and stuck to an indoor version of our mural. Later these parts were rearranged and we used them as the basis for what we painted on the final version of the mural. For example, a child makes a white fish with bold spots in primary colors (kind of like the packaging on a loaf of Wonder Bread), and one of the adult professionals created a fish with similar colors for the far right side of our mural. In addition to helping with the watery blue background, over the course of a few weeks I painted sea plants, a piece of the lost city of Atlantis, a hammerhead shark, a sea robin, a lobster, and a sunken speedboat.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Back to Business

Haven't been to the Belmar figure drawing group since August, mostly because it hasn't been meeting for most of that time. While we sought a new coordinator, it was shut down for all of September, and I had to miss the one October meeting. But the word was that it was on for tonight, so I got there by 7:00 with my easel, paper, charcoal, and musical selections for the evening. The group wanted to just have one pose for the whole session. I prefer shorter poses, since after a certain point you can't do anything more with a charcoal drawing. My solution was to just move my position and draw the model from different parts of the room. My best drawing of the night was the 45 minute one above. Not great, but the model liked it, and it's all about practice anyway.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Belmar Woodcut Class part 2

Back on Saturday I had originally planned to drive up to Shrewsbury to pick up a few art supplies that might come in to play for tonight's woodcut workshop in Belmar, but I decided not to take any long drives in that weather, a rain/sleet mix with snow moving into the area. I had considered making a stop there (just a short detour off the parkway) yesterday on my way home from work, but I decided to skip it and get home a little earlier on Halloween. So today, after working here in Monmouth county, I took a trip to the store and bought an assortment of water based relief ink and heavy print papers. After that, home just long enough to eat, change clothes, and load up the car for tonight's class.

My two students arrived with mostly completed drawings on the blocks that they prepared last week. In each case I discussed with the artist what they wanted to do, and gave them advice as to how to proceed. Linda is looking to try a multiple block process to produce a color image of a woods scene, so we worked on deciding what parts of her image would appear on which block. Meanwhile Kim was going with a straight black and white self portrait woodcut, so my advice to her was mostly suggestions to make adjustments to her composition that would play to the strengths of the medium of woodcut. I left most of the print collection at home this week, but I did bring my new woodcut tools and they were put to work before long. I did a safety demonstration, as well as discussing how to best use the tools to cut the block. They were both busy after that.

No one finished tonight, or even came close, but both artists seemed pleased with the progress made. We're skipping the next few Tuesdays (other scheduled things for me and the Boatworks in those weeks), so maybe when we return the blocks will be ready for a first proofing.