Monday, August 31, 2009

Shifting Ravens

My thoughts are wondering.

Read Poe's The Raven and thought about different bird -- red winged blackbirds. Growing up, we had a particularly vicious territorial red-winged blackbird that took over our backyard. It swept down on anyone who tried to take the garbage down to the cans by the alley, not that I needed an excuse to avoid this chore, as this particular chore never fell on me.

I usually think of ravens as an omen of death. The raven, however, also symbolizes protection, initiation and healing, and the death of one thing to bring forth another (to the Celts). Attributes include eloquence. Native Americans associate ravens with a positive change in consciousness and with shape shifting. Change seems key. Complicated birds.

Apparently, ravens live in the Tower of London. Their wings are clipped, lest they were to fly away and disaster were to befall England. Poor birds. Wonder if they want to shape shift.

The association with shape shifting could let ravens operate metaphorically in an artwork to denote formal shift, except that in an image the shift can be seen as one of the set view, rather than a difference in form itself. A square rotated to be viewed at its edge becomes a line. A cube viewed dead on from one side is a square. Perhaps what occurs with the shift between life and death, conscious and unconscious, is simply a shift in the view.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Package of Influence

Critique may draw comparisons between work being critiqued and the work of master or well-known or established artists, suggesting connections, perhaps possible inspiration. However, does it elucidate the work when the connections seemed strained or really are disguised commentary directed at the master artists' work? Sometimes, simultaneous connections to multiple artists are suggested in a way that seems to suppose every action the current artist made must have been borrowed from other artists, or at least must be reminiscent of them, for the piece to be successful. While artists do integrate multiple influences, tying up the influences neatly in a little package for easy consumption somehow makes the conversation less compelling. Or so I feel, today; of course, I started out assuming the connections were strained, and sometimes the suggested connection is dead-on.


Yesterday was the last day of Locate. Today, after shooting as many detail photos as my camera would hold I took down the installation. Always anti-climatic. What's left are images, memories, and the individual elements now waiting inclusion in another installation.

Afterward, I went to the Art Institute with a fellow artist. This visit, I was surprised to be struck by a Cy Twombly drawing in the Prints & Drawing room. It didn't have all the mark making -- scribbles or the drips of paint -- I associate with his work. The top was folded down, left lifted enough from the paper to cast a thin dark shadow, and a blue horizontal line ran across the paper toward the bottom. The ratios of the paper so divided were elegant. It's simplicity was its strength.

I also was drawn, more expectedly for me, to animals in the South Asian and Southeast Asian collections, including one of my favorites, Simeon Mother and Child, and the bull with which they now share their display case.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is It Up To the Viewer To Learn to Appreciate

I read an op-ed piece about what makes good art, in which the writer made the point that "watch[ing] "patiently" and giving up her "own ideas of what made something interesting, of what made art" gave her "the chance to experience something profound". This may well be true to her experience, but it can also said of the experience of staring long enough at pock marks on a sidewalk, or at a brick wall, or ... Most of the profundity -- the "aha" if there is one -- comes from the viewer's focus and conscience. Shouldn't "Art", or "good" art anyhow, do something more? Shouldn't it make the viewer want to look and look again, and again? Shouldn't it impart an insight that comes from the artist? Asking for an open mind is important, but making the openness of the viewer's mind the lynch-pin of whether a work rises to "Art" or "good" art is not any more of a defense of the work as "Art" or "good" art than saying "I like it". Something about the artwork itself should break through a viewer's skepticism even if that something is hard to articulate or pin down.

Multiple Processes, Merging Media

I liked Oscar (see last post) enough to look up more about the artist, Elizabeth Ernst, and her work, and I found this recent description of her process from Tucsan Weekly:

"Elizabeth Ernst’s work is inspired by the trials experienced by her brother David, who was born with cerebral palsy in 1948 and often regarded as a freak. As she says, “The G. E. Circus is a world that I have created where everyone belongs, where the “freaks” and “outsiders” have a loving and caring community — a place where they are the norm.” Ernst sculpts small figures of circus freaks and other characters, placing them in settings like the Refreshment Stand. After photographing the mini-installations to create a narrative, she makes gelatin silver prints, which she subsequently paints and collages. In The Final Act, Ernst creates a demurely dressed woman sitting side saddle on an elephant who looks directly at the viewer, wearing a giant plumed headdress atop a sparkling orange cap, giving her a new voice. Ultimately she merges three distinct media — sculpture, photography and painting — into something utterly new, rescuing figures once relegated to the margins of society and retrieving their spiritual beauty.

I'm immediately reminded of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, although there, the community even with its acceptances, departs from the ideal picture of loving and caring. That's an aside.

Naturally, merging of media is conceptually interesting to me since I am interested in the scope of loss and retention of identity through transitional/transformation changes. What level of relevance does moving through the different media have to the meaning and impact of Ernst's work? The final images are deep and moving and draw in the viewer. How much of this do they owe to the process of creating them?

My observations are limited by the fact that I have not seen the work in person, but rather, only through images on the web. I'll have to remedy that. The final images appear as 2-D collages that gain a wonderful physical sense of depth of space and drama from their sculptural and theatrical beginnings.

I do not believe she exhibits other than the final merged collage/photographs, so there's not a way for me to observe and consider the particulars of the changes from stage to stage. Given that the stages aren't shown, the merger is the point, the completed piece being the full integration. Still, I can't help but want to dissect how it got there and the extent to which the stages (particularly the end point of each media's influence) would stand alone in their own right. I suppose it is not unlike being fascinated with the viability of the stages that a print goes through in printmaking, though there, the media is not changing between stages (though method/technique may be).

I also want to see the work animated with the film embellished with hand painting as the stills are embellished -- to take it beyond a "merger" that basically is Claymation. Doubtless, I'm beginning to stray afield from the artist's intentions. Her work is effective and fascinating as is.

Google Images: Ubiquity and Departure

Images can be so popular, well known or interesting that many people choose to include them in their web postings: googling the artist name and a quick word from the title of the image or describing the image has it pop up universally (above "Harlequin" and "Miro") or nearly universally (below "Ernst" and "Elephant") in the first page of the google search results. The few non Ernst's squares that slipped into the pattern feel like foils against the repeated Ernst's image. I particularly like the second non-Max Ernst image in the second row, the distressed Oscar, which is by Elizabeth Ernst.

Ernst's Elephant Celebes occupies fewer and fewer squares on the pages that follow (page 2 and 3 of the search result below), and the print out of the search loses much of its sense of pattern. By the four page of the Google image search, Elephant Celebes is gone (Oscar makes another appearance, there).

Should artists wear critic hats too?

Every artist is a critic, but should artists put their critical opinions out there reviewing other artist's work? I am distinguishing "reviewing" from critical analysis and discourse to understand one's own work in critical context and relation to other artwork, history, and contemporary times/dialogue.

One problem with an artist reviewing other artists' work is the extent to which an artist can obtain distance from the issues and approaches that inform the artist's own work. This is an openness/receptivity question that is separate and apart from any supposed or presumed intentional self interest an artist might have in promoting the artist's own work. Tunnel vision or blinders?

Perhaps, though, its faulty logic to suppose a critic that is not a practicing artist can obtain distance, particularly as more and more critics view their criticism as their creative output/expression/portfolio.

If enough people, artists or otherwise, were able consistently to risk bringing real critique to the public forum, the absence of distance might be mediated by real competition among ideas and opinions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Was the artist the art?

How important is biography?

2006 New York Art "words" on artists "to watch"
(* marks mine as to what may still ring true)

helicopter *
search lights
intimidation *
domestic scenes
deliberative moments *
Christ-like *
staged *
hooded *
self-ironic *
cinema *
exploited *
history *
obsession *
hollow core doors
carpet in a corner
economy *
protest *
mock *
Super 8 footage
detached observer
fleeting *
audio *
high speed
wheezing *

Three Dorthea Tanning Sculptures

On Bluffton Univerity's website, I ran across a series of fascinating cloth sculptural pieces by Dorothea Tanning have figures organically draped over cloth furniture or appearing to emerge out of or retreat into cloth furniture: Tragic Table, Revelation at the End of the Month; and Sofa on A Rainy Day. I didn't know about this work. I'm particularly drawn to the extent to which the figures feel caught in a transformation, yet still separate from the transformation -- varying degrees of being on the furniture verses being part of the furnishing.

Facing Habits

I have paperwork to do; naturally, I am procrastinating. I can hear the rain falling outside. For some reason, the sound made me think of processes I seem to have avoided. I doubt there's any correlation.

We are creatures of habit to different degrees. I watch materials move and flow. I enjoy playing with materials and methods -- cutting, folding, scrunching, rubbing. I tend to build from light or gentle touches (which often involves more effort than it would seem). I watch as dimension comes out of these touches. Looking back, what I don't seem to do except on rare occasions for points of contrast is to play with thick material, globs. Even with pure painting, I tend to build up with glazes. It's odd to avoid the dimensionality of globs of paint, given the appreciation I have for creating dimension. I'll have to tackle it directly. I move away from processes when they lead me to be too tight and controlled (to fight tendencies in that direction) -- but paint globs should not do that.

Update: first experiment = total failure. That's good, right? Maybe?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Picasso Quotes

"An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought."

"Bad artists copy. Good artists steal."

"Sculpture is the best comment that a painter can make on painting."

Am I Done Yet?

"Am I done yet" is a question of nuance really when it comes to drawing/painting ... tuning into the perfect pitch, perhaps. The answer often is one of knowing it when one sees it.

Cezanne is quoted as saying (paraphrasing) that every mark should finish a painting. I think about this when I am placing marks but I err sometimes. Working in ink, I have to live with the marks I make in error -- make them work. I find drawings go through stages and reach completion more than once.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Permanence and Impermanence Revisited and a Word about Process

My current installation comes down Sunday and the next one does not go up until October. The end of an exhibition, especially one in which the work is temporal, brings mixed feelings. On one hand, the piece has had its time in its space; on the other, one would always liked more people to experience it the way it is where it is, and not only from documentation or recreation.

Anticipating taking down the installation has focused me on for now on more permanent work -- ink drawings on archival surfaces are not so temporal. I've become acutely aware of a parallel between my process with these drawings and my process with my installations to the point where my awareness of the parallel feels as if it may well define the work: I am effectively installing vignettes on the drawing surface like I install elements in an space for an installation when I "draw" in space, only the vignettes don't lift off some time later. Not a surprising observation, of course, as we often engage the same conceptual thoughts and issues, no matter the medium or perhaps in search of the medium. I am not sure why I'm concentrating on the parallel.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Some Notes on Light: quality, color, direction, contrast, temperature...


Hard light = high contrast (sunny); bright subjects against dark background (flash)
Soft light = smooth and diffuse (cloudy; shaded areas)


Warm golden glow: sunlight early or late in the day
Bluish: noon light reflected off snow
Natural light: true color rendering: blue-white source
Incandescent light: yellow, color shift


ambient(environment, feeling)
accent(focus, direction, depth, dimension)
decorate (move eye)
balance of power

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pic-A-Day: Bull

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Transplanted Drawings (Hares in Forms)

First: placement

Second: enlargement of one

Pic-A-Day: Hares in Forms

To Locate Again: Some Installation Images

Hare's form

"During the day [a hare] rests and sleeps in a form, which it makes by scraping out a shallow depression in the ground, just fitting its body when crouching low. The form may be against a hedge, in short grass, scrub or a ploughed furrow. When lying in its form with ears laid flat, a hare is well-camouflaged." (reference:

Dissect: How Definitions Applied

  • form: "1. a. The shape and structure of an object. b. The body or outward appearance of a person or an animal considered separately from the face or head; figure. 2. a. The essence of something.b. The mode in which a thing exists, acts, or manifests itself; kind. *** [11] b. The resting place of a hare."

applied: display case, borrowed shapes

  • concept: "1 : something conceived in the mind : thought, notion; 2 : an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances."

applied: relocation, numerical delineation, permeability

  • context: "1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning; 2 : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting.

applied: display case, arrangement, physical boundaries, reflection out of space.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Deflecting Questions About Meaning to Viewers

A dictionary definition: "deflect": "to turn aside especially from a straight course or fixed direction"

Don't most expressions of art, except perhaps the most painfully illustrational which is straight and set in its discourse or the exceedingly rare astute and dead on encapsulation of a singular resonant meaning which though fixed is somehow neither straight nor diverted, do this if the expressions hope to last beyond the one liner? It's another way of hoping the viewer sees and thinks, as well as looks and receives some imparted meaning.

Plenty of people like to be told a piece of art means X or means Y, but often meaning lies in the dialogue between the piece (as a vehicle for the artist) and viewers, and viewers wear different perceptual lens. Art may well posit X but be received as Y... though that hardly makes X and Y interchangeable.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Sunday, August 2, 2009

To Locate Again: to establish or lay out in a new place

Finished installing my installation, To Locate Again: to establish or lay out in a new place, today.  It's a great site to install.  The gallery has full windows on two sides and is visible straight off the elevator.  The elevator is human operated like days long gone by!  The landmark building detail is quite a contrast to my brightly colored forms, which seem to inhabit more than the space as they reflect everywhere through the windows.

The installation responds to a theme that curators Glenn and Deborah Doerring have been highlighting this year:  "Integration =Form + Concept: Context".

Form:  Finestra as museum display case.  The artist redeploys artifact based drawings by relocating elements to other physical contexts.

Concept: Numbers accompanying the elements set an expectation of meaningful classification, which disordering the numbers tends to upend.

Context:  The artist questions our relationship to museum display and to interpretation by containing the viewers who breach the space as well as the redeployed element, challenging us to engage how context and objects integrate into interpretations presented to viewers.

Where/When:  Finestra Art Space, 410 S. Michigan Ave, #516, Chicago, Il.  Open Fri/Sat from 2 to 6 pm.  (to enter the gallery).  Finestra Art Space is in the Fine Arts Building, and the installation can be seen during building hours.   The reception is on Second Fridays at the Fine Arts Building -- August 14, 2009, from 5 to 9 pm.