Thursday, May 18, 2006

a new hope

I've been a little scattered lately because I am in the process of switching day jobs. But ultimately I think this will be a good thing-- once it's all sorted out and a routine has been set. I'm a little nervous because I never seem to get the balance I need to paint full force but of course even in the days when I had all day to work I still was short on time. Painting is addictive, and the more time I spend painting, the more time I need for it.

But the best thing about switching day jobs is the hope and the motivation it is giving me. I've reached that point where I feel like I have been waiting for my life to begin but never quite living it. I think it's a trap that many aspiring artists of all sorts fall into in LA. Everyone here is waiting for their big break. The key word is waiting-- which means everybody is waiting for something to actually happen-- like their life. At some point a person realizes how much time they have lost thinking they will get rich and successful tomorrow or the next day and then has to come to terms with the fact it may not happen, and if it doesn't-- what does that mean to their goals, identity, and happiness.

So I have decided to not wait any longer and start living the life I want to. Of course I have no money, but this new job gives me just a little more so that maybe I can change just a little bit.

First thing I need is to move. I need to not have a roommate-- I don't like having my schedule dictated by another person in my space. (Plus I don't like having food left to rot on the counter.) And I don't particularly like my apartment. The light is poor, the carpet is ugly, and there aren't any people my age in the area. So I must find a way to find an apartment with good light, young artists nearby, no roommate, and preferably hardwood floors. I would like a loft but unfortunately I think it is out of my price range so I will probably still have space issues. Also, I would like to get a cat. Preferably with a bizarre name that requires an extensive explaination. After this, I need to connect with other artists in LA. I seem to be having trouble with this (but I do know a shitload of screenwriters and aspiring directors...) and I've been told to "go to openings" but it would help if maybe all the artists could just put an "A" on their chest or something so I could pick them out. And lastly of all a show would be nice. I've gotten several rejections this year which prompted me to paint harder and faster. I'm hoping it pays off soon, otherwise I'll just put something together myself because I'm never one to wait for an opportunity to be handed to me. I make my own.

But needless to say, the next 6 months will be transitional months. However I'm looking forward to a life that involves more serious painting, artsy friends, wine, and real health insurance.

Monday, May 15, 2006

musings on landscapes and more

I spent all day Saturday at the Getty staring at paintings. What I like about looking at paintings I've seen before is noticing new details I've never seen in them before. And these are details I rarely grasp from reproductions as I hunted for decent links to the few paintings that really stood out to me this visit and couldn't find a single one.

So this weekend-- while I was originally aiming to see the Courbet exhibit before it went away (and more specifically looking to see how the color green is used in his landscapes...) -- I ended up getting inspiration in the Italian painting section instead. After finding Courbet and other plein air paintings in the permanent collection rather dull this visit (not that it is dull, it just didn't strike me this time around) I thought I would open myself up to more than just plein air painters. I wanted to see different takes on landscape. This is how I found myself in the Italian Renaissance. What intrigued me was not the figures (which is what I usually obsess over) but how everything else was arranged and painted-- the landscapes, the cities, trees, blades of grass, leaves, flowers, clouds, etc. This painting, for example, was one that particularly spoke to me.

I am not an expert on anything Renaissance (it seems as I get older and more disciplined I am starting to find holes in what I know. After this weekend I have decided to invest in several books on the Renaissance to satisfy my need for more knowledge.) What I am curious about is how a painting would be constructed using various elements.

Going back to the painting by Dosso Dossi as an example I deduced the following based on observation. Objects like the vase, the broken crushed flowers, maybe some of the foreground earth were probably done from life (maybe in sketch form first). I don't know how much of it was in one place at one time. Surely the flowers would have wilted in the time it took to paint them so I assume there were sketches and studies done-- the finished product done based on those. I am not sure of the ground beneath the figures, but looking at some of the other paintings nearby in the gallery I got obsessed with feet-- mainly because the figures in many of the paintings were not very well set into the space suggesting the models were not posed in that location. In the Dosso Dossi painting this is less of a problem-- however the legs of the centaur on the right side are unnaturally in shadow which for some reason I assume was because he had trouble painting what he couldn't observe and maybe played it down a little bit by letting it fall into deep shadow. I could probably assume all the figures were posed and worked from seperately. There seems to be very subtle shifts in scale, perspective, position in space that doesn't quite seem natural. The background is a whole other monster. The separation between foreground/background is very distinct as if the background was more of a backdrop than a continuous landscape receding into the distance. I am guessing the background was not drawn from life, but is a compilation of familiar elements arranged to serve the theme of the painting. The landscape seems more like a fantasy-- something drawn from imagination rather than life. The leaves are painted wit a certain pattern like quality and the color seems more literal as if from memory as opposed to life.

Many of the paintings I looked at had a bizarre dichotomy: beautifully painted luminous figures set in landscapes that seemed unreal and not quite sharing the same space as the figures. But at the same time-- this seemed to be done accomplish a point and they get away with it.

This way of painting the lanscape is very opposite to the plein air painters I also looked at. I thought that plein air landscapes would be more helpful to me-- after all they were painted almost directly from life. And isn't painting from life far superior? After looking at all these paintings I am not so sure. I think that painting out in the landscape is a great learning tool-- but when it comes to the core of one's work-- the real key is to figure out what your painting is all about. And what I realized this weekend is that-- yes-- lately there has been alot of landscape in my paintings. But my purpose is not to capture the landscape nuances accurately. I am trying to create a sort setting that has a subtle feeling of fantasy-- of an imagined or subjective landscape. I am thinking I may start making my landscapes more unreal on purpose and see what comes of it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

van Gogh on painting & photography.

"I am working on a portrait of Mother, because the black-and-white photograph annoys me so. Ah, what portraits could be made from nature with photography and painting! I always hope that we are still to have a great revolution in portraiture." October 9, 1888, Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

it's the size of the mark and the canvas that counts

The last series of paintings I have done are relatively small in size. For example the one on the right, "Away" is under 2 feet. Certainly going to any gallery with contemporary paintings, 2 feet feels exceedingly small. However if one takes a look at some of Degas' work, it is surprisingly small. Off the top of my head, most of the impressionist work I've seen is small (I'm thinking of the MFA Boston collection in particular because that is where I spent many long hours looking at it when I lived in the area.) The only larger size paintings that I remember are Monet's "La Japonaise" (roughly 232x142cm or 7.6x4.7feet)which dominates one wall of the room, Manet's "Execution of the Emperor Maximilian" (roughly 196x259cm or 6.3x8.5 feet), and Monet's almost abstract large scale water lily paintings (which I saw at the Monet exhibition, they are not part of the MFA collection.)

In art school there was always the pressure to paint big (over 6 feet big) which at the time I, being 19, thought was only an example of "bigger-is-better-itis" that is inflicting our patriarchal consumerist society, those are the terms I saw the world in then. I held out for a while, arguing that most people don't have space to hang 7 + foot paintings in their homes so they're really not marketable (not really grasping that most people can't afford to buy paintings for their homes) and then begrudgingly went about making large paintings. The problems I had in art school with size and scale were numerous. Often I would make the same paintings I would make small, but just increase the scale. Many of my paintings were giant faces which made my art teachers fill my arms with books and books about Chuck Close and of course I didn't understand why. And on top of painting giant heads, I had no money and only bought cheap tiny brushes giving everthing a very uniform brushstroke throughout. Again, I was not aware I was doing this though art teachers told me. But this last year it has been like all the things I was being told in critiques just sunk in and now I understand what I didn't when I was 19.

Now that I have no teachers telling me to paint bigger, I have finally been able to paint small. And it was seeing some tiny Degas (don't remember which ones or where) that moved me to follow my gut. While the paintings were small, it were of full figures and settings, and fully realized. If seen in a book one would probably assume it was much larger. But what really compelled me was the fluidity of the paint-- how a single confident brush stroke could high light at arm-- that was all it took. I wanted to do that but I always had too much area to fill in with a tiny brush. So I starting painting small scenes and really working on building my brustrokes, color, and confidence. By working small I started to master the paint more, get a better feel of it.
And after really working like this for a while, I felt the need to get larger. So I made larger canvases. And this time I really paid attention to the relationship between the viewer and the painting. First of all, if painting a figure larger than life size-- it stands out as larger than life. There are two reasons to paint larger than life: to give an overwhelming effect to the up close viewer, or appear life-size to the viewer if the painting is displayed up high or at a distance. I did not want to overwhelm the viewer-- not like Chuck Close. (Why is it that a viewer can relate to smaller figures rather than huge ones in pictures?) So with my larger paintings I took great pains to scale my subject proportionally with the frame of the canvas-- though still larger than my smaller paintings. And as I paint the larger paintings, I paying attention to the proportion of the brush to the painted image as well as the canvas. If I vary the size of the brush, I can control the focus of the painting much like a camera-- though not in planes of depth of field but in how the eye travels. The eye will go to areas with finer detail and more painted work. And if I contrast the fine detailing with broader, bigger, and bolder brushstrokes, the eye will interpret that as more peripheral. Plus having worked small for a while and mastered a small amount of paint, it is really showing in the larger paintings. They look more confident than my old paintings, and that is good. I hope to someday be as good at painting as I am at drawing (another thing that was told to me in art school. ) Though I still don't know why, in todays world where there hardly any frescos and murals, there is the pressure to make giant paintings-- as if that makes one a serious artist. I know that it is unlikely that I will go larger than 7'anytime soon-- at least until I get more space since my ceilings are only 7'6" high. I will post some of my college/high school work for contrast some day.

More on Brandeis

While following up on the recent move by Brandeis to pull an art exhibit of drawings by Palestinian children, I came across this article which will make more context in light of this (including comments.) (via)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Upsetting, but not surprising

This morning checking headlines I came across this in Modern Art Notes. Brandeis has apparently removed an exhibit of drawings made by Palestinian children that was put in their library by a Jewish-Isreali student and former member of the Isreali army. The argument? It was offensive to students and was declared one sided.

First of all I agree with Tyler Green that an art exhibit does not need to show balanced opinions. And I think that removing the exhibit shows a respected university's weakness that it must at some point face if it hopes to continue to say that it is a non-Jewish school (well, on paper maybe) and if more than that, if it wants to continue dreams of keeping it's place in academia.

But I am not surprised by the Brandeis reaction being an alumn myself. While some put the percentage of Jewish students at 50%, when attending Brandeis it feels much more like 80% and I would be curious to hear actual numbers. Personally I am not Jewish but have an interesting background having lived in Jerusalem for a year as a child where I attended an Israeli public school. Although I was young then, I got a unique sense of the conflict. Because of my family's background and reasons for going to Israel (which I won't go into on a public blog) I visited a few places like East Jerusalem and Jericho. Yes, I was a child and didn't know the complexity and politics of the situation-- but being approached by a Palestinian child (about 8) with no shoes living in a ramshackle shed of a house trying to sell me candy in order to support his family is something that sticks in your mind. Being only 12 myself, I found myself giving the child my entire allowance and turning down the candy that I wasn't really interested in. But the Palestinian child insisted I take the candy so I did. It was experiencing things like this that I became very curious about the Palestinian experience-- the one that is not represented on American television. And while I'm not necessarily booksmart about the conflict-- I left Israel firmly believing that there is a story of Palestinian life that is not heard.

At Brandeis, I could never express to my fellow students that I believed Palestinians had rights, including the right to government representation, or more than that the right to their own state. The allegiance to Israel is strong among students at Brandeis, and all the years I attended, the discussion of the MidEast conflict was one-sided on the side of Isreal. I remember even apolitical Brandeis students get riled at any person who dares suggest what I suggest. There I became accustomed to staying silent on the topic.

So when any portrayal of the Palestinian experience appears on Brandeis campus-- it is not one sided. It is the first glimpse of Brandeis actually having a balanced opinion and it is unfortunate that the university chose to censor progress.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

shifting gears

I have slowed down on the painting the last week which I feel guilty of but really there is just not time in the day for me to accomplish everything. And this has become a week to get all those small nagging real life things done-- the things I put off because painting is more enjoyable. But at a certain point all the small things become a big monster that kills the creative impulse. And that's what has happened this week.

I did purchase my camera finally, and spent several hours documenting every leaf and blade of grass in a mile radius from my house. Though once that was done I had to turn to housecleaning (my apartment was starting to smell) and mundane bill-related tasks. I am hoping to do a little bit of spring cleaning and reorganization of my life so that I will have a more comfortable mental and physical space to paint in, as well as better time-management so I blog more often. (I have several dozen half written blog entries that I never posted and I hope to change that by setting aside more quiet time to finish things.)

But with my new camera I'm anxious to take some real pictures (not of blades of grass and leaves) which I will do this weekend as I have persuaded several of my friends to pose. Though I inadverently started a side headshot/portrait business and already have 3 appointments this weekend. I've never really done headshots, but somehow I'll muddle through it all the while pretending I know absolutely what I'm doing.