Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Intention and Interpretation

Intention verses interpretation -- both can work.

A painter painted and exhibited diptychs and triptychs of interiors, scenes and still lifes to varying degrees toward or away from representation -- the direction depending on whether one starts with the most classically representational (looks like what it is) or the more loose, deconstructed abstraction in the different views of the same subject.

A reviewer seemed to focus, with some despair on a stance that the work appeared in the reviewer's eye to take in relation to critical theory, particularly deconstruction and tropes of deconstruction a la conceptualism and painting, which was not the thing that the artist, according to the artist, was tackling. The artist, to paraphrase, was trying to "depicting (sic) simultaneous aspects of how people experience", giving pause to feeling "one continuous field of experience" as opposed to a clear delineation between being inside and outside of oneself, trying to get at something that he believed was ultimately "invisible." The paintings could be considered and analyzed with the reviewer's approach; biases effect our interpretations. But the paintings also worked the way the artist intended -- in my view because of the interplay between deconstruction and reconstruction as the eye moves from one depicted state to another. This perceived relay between reconstruction and deconstruction, form and un-form, is my interpretation, of course, and perhaps not what the artist intended.

Strong work operates on multiple levels, whether or not all the levels originally are intended, and I like that deconstruction, a trope sometimes employed to relegate painting to irrelevance, contrarily could bolster the reconstructive, meditative, and transformative potential of painting.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Time lines

We can view and consider modern art, at least early modern art of cubism, surrealism, Bauhaus, etc., at some distance, with a backward glance, not being in or too near its moment. The distance perhaps feels less with Dada, since conceptualism connects to Duchamp’s Dada.

We are 145 years after Manet's Olympia (which many say ushered in modern art), 100 or so years after Cubism, 60 or so years after Pollack began action painting.

Manet's Olympia, 1863
Cezanne's Mt. Victoire, 1897-1898
Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907
Braque's Houses at L'Estaque L'Estaque, 1908
Malevich's White on White, 1918
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red, 1921
Jackson Pollack's Cathedral, 1947
Ad Reinhardt's Black Painting(s),1960-67

For comparison, Botticelli's Birth of Venus was 50 years after Van Ecyk's Arnolfini Portrait (advent of oil painting), Da Vinci's Mona Lisa was 70 years after the Arnolfini Portrait, and Rembrandt's Night Watch was a little over 200 years after the Arnolfini Portrait and somewhat more than the same number of years before Manet's Olympia (220 years).

Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait 1434
Botticelli's Birth of Venus, 1486
Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, 1503–1506
Raphael's School at Athens, 1509-1510
Bruegel's The Tower of Babel (1563)
Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck, 1534-40
Caravaggio's The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599-1600
Rembrandt's The Night Watch, 1642

Old Found Art

A wikipedia snippet about a controversial ancient human figurine, Venus of Tan-Tan, discovered in Morocco and claimed to date back to between 500,000 and 300,000 BCE, made me think of how old an idea it likely is to turn a found object (a rock) into an artistic expression (a figure).

According to the wiki entry, the Venus of Tan Tan figurine may have been created by natural geological processes but bears evidence of having been painted. If so, it may have been a found object that resembled a figure enough to be picked up and altered with paint to highlight the resemblance. Of course, it may not have been: the wiki entry also notes that the figurine appears to exhibit traces of human tool work.

Perhaps romanticism runs amok, or I just like the contrast between what's alive and what's not: I'm left supposing that the first object of art was made upon spotting resemblance between a natural inanimate form found on the ground and an animate form, perhaps even the self, and in that moment, having the identity of the inanimate form change. It's also possible that original appreciation was more abstract, the same way we have our eyes and/or our imaginations tickled and captured by cracks and pocks in the ground, though I wonder whether we've been schooled to appreciate random compositions.

Making art from a found object per se may not have deserve accolades as "original" when it came into vogue in the 20th century except that the found objects themselves were also manmade, which carried issues of whether use of the objects in art denies or does not deny the prior functional identities of the objects. Also, to the extent that such art made with found objects denies animation, modern and contemporary art made with found objects differs from finding resemblance between a rock and a human form.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Long Term Engagement

While web surfing, I came across the pages for MOMA's color chart exhibition earlier this year. The MOMA exhibition did not focus so much on the delights of playing with color interaction, but rather focused on conceptual approaches that see colors as standardized -- colors as ready made cloaks.

Among the artists included, Niele Torono has, since the 60s, systematically "painted" by pressing a painted laded No. 50 brush onto surfaces (e.g. walls, etc) to make monochromatic imprints repeatedly at perpendicular 30 centimeter intervals, using pre-existing variations in architectural context and added variations in framing context (meaning the dimensions and placement of the pictorial box) to produce a surprisingly wide variety of work. The volume and range is more interesting to me than is any particular piece.

The MOMA site includes a video interview, in which Torono's speaks about the subtle variations in the brush shaped marks -- no two marks are exactly alike. The marks are individually produced, so the hand remains involved, albeit heavily constrained by the systemic approach. But because the paint application is so limited, the works for me end up being about the alteration of context, and not so much about painting. It would be incredibly difficult, impossible actually, for me to constrain my forms that much for more than a few explorations. I need to come at contextual inquiries from both directions -- varying forms within context and varying contexts around forms.

I wonder how many artists starting out today will be exploring the same processes, systems, or conceptual idea thirty years from now. Apparent originality or ironic appropriation/referential regressions are in vogue. But there is another option, which Torono has adopted -- long term, in depth exploration and engagement -- as did Cezanne and others.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Reflections on Identity

If art is the expression of the self, or of the self in relation to others/the world, it's automatically about identity. Some art practices can be seen as placing this in tension, subverting it, or trying to suppress it into irrelevance.

Appropriation takes that which has been conceived by or made by another. However, appropriation imparts the new relationship of the appropriator to the appropriated idea, image, etc., reflecting identity -- although perhaps confused or heavily borrowed identity.

Anonymity over authorship separates other external aspects of the artist's identity from the work. Even if not specifically identifiable to a particular name/person, identity remains reflected in the work -- but much less so with rigid conventions.

The contemporary practice/convention of situating the conceptual underpinning of an artwork within taking a position in relation to the rubric of critical theory or illustrating theory binds the context for reflecting identity and the scope of identity that is reflected -- more so if critical theory should tend toward inflexibility. Fostering reexamination broadens the space in which to reflect identity.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I am jotting down what I am sure are a few obvious notions about object in art.

Objects moved from being seen as the elements depicted in the artwork to the physical work of art itself to including the artist and/or viewer to being summarily elements installed in a presentation space, which works of solid art always have been, whether specifically viewed that way or not. Objects change a space.

With a video in a monitor, the monitor comes across as a primary object, just as a stretched canvas comes across as a primary object. It's hard for me to view the video shown within the monitor as an object. However, within the duration of projection, I can view a projection not contained within a physical object (or projected onto a shaped physical support), as an object, even if it is less materially solid, because no physical support detracts from it as an element in the presentation space.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Studies: Decor

I am still wrapping my eyes and mind around pattern intersections with representational elements by playing with the intersections and by collapsing and expanding the pattern elements. For now, the representational element is a moving animal.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I've noticed that an artwork that started out feeling fresh can have a frustrating way of feeling a little old, a little dated, a little too known, once it's completed, and certainly once it's sent out into the sea of art, bobbing up and down with other expressions of art.

It can feel like everything has been done visually -- research after what seemed like a "novel" use of material or a "novel" form or a "novel" process can reveal similar uses of the material (or its equivalent) or the form or the process at an earlier time. Even "new" concepts are often retreads and tweaks of old ideas or observations, whether unintentionally mimicked or blatantly aped.

Yet, and perhaps informed by these frustrations, uniqueness can emerge in an interplay between concept, process and visual language.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pic-A-Day: Mistakes

Separating Execution From Conception

To extent that there is a "deskilling" involved in outsourcing the execution stage of art objects from the artist to skilled craftspeople, it is different from deskilling that excuses absence of quality as irrelevant, or worse, elevates and enshrines feebleness because feebleness is a way to illustrate quality is illusory.

Did denigration of quality have to accompany or flow from isolating execution from conception? What knowledge is lost to the artist from making something with his/own hands does not necessarily mean the body of knowledge is lost: though knowledge may suffer in translation, it’s split between the artist as conceiver and the craftsperson as maker, unless the value of the craft is so reduced that there is no one passing on or picking up the knowledge of the craftsperson.

I think there’s a benefit to making the art objects with one’s own hand, or at least, in exercising this skill as a regular discipline. Making the objects – collaboration between the mind and the hand/body, between thought and tactile sensation - tends to slow down logical articulation and to spread out associational articulation, fostering deeper reflection. The tension and struggle in making art with one’s own hands reduces the likelihood of art that merely illustrates a concept.

On the other hand, limitations in the height of skill in particular medium should not preclude an artist from realizing work in that medium, even if this means collaborating with those who have reached the height of skill in the medium.

Pic-A-Day: Location

Fragility of Position

Path: Ode to Klee

Paradigm Shift: Quantum Philosophy

From an article about Quantum Philosophy.:

"Other philosophers call for a sea change in our very modes of thought. After Einstein introduced his theory of relativity, ... 'we threw out the old Euclidean notion of space and time, and now we have a more generalised notion.' Quantum theory may demand a similar revamping of our concepts of rationality and logic, Bub says. Boolean logic, which is based on either- or propositions, suffices for a world in which an atom goes either through one slit or the other, but not both slits. "Quantum mechanical logic is non-Boolean," he comments. " Once you understand that, it may make sense." Bub concedes, however, that none of the so-called quantum logic systems devised so far has proved very convincing."

"A different kind of paradigm shift is envisioned by Wheeler.The most profound lesson of quantum mechanics, he remarks, is that physical phenomena are somehow defined by the questions we ask of them. " This is in some sense a participatory universe," he says. The basis of reality may not be the quantum, which despite its elusiveness is still a physical phenomenon, but the bit, the answer to a yes-or-no question,which is the fundamental currency of computing and communications. Wheeler calls his idea "the it from bit. Following Wheeler's lead, various theorists are trying to recast quantum physics in terms of information theory..."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yawn: More than being tired or bored.

Discovery news suggests yawning is a response to brain temperature.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Accessibility in Art

Remembering back, I had a professor once who proposed that a piece of conceptual art -- leaving pieces of paper with partial quotes in subway cars and on buses for random strangers to pick up and posting copies of the quotes on a gallery wall with explanatory text of "the project" -- was more accessible to viewers/an audience than a "classically" representational figurative painting.

His premises? As I understood, accessing the figurative painting required awareness of the history and lines of development of representational figurative painting to really "get" the painting (beyond seeing it as a pretty picture) since the painting referenced Balthas, who referenced ..., etc, on back in time, while the piece of conceptual art did not suffer from the need to have awareness of the past and make connections to it. The reference within reference within reference was true of the particular painting that he used as an example. To a degree, painting does promote an "in the know" insularity: we can be part of the special club that can pat themselves on the back from getting it, our breadth of exposure and knowledge being greater than that of most others. However, a painting can be received on its own terms as much as a collection of posted quotes, and since the painting may at least be visually interesting, more so. In any case, to get the irony, even the one line kind, of much of conceptual art, we must be in on the references illustrated, whether the references are artistic or philosophical or political or cultural or consumerist snippets.

I thought of the professor's distinction as I was reading commentary by Matthew Collings on Clement Greenberg's birthday, written with an insider's tone of disdain, particularly this comment: "Even the art writers who produce small-audience, faux-intellectually rigorous magazines such as 'October' in America or 'Texte Zur Kunst' in Germany are nurtured pets of society not its opponents. The aim of these publications is power within a certain morally unassailable context, the university being its main institution. The aim of the circle of writers connected to each of these magazines is not to define an alternative world but to caress and polish certain long established creeds of alterity, congratulating themselves (like shallow versions of medieval scholastics) on ever more subtle and pointless re-castings of what they and their friends already know."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Neo-Fill In The Blank

“Neo”, beyond short hand utility of demarking that time has come between, imparts oppositional value judgments:

- It can be pejorative, suggesting that the rediscovery pales in comparison to that which is being rediscovered (mannerism).

- It can be abusive suggesting a connection that does not really exist.

- It can be neutral, simply demarking that some kernel of what is being offered up rests on something that came before it.

- Or it can be affirmative, suggesting a “new” and presumably interesting take on ideas that came before while skipping over a presumptively unsatisfying in-between period a practitioner/critic doesn’t want to be associated with or connected to.

Minding the apparent gap(s) -- most things being dismissed still operate outside the spotlight -- what is “neo” is still a continuation – even if it drives the rediscovered idea/approach either to absurdity or to banality. For those content to accept the absurdity and banality and leave it at that, the vacuum is filled by arbitrariness for which the authority of power offers the only validation presumptively available. For those who don’t accept the absurdity and banality, it would seem the attack shouldn’t be against a term. Rather, the attack should consider what underlying misperceptions/misconceptions might have led to the absurdity or banality, which requires looking at the apparent continuum and its premises.

The ontological continues to be worth taking on rather than illustrated.

Macro: There Is Meaning

Sometimes it feels like we (a cultural, intellectual, perhaps pseudo intellectual we) tired of perceptions unfolding with the movement of the observer and deconstructed simultaneity into meaningless. Before the hey day of relativism, duality was tangled with, but accepted -- and not as rendering the concept of truth meaningless (we can't really know anything, so nothing means anything). Two sides of a coin. Death helps one understand life, or at least the brevity of life (mortality) helps one appreciate the experience of life, come what may afterward.

We have very few real paradigmatic shifts like the one that accompanied modernism (or more particularly, Cezanne, cubism, etc) … we remain subsumed in the age in which relativism/relationships and acute awareness of the limitations of the observer is the underlying operative framework for our thinking about meanings. Still, on the macro day to day level in which we generally operate, ordinary cause and effect has meaning, at least to the the ones who feel the effects: it can't be disregarded. With out the intervention of a surgeon (and perhaps even with it), a bullet to the heart will kill.

Is it possible we are unable to fully articulate/comprehend a universal that nonetheless exists? Can we judge one construct against another without the need for a universal truth? It's easy enough to spout everything is relative, all constructs devolve into power battles, and none is worse or better than the other since there is no universal reality/truth against which to judge the constructs or principles underlying the constructs. But is it really so that some constructs in practice don't leave more people better off than do other constructs long term? Or that some don't offer more mobility to change position than others, as beyond the construct makers who would put themselves in a position of privilege, one does not know beforehand what position one will occupy in a given construct? Or that some constructs do not require ignoring cause and effect (at least probabilistic cause and effect) on a macro level?

If every "reality" we experience/occupy is a construct, with no standard to judge one construct against the other, I'd suggest there are means of questioning the utility, if nothing else, of the construct. Does the construct denies cause and effect on a macro level? What is the construct's internal consistency: does it meet the values it purports to elevate or does it simply devolve into hypocrisy?

Pic-A-Day: Patterns

Experience and Intellect

Squaring experience with intellectual exercise is a challenge. Recall of experience is inaccurate and biased and exercise of the intellect can be faulty and short circuited. Back and forth between the two is needed to show the holes in one and to ground the other. We can deconstruct and logically deprive experience of meaning, and yet, most of us will still feel that there is meaning. Tools of deconstruction apply to reconstructions as well -- anything can be reduced to nothing. No one likes a vacuum -- the vacuum either will be filled by constructs of faith, which concede they must be accepted despite illogic -- or dissembled by a better understanding of the premises and utility of tools of deconstruction and the manner of their application.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Playing In The Box: Working on a Two Dimensional Surface

For me, drawing and painting are intellectual exercises as much as transformative engagements of material. Having broken out of the picture plane, I sometimes forget that one really can do what feels like infinite amount of thinking laying out an image inside the four corners (eight if you count the ground plane) of the picture box, and have endless fun and engagement watching interactions between lines, shapes, colors, complexes and seeing the depth of captured space vacillate with each new marking while predicting what each mark will do to the spatial balance. Three vectors set up the space (at least one can be imaginary or zero, and if one thinks in terms of the mark as figure and the background as ground, only one actual mark is needed). After that, there's freedom within the constraint of the edges.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deconstructing Deconstruction

"The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say, without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work." - Derrida (emphasis added)

We ought to think about the utility of the tools of deconstruction as applied and whether the leveling of all necessarily leaves a fertile field that can bear fruit capable of withstanding deconstruction or, instead, leaves barren ground. Yes, this involves value judgments, but the concerted, and perhaps illusory, effort to absent any value judgment is in itself a judgment of value.

(Re)Treading Old Ground

Judgments about Identity are influenced by context, in large measure because of expectations. Context then helps define identity? Does sticking a frame around something transform the something from what it was into Art? Plenty of artists, critics, etc., would think it silly to still be asking. Didn't we settle this -- art is Art so long as the artist intends it to be Art?

Empty frames hanging on the wall may offer the illusion of art on the wall: the visual impression plays with long ingrained expectations; if it's inside a frame, it's art. But it's an illusion. Beyond the initial play on expectations, the section of the wall inside the frame offers no more to viewers than the section of wall outside the frame.

A vase on a table in a house is taken as a container for water and flowers, although a particularly elegant, distorted or otherwise visually interesting vase will also feel like Art, or at least, Decor. A vase under lights on a pedestal in a gallery is taken as art. It helps if the vase looks more than functional, that is, if the form is either elegant or distorted or otherwise visually interesting. Simply setting an ordinary object inside a gallery or museum space with a clever or not so clever label conveys the expectation of art but it does not transform the ordinary object. On the other hand, an object or objects can be the "materials" for art and set in a way that transform the whole into something that offers more than functional objects.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Does All Art Illustrate?

Can, and if so, when does art evoke rather than illustrate? Is it either or? Do we fool ourselves into thinking we are doing more than illustrating? How does an artist not illustrate -- illustrate a narrative, illustrate a concept, illustrate a feeling or emotion, illustrate a formal idea or theory?

Perhaps we evoke something in ourselves as the viewer of our own work in progress, with us the maker as the proxy for them the viewer whom we are trying to reach? Even through the lens of the viewer, are we doing more than reading the illustration?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Visual Art: Architectural Servant?

I recently heard a caution that visual art not return to the role of a servant to architecture ... it had taken long enough to break painting (and perhaps sculpture) free from architecture ... and that installation in a sense locks these mediums back into serving architecture.

The comment had more to do with art history and the church (followed by merchant patrons, etc) as historical patron of art, a time when the artist was a servant to the patron's tastes. But the comment made me think about how the objects -- paintings and sculptures -- did gain greater freedom as expressions for their own sake, a painting as a painting, a sculpture as a sculpture, both in making and appreciation, regardless of whether they fit into a larger context of display. So too, artifacts from days past, e.g. ruins, are displayed in museums, etc., regardless of whether they fit the context of display. The fact of such severed display however does not eliminate the relevance that spatial context has on the viewer's reception and perception of the work.

Sculpture and painting, while becoming distinct mediums of there own right, and breaking free of being relegated to decorating and serving architectural space, can never really break free of the context in which they are shown. Installation, or mindfulness of the ultimate display context, by acknowledging the relevance of context, does not make the object or the space the servant; rather, it integrates the two.

Perhaps we've gone a bit silly on the other end, turning buildings into sculptural forms rather than functional spaces.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Architectural Space: Presentation Context

I ran across You Tube videos of a tech walk through of Denver Art Museum (Hamilton Building designed by Libeskind). It's a very sharp, jagged looking building on the outside and has many leaning walls and non rectangular orientations in the interior.

What struck me is how dominant the architectural space is: it's art itself that the viewer gets to actually walk around inside the art, and from the video, it's hard for me to imagine the art pieces shown in the museum can be experienced for their own identity without being overshadowed by being within the space. This felt true even with the projections and tech things that were meant to work with the orientation, etc., of the space. Maybe it's different in person, where the scale is actually experienced rather than watching and trying to imagine it from a small rectangular box.

Bound and Unbound V


Vary color and convex. A conceptual throwback to translated grid print work several years ago. Also, note, it is relatively unimportant at this point that the grid came from the cutting matte, rather than a digitally drawn grid. In the top degradation, bounds are broken through.

Bound and Unbound IV

Layering the bounding question, removing color.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bound and Unbound III

Just the cutting grid -- the transparent bounds -- without anything object/figure to be bounded within, and multiplied into a grid itself. Became too tiled.

Bound and Unbound II

I captured these images a few weeks ago when I was playing around with placement of figures against a defined grid -- both a visual and a narrative investigation. I was drawn to the convenient grid, numerical scale, and diagonals/marked angles on the small portable cutting mat that I used to cut elements for a different project. The blue lines on white of the mat blended too closely into the blue figures, which made the images distracting and awkward, and I set the investigation aside.

After my last blog entry, I realize that part of what attracted me to using the cutting mat to place the figures was the transparent bounds that the definition of space through the grid and diagonals created for the manipulation of my figures. Tonight, I inverted the images into their negatives to heighten that transparency, and there is better distinction between the cutting mat lines and the figures.

Bound or Unbound

I started to think tonight about what an artist feels bound by/to in creating work, what constraints an artist feels free to break, where an artist draws (intentionally or unintentionally) the line between the two, favoring bound or favoring constrained, and how that sensibility impacts the artist's work.

Artists can be constrained by material, technique, formal composition, conceptual underpinning, presentation context, media form and/or conventions, habitual aesthetics, etc., to varying degrees.

A found image anchors the transformed work, no matter the manipulation. An artist manipulating a found image is bound by the found image.

The loss of identity varies. While the artist feel unconstrained in the extent to which the artist deteriorates /destroys /alters /uses /etc the found image, the image is the starting place and an absolute element, even if the found image is ultimately completely removed after the piece is "finished". The level of constraint felt by the artist presumably ought to relate to the amount of identity the found image loses through the artist's manipulation -- or, say the artist's translation of the identity of the found image into something else. The level of constraint can be looked at in terms of quantity (the number of manipulations) and quality (the transformative impact of any given manipulation). If an artist starts with the found image and does nothing but alter its context (e.g. hang it on a gallery wall or frame it, etc), the artist has transformed it with a great deal of restraint, constraining it almost to itself; yet, the nature of the contextual change may substantially alter the identity of the piece for the viewer (e.g. from scrap to "high" art). One change like whiting out a small area of the found image may do little to alter the identity of an image, but erasing all of it certainly would dramatically alter its identity. Erasing a lot of it but leaving essential characteristics might in effect barely alter the identity of the found image; erasing only an essential characteristic might almost completely alter the identity of a found image.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Core Visual Idea

I went to an artist salon last night. The critic was excellent. One general thing he said sticks with me ... the importance of identifying and focusing on the core visual idea of one's artwork ... as particularly articulate and insightful.

Back to the artist statement drawing board. I end up having a difficult time with this since I feel that I can talk about my work in basic ways from more than one approach.

Drawing is the core; so, I start there when I talk about my work. It's how I approach every piece I make or consider making in the context of proposals or project ideas. But why drawing? That's a lot harder for me to answer. Some sense of touch, even if it's virtual or mental? A sense of linearity (verses solid volume), rhythm, grace?

Identity, what is something, what makes it something, when does it stop being that something, how does something change in communication and through perception, is another core.

Paradox, or acting against a rule/convention/material property is another core. Working on a 3D surface to make it 2D, working on a 2D service to make it 3D, making something hard look soft, something soft look hard, using the conventions of one media to make work in another media. I think this is motivated by interest in identity and perception.

Experiment/Play/Process is also a core... finding the piece by going back and forth between the concept and the execution. I do have an end game ... I am interested in the piece that is found, not so much the journey, though I generally can't find the piece without the journey, and I generally can't take the journey without having a destination in mind.

Vacillating In-Between is also a core. I really like work to hover here, to the point where I risk criticism for not pushing in one direction or the other enough, when my urge is always to push things back to the middle, kind of like moving toward the mean in statistics.

Grounding/anchoring in some representational or iconic image, usually art historical, is also a core element of my work. I can't decide whether this is a necessary entry point into the work for me, or whether it has been what has allowed me to enter my work to date, and can now be let go or forced to fall away.

Perhaps it also helps to identify what is not at the core, at least in this moment in time.

Color. While I enjoy playing and experimenting with color relationships as an exercise of sensibilities and perception, so far color has not been a major part of most of my final pieces and projects.

Politics, social issues. Not that I don't think about politics and social issues, but I find my attempts at including any sort of visual political commentary end up too literal. So, I do not to think too directly about this kind of content, and instead, I let whatever is there in the mind infect the work. My interest in reuse of materials is partly motivated by aversion to waste.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SOFA 2008

I guess I am not much of a blogger ... too infrequent in posting.

I went to the SOFA show this weekend at Navy Pier, Chicago. As usual with SOFA, the level of craft was high. Unfortunately, with a show this size, the work starts to blur together after a while, and I am sure I missed some pieces. Still, there were some real delights.

What an incredible amount of glass work! Too much -- and I love glass work, especially blown glass. The glass pieces that really stood out for me were the two three dimensional grids of pyrex filament -- basically drawing in three dimensions with the glass filaments. These were at Jane Sauer Gallery's booth, but I lost the name of the artist.

UPDATE: I had the chance to look at the Jane Sauer Gallery website, and I was disappointed that the pyrex forms shown there were decorative representational objects, like a chair and a basket ... to me less interesting that the 3-D grid and interrupted 3-D grid that was at SOFA. Still, I very much like the technique and commend the artist.

Outside of the glass work, Marian Bijenga's (Cervini Haas Gallery) horsehair/fabric wall hanging grids -- little spots of fabric connected by thread (fishing line?) in morphed grids -- were delightful floating spots of color. I checked them out online at the Gallery's website, and the pictures really do not do the work justice. The detail shots that show individual horsehair/fabric "spots" are okay, and in truth, each spot as a vignette was more noteworthy and intriguing than the overall arrangement of spots. Still, in person, the arrangement was much, much better than the picture on the website would reflects.

I also was drawn to crocheted metal forms by another artist (can't read her name in my notes, but the gallery was Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art) because the pieces made hard what is normally soft (hard metal in place of soft yarn).

There were some intriguing thread bare fiber pieces, intriguing more from the technique than the use of the technique. The technician in me is wondering how difficult it is to pull out so many threads and still leave enough in place, given difficulties I have had doing this with canvas.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Catch Up

Wow, it has been months since I've written! Words have not been there for me in the midst of considering a transition that would have moved me across the country. I also went for over a month without creating any art (not even a drawing). The hiatus was a frustrating thing, but in the end, breaks can be fruitful. One is always thinking even when one is not making work.

In the last couple weeks, I finally made a spate of pieces. What I am working on:

- See-through cave like mini-installations -- drawing in acrylic boxes -- playing with spatial and historic timelines.
- A series of digitally degraded photographs verging on painting.

Some events coming up:

October 3 (evening) is the opening of Inspiration in Andersonville, and the exhibition at the Swedish American Musuem. Several artists, including me, created pieces inspired by items in the museum's collection. I picked two items: a well-aged sled that looked used and cared for and two delicate Dahl horse earrings that were personally connected to one individual (a very interesting fellow who built his own working viking ship). The simultaneous personal and iconic nature of the items drew me to them.

The museum hosts a panel discussion with the artists on October 5. We'll talk about our inspirations.


I stopped by Ossia Fine Arts Space to check out the Five Artists Project and talk about the exhibition with Amy Rudberg, who organized the show and is writing a blog as part of exhibition. I recommend the stopping by the show. September 12 is 2nd Fridays at the building, and a performance will take place in the gallery. You can read my thoughts about the show on Amy's blog installation: http://happyfaceschicago.blogspot.com/

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Looking Around

It can be a struggle to watch what becomes "in" ... sometimes it's so out of one's aesthetic, one cringes. Other times, it's a pale version of what could be one's aesthetic, one groans. And once in a while, it strikes an exact chord with one's aesthetic, one remembers.

There's little point in giving examples of the first two, but for me, the chord was struck the first time I saw Cai Guo-Qiang's gunpowder drawings at the Hirshorn . I stared at them for a long time ... when I turned around, my friends already had moved on to another room, impatient with me. The gunpowder drawings were perfectly on the line between abstraction and representation. I saw Cai-Gio-Qiang's recent installation at the Whitney ... unfortunately, it was overload, which lessened the impact of both the individual drawings and the stuffed animal natural history museum reminiscent installations.

I revisited (online) Art 21's interview with Richard Tuttle. I was surprised, and refreshed, to realize that his thinking on drawing, particularly about the border between drawing and sculpture and the notion that the 2D plane is more real than 3D, paralleled my thought process independent of reading his views.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Updated Images On myartspace.com and artreview.com

Another one of my pieces, What Comes of This, was selected for the front page viewer on myartspace.

I've loaded new images there, and also to my artreview.com page.

Image Projection and Subtleness

I was reminded again last night how different a projection looks from the image on a computer.

I attended an artist salon sponsored by the Chicago Artist Coalition at Hyde Park Art Center The difference between the color of the images as seen on the monitor and the color as seen on the projection was image-altering for much of the artwork. The projected images were significantly fainter. The detailed line work of one artist almost completely dissappeared in the projection.

This matters even if one is not a projection based artist because juries often project the images as they jury them. Images need to hold up to projection, yet another difficulty for works that play on subtle shifts that don't easily carry over, if at all, into jpegs in the first place. It's a problem, too, for color relationship work, as color calibration of the systems used by any given jury is not in the artist's hand. Images also need to hold up as small jpegs on a website screen. Often, one can't email larger files, and the dpi that shows online is low.

One wonders if visual subtleness, at least in the lowest range, will disappear from art entirely as we proceed in our digital age. Meanwhile, tools have long helped us "see" what the naked eye cannot perceive, for example infrared ranges or the inner workings of the brain through MRI and CATscans, and will continue to do so.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Alchemy and Irony

The power of art lies in alchemy, I think. Not some new age turn lead into gold nonsense or magical chemical notion or magic. But rather, the simple idea that transformation is possible, the taking of one thing or set of things and the making of another out of it. Art materializes this, reflects it, sometimes engenders it.

Part of the problem of irony in art is that, after the irony, there often is nothing there. Hitting a dull note, or even the perfect tone that rapidly loses sound. Often enough, the irony itself escapes the viewer: the work then is soundless. I'm tired of irony.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Article On Women, Art and Gender

An interesting article by Jeannie Shubitz, Woman, Art and Gender: A History:

"An old New Yorker cartoon depicts a group of prehistoric women painting images on the wall of a cave. One of the women suddenly pauses in her work and asks: “Does it strike anyone as weird that none of the great painters have ever been men?” (Heller, 1987) This, of course is a parody of the long-held assumption that all prehistoric art was created by men. Why should we assume this, when we don’t even know why this art was created, much less by whom? It is because for many centuries, we have been taught that all great art was the product of men, and that art created by women was merely an attempt to copy the masters that came before."

Click the title above to read the rest. Good points about some faulty assumptions and the difficulty female artists face having artistic identity that is not gender linked.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Overload ... In A Good Way

I was at the Swedish American Museum here in Chicago...

Task at hand ... to select a piece from their permanent collection ...

The Swedish American Museum Center maintains a permanent collection of history, art and artifacts dating back to the mass immigration of Swedes to the Chicago area nearly 200 years ago.

... to inspire a piece of artwork for an exhibition at the Museum in October as part of Chicago Artists' Month

Myself and 9 other artists will be making pieces inspired by the Museum's collection.

So, tonight, I had the opportunity to meet the other artists, the Museum director, some of the jurors, and Jason from the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce.

And, the opportunity to look through the collection to choose my piece. That's the overload ... so much was inspiring. So many different shapes, artifacts, and story elements.

It was hard to pick a place to start, and even after I had selected my inspiration -- I selected a wooden sled and two small horse shaped figurines (white with delicate blue markings, with one horse standing and the other fallen over in the display case, feet in the air) -- this horse I will have to research and think about as I think it's quite symbolic of the Swedish American immigration experience, an icon of sorts -- many other items sparked interest. A 1955 Nursing School graduating class photo, with all the graduates wearing old fashioned (not so old fashioned at the time, I'm sure) nurse's caps, plus old medical implements. Many tools that looked very worked with, expressing the labor - and care, really -- that undoubtedly was made of them. Very different looking furniture design -- a chair with a triangular seat, for example -- all holding up well to time. A Swedish bread making circle that was very abstract on the wall -- a circle within a circle, with the diameter of the larger circle stopped by the circumference of the circle. Wonderful embroidered samplers that a Museum board member was kind enough to translate. A wedding cake making device that had a crank handle and looked a bit like a wooden blimp form -- oval, bulbous.

Some days, and some places, creative neurons fire, and this was one of them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Now Showing: Chicago Looks

Chicago Looks launched today on Chicago's Riverwalk between State and LaSalle. 40 portraits by Chicago Artists about Chicago, it's people and it's built environment. Presented by the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Public Art Program.

My portrait, shown above, is Daniel Burnham: Vision and Legacy. We are incredibly fortunate to have accessible lakefront to enjoy.

Other artist friends participating in this exhibition include James Mesple and Vanessa Shinmoto.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All Awash With Gimmicks ...

There was a time when I painted on mirrors; a professor suggested (their job to criticize, right?) the mirror was just a gimmick. I could defend the mirrors, albeit, they were not entirely successful in relation to the concept that engendered them. At the time, I was obsessed with the idea of painting empty space -- the actual air between objects, not as air particles, not the objects visible in the negative space between focal point objects -- and kept getting stuck on painting the objects themselves as definers of the empty space between them. I wanted to navigate the space between the objects without being dependent on painting the objects. Because mirrors reflect the space of their surroundings, I painted on them, maintaining unpainted areas of reflection and blotting out other areas with paint. The result was some areas of deeper space, and some odd incongruities between painted image and reflected surroundings depending on where the mirrors were displayed. But more important, there is space between the reflection of marks on the surface of a mirror and the marks themselves, a kind of in between area that I could ponder as empty space or transitional space between the real world surroundings and the image world, albeit it's a very narrow band. There's a whole history of the mirror in paintings, which I was thinking about simultaneously, but I won't digress. I watched this transitional space develop as paint touched the mirror. Cracks that developed in the mirror also reflected themselves, with that same small space between the cracks and their reflections. I learned from my mirror work, which is enough for it to be more than a gimmick; Sometimes, all process can do is teach something, open up new ideas and perceptual lens.

The professor's question was a good one, even if he may have been being contrary for the sake of making me defend my work. The mirrors weren't being received by him in a visual way that suggested concept. It's entirely too easy to rest on gimmicky techniques.

I stopped with the mirrors because they were too fragile, reducing their portability, which at the time was important to me.

A Word About Photoshop Processes ...

Meaning doesn’t have to depend on emerging from process – but I find I like the process to facilitate, underscore or otherwise impact meaning. Has anyone not played with Photoshop . . . multiplied an image or piece of an image over and over into a pattern or faceted constellation? Pumped up saturation until highlights and shadows are a day-glo facsimile of original image? Joined two images to make one image or diptich? There’s a lot of this now. Is it still possible for the images created this way to take on real meaning from the process – no longer new enough to be original or even particularly out of the ordinary? If one goes for the same result as an image, sans photoshop, does meaning change with the labor and skill involved?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Accepting A Little Failure

I ruined a paper construction piece today; it was experimental, so ruining it at some point is to be expected. Still, I was getting spoiled with how well my experiments were going lately, I was a little taken aback, even as I proceeded to make one bad decision after another on the piece. I made a number of discoveries along the way, and partly salvaged the piece. I'll continue to pare away at it. I won't get it back to the place where it once was working, but I may get it to another place, perhaps one that will work even better (one hopes). For now, it's fodder for digital superimposition experiments, like these ones, Predator Exposed To Extinction and Partial Extinction Slide:

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I've had to shift my work to a temporary space -- they are putting sprinklers in my space. It's proven to be surprisingly off putting. I've worked in temporary spaces before; usually, I find the change of scene conducive to my work. Not this time. It's dead quiet, with absolutely no interruptions. Just me and the work. And this is not a space in which I can be particularly messy.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Deterioration In Art

I've been thinking quite a bit about deterioration in art. It's natural, especially with when the art process involves a great deal of experimentation and envelope pushing.

Pollack's paintings supposedly shed chips (the paint was household paint, so made to fall apart really). I find the shedding of the work interesting.

The paint has come off classical statuary -- to the point that we view classical as white and unadorned.

Da Vinci's Last Supper is more myth/legend (not sure the proper term, really) than painting, since it started to deteriorate rather quickly and has been in-painted, etc.; yet the myth/legend is strong.

Cave paintings survived for thousands of years precisely because they were hidden from view; now, discovered and exposed, they are deteriorating.

Great buildings fall to time, weather, war, and new construction.

Some deterioration is ironic: fairly quick crackling in Mondrian's work undermines his utopian ideals.

Yet, old master paintings are valued in part because they managed to survive hundreds of years (some level of care taking by some set of people valuing the works enough to preserve them).

The art I showed at The Artist Project was based on scavenged images and materials, included decades old paper and yarn found in my childhood home after my mother's recent passing. Here are some stills from the video I took of my installation at The Artist Project:

What Comes of This




The venue wasn't the best venue for my work, which is conceptual and tends toward the ephemeral. Live and learn.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Upcoming: The Artist Project

It's been a while since I posted. Busy getting ready for The Artist Project. Even tonight, I am varnishing pieces, which is taking a fair bit of time. I am excited about how the work has come out, both because it feels consistent in theme and because it is visually interesting. The pieces I am showing are scavenged memories, predominantly made from materials I have scavenged, especially from my parent's home as we packed up the house following my mother's recent passing. It's a combination of refined and unrefined.

A couple things happened as the show neared. One, I've had this piece I have been working on mentally for a while with styrofoam heads I got at a garage say for a couple bucks and a newspaper shroud. The heads have really turned out, in a way that makes it somehow wrong to cover them, and the newspaper shroud itself is an interesting sculpture. I'll try it in different arrangements when I set up at the show, but my sense is the heads will not be shrouded. Two, I've let loose my prehistoric art references, for the most part, for these pieces, using instead my own interpretation of modern animals (ibex from Serengeti/Ngorogoro Crater and eland) and chairs. There's carryover in method and depiction but not literal animals from the caves. Query if it will still seem literal to some... even though the work has never really been about being literal (as opposed to carrying representational elements into abstractions) but rather, at best, symbolic.

Preview Apr. 24, 6 to 9, exhibition Apr. 25-28, Merchandise Mart, Chicago. Booth 8-3123.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Your Studio Winner

Alix Rule, Saatchi Online Magazine’s regular Berlin correspondent, picked my image, "Guardian," as the winner of this month's Your Studio, commenting ‘If Max Beckmann had had a mouse he would definitely have clenched it and whacked out a sinister, reverberating enigma such as this.’

The Saatchi Gallery now will donate £500 to Children's Memorial Hospital here in Chicago. Fantastic! Every month, a critic selects an image, and Saatchi Gallery makes a donation to a hospital selected by the artist.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Still Making Art?

The proliferation of online artists sites underscores how many people are creating art regardless of how little room there to filter through and make a sustainable career from art. Daunting. It's said as a truism that the vast majority (95%) of art students are not creating art five years out of school. Given the numbers of self identified artists out there, I am skeptical; people might not be making their living at art, or might be relegated to making art outside of the hours of another career or day job, but more must continue creating than this truism suggests.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Current MCA Exhibition

I saw the Gordon Matta-Clark and Karen Kilimnik exhibitions at MCA. Thanks to Marianna Buchwald for her tour; she had lots of information and background about the artists.

The Kilimnik exhibition did nothing for me. I sort of appreciated the gazebo shaped enclosed space with a video of an installation of trees and little ballerinas periodically popping in and out of the scene in dances, but to me the environment felt overdone. I thought most of the pieces in the exhibit felt either over or under done.

The Matta-Clark exhibition, on the other hand, was phenomenal and spoke to me, intervening with space and architecture. It feels very much like he is cognizant of the viewer's reception of the work. Matta-Clark is known for taking a chain saw to buildings and slicing out pieces, or in one case, splitting a building in two down the vertical. The cut-out chunks are physical remnants of the building and retain their identifies as parts of a building, yet also feel like paintings. One piece that sticks in my mind is the floor (blue tile) of one apartment and the ceiling of another; it reminds us that people once occupied the places he cut into. We occupy the same space in apartment and office buildings, with floors, ceilings and walls dividing our separate lives. He also dealt with the way light flows through a room as it passed between his cutouts; in particular, I was struck by documentation of his cut-outs in a waterside warehouse, which he photographed from the outside and from the inside, and the shapes made by that the light passing through the cutouts.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Color and Sound

Here is an interesting article on converting between color and sound:

a color blind artist uses a machine that identifies the color spectrum by associating the color's light wavelength with an equivalent sound wavelength; the artist hears the sound and identifies it with a color.

One wonders what shifts in perception a non-color blind artist would experience with such a machine that was out of sync ... hear blue and see green ... a headache?(probably). Would the visual input override the aural input? or would the aural and visual color input blend in the brain to a combined output color? I don't know enough about how color is processed in the brain, but it does remind me of the a small group of people who can see colors when they hear sounds -- synesthetic perceptions.

Technology... Old (2)

Something easy to make with the kids -- an old optical toy, called a thaumatrope, blurs two images into one. It and other historical optical toys can be found on the this website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Technology ... Old

We are so used to Powerpoint, etc., and digital projectors, it's quaint to think about using old fashioned slide projectors and transparency projectors. Here's something even quainter: I ran across Magic Lanterns today when I was looking for information on the Burnham Plan. Magic Lanterns are a precursor to slide projectors -- individually painted glass slides (later photo positives on glass) were projected with a light source, enlarging lens, and crank to create an animation.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pic-A-Day: Chair

Proposal Evaluation

I sat in for a short while to observe a grants panel (open to the public) to watch the selection process, hoping it would shed light on the proposal process. Because the particular process is designed to provide meaningful feedback to the submitting artists, there was extensive and in depth discussion of each artist's work, which was nice. I suspect not all jury panels have this level of organized discussion.

While the conclusions I came away with are not new, they are very good reminders:

(1) Cohesiveness or coherence between all the submitted images matters; unexplained (via the artist statement) incongruities detracted from the work and the proposal.

(2) Coherence between the work and the proposal matters -- extensions of the work ought to appear natural or, if not, then ought to be well explained.

(3) The budget for the requested funds needs to match the proposed project. Really, coherence across the proposal matters.

(4) The work and from the proposal need to leave the impression that the artist can accomplish the proposed work -- a potential issue for an artist seeking funds to branch out into a new field.

(5) Showing in "starter" or relatively open venues for too long can be seen as a negative because it raises questions about the growth of the artist and the growth of the artist's work.

(6) Jurors do disagree.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I find myself currently pursuing forks. I have several projects at the moment: one returns to canvas (retreat? or grounding?); another pushes digital exploration (extension?); and three play with new materials and not as ancient icons (divergence?).

When the work widens, it is harder to speak about artistic approach and intention with singularity. Resorting to "exploration" as a general descriptor seems superficial. Each project relays the soul and states of being; cycles of life, death, and renewal remain critical. The generalities, then, still apply. The specifics change. Coherence among the specifics would seem key to a statement of purpose.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's Your Concept?

Comments from a curator: What's your concept? How's the subject tie into the technique, the technique into the subject matter? What does the viewer take away from the image (why is it more than just a pretty or clever picture)?

These are valid questions in the making of the work and in what seems to have become the expected post-creation speak about the work, but ultimately a strong image should stand alone without explanation.

I would not say the viewer has to take away an exact intention from the artist; it's more fluid. I'm often amazed at what engages, at what viewers pick up from images, intended or not. Hopefully, the image draws the viewer in and from there engenders inspection, reaction, thought, feelings, dialogue. Hopefully, it's layered. Hopefully, they walk way remembering it, mulling it over, then and days, months later. Hopefully, they feel the need to see the image again, and again, and it reveals more each time.

Not an exact message, unless it's astoundingly succinct and resonant. Most efforts at exact messages are flat and hollow. I don't believe the curator was suggesting an exact message to be intended and communicated, but rather something more universal and concrete than the individual experiences of the maker, or something that is pushed and honed to the point of becoming universal out of the individual (iconic). We target both: our individual perceptions frame what we see as universal, our beliefs about universal truths bias our perceptions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Artist Statement

Today's conundrum: framing one's work in discussion, or the dreaded artist statement, a work always in progress ... without sounding pretentious.

My favorite statements about my work are the brief ones: "At the core, my art is about life, death and renewal" and "Before we begin to share thoughts, we exist and observe within our own minds: the conscious mind is not dispensable." But brevity doesn't always satisfy the person asking for a better understanding of the artist's approach to art and the artist's intentions in the work.

The detail is where I hit roadblocks. Do I talk about the conceptual framework in which I frame my narratives? I've narrowed that down at the moment to "carrying icons of the past into the present," and if asked, a discussion of particular icons. Do I talk about the formal framework in which I frame my narratives? I've narrowed this down to "drawing based physical and/or virtual installation or arrangement of mutable elements constructed seeing and making marks on shifting planes..." and digressing from there into more specifics about temporary verses permanent, static verses moving -- with the intention of vacillating in the in-between..." Yes, gets wordy -- a problem I have. Both are relevant since my processes themselves are part of the narrative: my methods track life into death into renewal). It seems to get too complicated and involved, easy to tell when the person I am talking to rolls their eyes or begs me to slow down.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008