Monday, August 15, 2016

So Long E.F. Norwood...

I am going to side track for one episode, slightly into the personal. It relates to my painting insofar as it is part of the observe and comment part of daily life that good painting is all about.

Our friend and neighbor E.F. Norwood passed away last week, after a several year decline. Didn't quite get to 90. I got to know him maybe 10 years ago, and had kept up with him since. He was an interesting character, a real gentleman. Impeccable taste, low tolerance for idiocy and mean people, and had at least a couple rabid hobbies; film and Dahlias. He had an incredible Dahlia garden and was revered throughout our area. He had books on film, and could talk for hours on movies. He retired after many years teaching high school, and MANY of his old students became friends for life. He was an incredibly private and thoughtful person. And he loved martinis.

He was also a gay man who never spoke of it or felt it was anyone's business, which it was not. I got to go through his personal things when we moved him out of his home into a senior center place, and realized that he had lived his life in a world of incredible hostility to who he was and still managed to come into old age with a great spirit, and community sensibility. He was born and raised in Arkansas, went to a Christian college in Missouri, and did a tour in the Navy, all at a time when there were few things worse than being gay, a fact that could get you arrested, beaten, or killed at the first sign of any expression of it or knowledge. His scrap books were mixed photos and clippings of his friends, his Navy days, and newspaper clippings of some of the horrible things people did to gay men when they found out. So I get it. He was private, but maybe a bit terrified. The risk was always there. From losing friends, to even losing your life.

I am a white straight man. I have been given a pass on the privilege front. I do not know what it feels like to be in danger simply because of who I am. I am also fortunate to have been around artists all my life, and have never thought of gay people as any different than anyone else. But I am being forced to see it affecting the lives of those who live under the constant suppression of their human rights by both the LGBTQ and BLM communities pushing themselves into the discussion and larger cultural stage. And it is astonishing. I even see my own biases in subtle ways now that I did not fully own before. And that, I think, is where it has to start.

E.F. was embarrassed by his full name. Never told anyone. I know it, but will not tell. He was religious only in the way that how you behave everyday is your true religion. He did not believe in any god that taught hate. I miss the martinis, and the Dahlias, the Sunday get togethers, our steak and potatoes dinners, and his booming voice. He has joined Einstein and Churchill, Ghandi and Freddie Mercury, and all of his favorite movie stars wherever they all went, and his little dog. He was ready. As I write this I think that I was not.



This little watercolor was done by his friend David Oliver. It is not a portrait of E.F., it IS E.F.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Summer

Ahhh... it is summertime. Hard to think much less write. Much better to sit out back in the gazebo with a G&T next to the cat half sleeping, and half monitoring the bird feeder activity. Clouds of little bugs whirring in the air, bits of sun making it through the Sycamore canopy overhead...

Scanning ebay on my ipad, biddin' on some shoes...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Did some cleaning up in the studio. Needed... This space is small, tiny compared to the old Artwood. Not enough space to breathe.

I will try to have some new things in a week or so. This is winter aspens, Colorado.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Galleries 2

It is very important to make some distinction between galleries selling work, and gallery exhibition. In the United States, the two are fairly separate, which is unfortunate. Here, museums, universities, and arts organizations are largely the venues for exhibition shows, and galleries are stores for selling work. Exhibition shows have greater weight, because of the absence of the commercial primary goal.

Being seen is the beginning of any fine artist’s career. There is nothing worse than being invisible, especially if an artist deserves to be seen. This value is usually provided by sales history. Fine artists who manage to get shown, and appreciated, but do not sell work get to die just as broke as those who are never seen. They all compete for the same service and construction jobs, the same teaching positions, etc.

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 There are several layers of consideration when trying to make comparisons in the “arts”. One problem is “performance” getting lumped up into the same discussion as “solid” artwork.  Performance and solid are two very different things. It used to be that performers of all stripes were called that. Musicians, singers, actors, dancers, all went by those names. Now, anyone who makes anything of any type is called an “artist” and anything made, conjured up, written, interpreted, or otherwise generated by a person is called “art”.  In fact, that has completely overtaken the meaning of the word.

Conversely, those who went to “art” schools, got “art” degrees, bought supplies at “art” stores, showed work in “art” galleries were called “artists”. These people made “solid” art, one off, one of a kind, things that stood in space, and were regarded visually and tactilely, and had a relative permanence. You got a BFA or MFA with the qualifier of ‘Fine’ to indicate solid. Fine art has been all but left behind, and galleries have been more culprit than savior.

Performance “art” is intended to be repeated, and selling the copied sounds or performances is how those entities eke out a living (hopefully).  This is a way bigger group, and the assuming the mantle of “artist” has come to mean more as a performance descriptor than fine art one. Oh well…

However, it is not ok to make copies of fine art, and since the value of fine or ‘solid’ artwork is in it’s uniqueness, it needs a place to be seen and experienced first hand. This has been (up until now) largely the stage created by galleries. The web does not address this, or provide any assistance. The web only gives some poor clues as to how something looks, and the rest of the experience of solid art is lost. Seeing solid art in the “flesh” (so to speak) is the only true way to experience it because just seeing something in an image does not allow one to experience the other equally valuable aspects of a work, such as surface, or visual weight, or size, or it’s affect on the space it occupies, it’s emotional or architectural weight. None of that is possible in a web image. The hand of the “fine” artist is not present.

A couple of examples:

Cris Bruch is a sculptor I know who does drawings and installations, etc. that mean almost nothing in images on the web. You have to walk around them, be with them, experience their mass, and size, and presence. You have to relate to them physically. His drawings are large and linear and live in a space larger than the frame and glass that contains them.

When I open a show of my own work, it is not uncommon to see people up nose to paintings or looking at them from several angles, because the surface is important. They are paint, and up close that becomes very obvious. The further back you get the image becomes more center stage. Like Cris’s work, any solid artist’s work will occupy space larger than the image when viewed in person. This experience can only happen in the work’s presence, and the web cannot begin to supply this.

Often, when a painting (or any other ‘solid’ artwork) is shown, it is accompanied by additional information, which when supplied within the bubble of a work’s presence, has weight that does not happen on a screen. It can be a placard with some description or additional or helpful insight, or it can be an informed person willing to speak about the work or the maker.  These elements give weight to a viewers consideration as well, especially if the person who creates the placard or speaks of the artist has some intimacy with the artist, the kind that comes from knowing them.



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Having work in a gallery because it is popular and sells is a sad commentary on the evolution of the gallery and it’s relationship to fine art and to the public at large. Monkeys smoking cigars and bronze children flying kites may sell and pay bills, but this type of weak gate-keeping erodes the mortar that is the part of the foundation of a culture that powerful art can harden.


So, is the web the culprit? Is the Web killing galleries? Are galleries and the “art market” killing art?  Are we all backing off of our responsibilities to improve our culture by ignoring the discussion? Are we collectively at fault?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Galleries 1

I recently overheard a conversation about a prominent gallery owner that I know saying that the end of galleries is near. I have also suspected that may be true, but that there needs to be some discussion about it as a process. So this may be a two parter... or three.

The overheard conversation was mourning the changing of the art market, and the traditional gallery no longer serving whatever the market was asking for, if it was asking for anything anymore. A finger was pointed at the Web as a major player in this when I don’t think it is fair to say that. The gallery and those who feed it have been incompatible for a long time, participants in an unhealthy dance that left many an unhappy partner. Rather than learn from each other, both gallery and artist have changed in ways that reinforce that tension. The Web has just highlighted it, making the changes hard to ignore now.

Obviously the WWW has had a tremendous impact, but it is not what is doing in the current gallery model… not alone anyway.

The American gallery model has not been particularly well suited to artists or art itself, being the primary gate-keeper, primary beneficiary, and often the only source of what revenue artists do see at the same time. And with most galleries, this is the goal. It is like Ebay. The primary thing that happens is the company is funded. Everything else is a distant second.

There is nothing wrong with this from a business standpoint. But from that standpoint artists are only suppliers, wholesalers, whose performance and ultimately value is based on sales. It is hard to rise above that when the system has no intention of letting it happen.

The music ‘industry’ is undergoing some similar re-tooling. It is a weak comparison, however, since that industry is a print industry… they sell prints of originals and that is a fat no-no in the fine art world. The FAW courted that idea back in the ‘70s but has since largely abandoned it, and the print in the FAW is still quite expensive compared to the .99c download. But they (music) are on the forefront of changing and adapting to new models.


So, I would agree that the current gallery model is starting to weaken, but we need to start talking about what replaces it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ireland Paintings

I was invited to do a show in the SPACE Gallery in Magnuson Park in Seattle, for the month of October. So far, it is a confirmed go.

I will use this opportunity to do a unified show of just the Ireland paintings. I have kept most of them back because I really wanted them to be shown together, and this is a great opportunity to do that. Plus, it is just upstairs from my studio in the Building 30 Studios. I am working with the board on redoing the lighting in the gallery, and will have that all taken care of by then so it should be all set.

I am working on a catalogue of the Irish Paintings as well, and hope to have that available by then.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Writing As Sketching

I find that writing about my painting subjects makes some profound changes to my memory and final paintings. In the field, or in the studio, or anywhere for that matter. Just thinking about those places or people I care about, and writing as honestly as I can about them is a large part of the painting conversation. Plus, it is a way of being involved with the process without being in the studio at all. It is with me everywhere.

I know my writing is not terribly instructional, because I generally do not instruct, and I don’t want to really do only that here. It is more the stream of consciousness that I use when just writing in general.

When doing writing for painting, it is not necessary to be good, just honest. Write down any thing that comes to mind. The goal is to get it down, and organize it later if it needs it.

I am not going to publish my studio notes here, but will throw in some public examples that make my point from time to time.

Today I will include a link to the Artist Trust note I had to write for them because it is a good window into my inner conversation with Ireland.


There is a reference to the “Irish Diary” which is a collection of my daily stuff from the time before this in Ballycastle, and that was published on my site daily at the time.


Writing about your subject gives your brain a different way to regard it, and it affects your painting in deeper and more meaningful ways.