Monday, December 15, 2008

Drawing - on the Walls

It’s Blogthirty. It’s cold, it’s warm, we’re having an ice storm, no wait, it’s 50 degrees outside. It’s been an unsettled week and as you can tell, I’m hard up for subject matter this morning. Trying to jump start my engine by reading other people’s opinions has so far been no help. The banality of Ikea furniture? Blah. Lily Tomlin’s brother’s go at creating a sectional by sawing his mother’s sofa in thirds? Nah. Remember drawing rooms? What sort of furniture does one put in a drawing room? How about no furniture at all and you just strip off the old wallpaper and draw on the walls?

Drawing is either a process or a goal-oriented activity. Someone with a narrative imagination is required to come up with formal inventions which allow the narrative to proceed and be manifested for the viewer. A manga artist could do wonders for the walls of that drawing room. If it were my room, I would start by letting the materials generate the result. A process drawing happens because of the artist’s curiosity about how things get made, and what materials will do; and the inspiration for this may lie - either or both - in the physical inclinations of the artist and in the processes of the natural world of which the artist, who is a life-form with just as much potential for art as Johnson grass, is a part. Things grow adapt change, get moved around come into being and disappear. The challenge for the artist is to be as inventive in making process work visually, as nature is in inventing form.

My hope is that whoever stripped off the wallpaper left the mess behind, along with some cans of paint, so I can get started.

I'll be busy drawing for the next two Mondays - and back here in the New Year. Have Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 08, 2008

If Not

It's a cold, very cold, snowy day, though it's not snowing now. Last night the wind blew yesterday's snow all over the place, making surf-like patterns on the gravel, in and out of the weeds, across the snow walks and frozen pond. In the studio, I like to give myself over to what the landscape provides, and watch what happens when the wind blows my thoughts around until they pile up around one idea or another, and from that, art gets made.

Language has always fascinated me too, the old idea that the universe was created from sound, or language. Which is why I was so taken when I first found rocks that had what appeared to be inscribed x's and l's. Hah, I thought, here's evidence that the world is created out of language. I know now the inscriptions are actually quartz inclusions in what's called "graphic granite," but still, it's a minor thrill even now to see those bright lines in the granite matrix. I have another rock, a jasper stone, that I use as a meditation object. Jasper stones are so named because they turn up at Jasper Beach in Downeast Maine. This stone is a sort of mottled yellow-brown with no inclusions, but as I stared at it one afternoon, I realized that I was being texted. The darker grains of the stone's surface organized themselves to spell out, in an elegant cursive script, the words "if not." If not what, I asked. If this is not the perfect zen question, then what is? And so my rock continues to ask me, or I ask myself, in response to whatever expectations I may have and whatever ideas the wind blows up in my brain, what if not?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Portraits - A Snapshot

“Just as the camera drove a stake through the heart of serious portraiture, television has killed the novel of social reportage.” This from Jonathan Franzen’s essay, “Why Bother?”, reprinted in his book, How to Be Alone. What caught me here was not his lament for the novel, but the assumption that serious portraiture is dead. It’s true that the paintbrush as a tool for social reportage has mostly been displaced by cameras in the hands of everyone from your dad at Thanksgiving to Annie Leibovitz. But serious portrait painting has been and continues to be practiced by Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Elizabeth Peyton, in ways that comment on contemporary society and on the personality of the sitter. The fact that Elizabeth Peyton often works from photographs, not life, intensifies rather than diminishes her insights into the psychological makeup of her subjects. Instead, it’s reflective of the ways in which information is delivered these days – at several removes from reality. And the bright, harsh color juxtapositions mirror our secular world in the same way that Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits mirrored the darks and lights of the Reformation in Saxony. That's his Martin Luther upper left.

Elizabeth Peyton’s exhibition Live Forever is on view at the New Museum through January 11. There’s an excellent slide show/interview online.

In another portrait story, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne believes it has identified a Dosso Dossi portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.

And to follow up on my November 17 blog about Relational Aesthetics, John Perreault’s Artopia blog has a great tour of the show at the Guggenheim, theanyspacewhatever, with commentary on the artists and the RA movement, or absence thereof.