Sunday, October 30, 2011

Research Everywhere

Research is critical to me. It drives my work and energizes me. Over the course of this project I've learned a lot about research, and the different forms in which it exists. I am constantly seeking information. But recently, some fell into my lap.

I work at a county park where a Renaissance Festival is held every spring-- the same festival I've been attending for thirteen years. I won't be sharing any of the documents that I've come across on the office computers of that park -- they make me sign papers forbidding exactly that. But I can tell you that I have discovered documents and images going back over ten years relating to the festival. It's unfolding around me like a giant epistolary novel. Because it's county business, there's a hypnotic repetition to the paperwork that must be submitted every faire season. Even if no specifics change from one year to the next, all new documentation is required. When something does change, it's even better-- the change must be requested in one letter, expounded in a letter of intent, approved in another letter, and integrated into a copy of the original proposal.

This idea of copies, originals, and editing fascinates me. If my work is fixated on the cracks between the built, performed world and reality, then these documents are what you'd find if you exploded those cracks wide open. The fantasy is built on a foundation of bureaucracy.

Feeding Your Brain

The great thing about working in the visual arts is how everything you experience has the potential to feed your work. Not because of the direct impact of the experience, but because you can learn so much about yourself based on how you interpret your world.

I just finished the beautiful novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was reading it purely for pleasure, and didn't expect to learn anything about my work. Instead I found tons of imagery that sparked my brain, and lots of uses of mirrors as metaphor. Near the end of the novel, when one character finds himself homesick for the town he's just left (because living there made him two homesick for another town), his emotion is described as two nostalgias facing each other like mirrors. Wow. If I can paint that sentence, I can die happy.

I also recently attended an artist lecture by a new visiting professor at my university, Ariel Baron-Robbins. Her work looks drastically different than mine-- for one thing, it's nonobjective. I was delighted to discover that her work actually begins as observational drawings made in her sketchbook, then processed and edited into monumental drawings. That's not really so different than how I've been working lately-- manipulating representational images into strange realities.
Also, during her lecture I was struck with the epiphany that I need to send my gypsy dancer painting through the circular saw and put it back together "wrong".

Moral: get out there. Learn something!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Works in Progress

These are some snaps of works in progress. I've largely given up on the old painting of the guitarists. Here's the new one, and one based on a photo of a Gypsy dancer from the Georgia Ren Fest.

You may notice the purplish archway element that exists-- but functions differently-- in the two paintings. My hope is that by having the archways in the bottom image frame a musician who is clearly a painted fragment of a mural, audiences will look at the top image and wonder if the dancer, too, is a painting that the foreground figure is looking at. The top image is starting to deal with voyeurism-- when we look at it, we're watching someone watching someone. But really we're looking at a painting. And maybe he is, too.

And yes, the second painting is based on the photograph I specifically claimed I wasn't going to use.

Evolution of a painting

Once upon a time, this was a nice, solidly composed painting of musicians playing


It cribbed from Baroque paintings of musicians, playing with the eyelines of characters and forming fairly classical diagonals. It was pretty straight forward.

Then I decided it needed to grow, physically. I had an extra strip of board attached to the top. Now I had more room to play, to make things strange and interesting. Now I had to problem-solve.

So for a while this painting looked terrible. I mean seriously terrible. I crammed a few extra characters in, in an arbitrary way, trying to make things interesting. I inexplicably painted the background with daubs of light blue and green. I was experimenting, to say the least.

Then I made my self-portrait for class, which I discuss in the last blog post. I was so satisfied with my mirror technique. I felt that the reflections really communicated something about looking back on the past, being a spectator, questioning what was reality. I felt like this was all really relevant to my grant project.

So I started to fix my painting. I adjusted the scale of the newly added flute player. I located my characters in a space that functioned as both a stage and a house of mirrors. I looked to my reference images-- both photos and Baroque paintings-- to resolve the background. And I kept thinking about reflections. Then I found another reference source, one that I hadn't as yet been taking too seriously. I looked back at sketches of these musicians that I'd done years ago at the Faire, and found an image of the harper on the right, from a completely different angle.

Now, I had planned this painting would feature some musicians who were just murals painted on the stage, and some who were “real people”. I planned that the harper would be a kind of 50/50 character, an ambiguous figure who could be either a painting or a real person, depending on how you look. When I found this sketch, I thought I could add to the ambiguity by creating a sort of pseudo-reflection of him-- not quite at the right angle, not quite wearing the same clothes, but the same man. With the back of my paintbrush I carved a quick sketch.

I wasn't too happy with the placement of the sketched figure, but I liked the idea. I began to work it out, and this is where the painting is now.

Beautiful? Not yet. Better? Oh my goodness yes. I was really happy with the little brown underpainting. It was pretty, and pretty can be hard to touch. But right now I like it more than ever. I'm glad I took the risk and messed up this piece for a while. It has so much more potential now.

Oh, and just for fun, since I'm playing with mirrors

My youngest sister called this the Infinity Renaissance Last Supper.

Some Reflections

One of the great things about working as a visual artist is how different areas of your discipline can intersect with each other. My friend Tyler at Ink, Paint & Paper examines this in a recent blog post. I've experienced this myself lately, when my class work and grant work overlapped, causing an explosion in both arenas.

My advanced painting class took on self-portraiture lately-- and as you might expect in an advanced level class, most of the finished works were very innovative with the concept. I, however, was completely stuck-- at least, at first. Then I began to think about how I could best serve my work. I realized I wanted to make a project that was both derivative of, and a vacation from, my grant project. So I thought about the elements of my grant project that were interesting to me. Characters rendered at different levels of representational realism and manipulation of imagery felt like the most important. This led me to using mirrors in my work, because I felt like the struggle between person/reflection related to the struggle between musician/painting of musician. This is what I made:

Here I was envisioning myself standing in front of a self portrait drawing and thinking about how to explore that idea. The mirrored panels in my studio have a seam running down the center, and I thought about how that fault line interrupted a reflected image. This painting was made on two panels. Leaning them up against the mirror to photograph them gave me the idea to photograph them at different angles against the mirror, and with other artwork, to see what I'd come up with.

These are some of my favorite variations on these portraits. I later collaged a bunch of these photographs onto a board, and painted on top of everything. The result looked painterly, was rich in manipulation and imagery, and played with ideas of reality and representation.

I felt like this work was successful, and I'm definitely not done with the idea of mirrors. But I love that I never would have made this painting without my grant project, and I wouldn't have made the strides I had on my grant pieces without this painting.