Sunday, February 28, 2021

Marc Bohne and the Claire Short Residency from Artist Trust of Seattle

 Since my Seattle Artist Trust Residency is so long ago now, the ditty I had to write for them has disappeared. So I am going to reprint it here. The Claire Short Residency in Kilcrohane, Co. Cork was a beautiful traditional stone cottage in the steep hillside of Sheep's Head peninsula overlooking Bantry Bay.

Claire Short Ireland Residency

by Marc Bohne, 2011 Recipient


This residency was extraordinary. There is nothing quite like being SENT somewhere you love just to go love it. 


My affinity for Ireland is not just because it is a beautiful place, which it is, but also because its tones and sub-sounds seem to resonate with those of my own personality. 


As a painter, I usually avoid the big and beautiful and search out the passed-over and homely, which is hard to do in Ireland if you believe even some of the postcards. Although Ireland is pretty and I am not, Ireland and I are both bent in similar places, both have dark sides, some misfortunes in love and enterprise, and growing pains that seem out of proportion to our mass. We both favor the sad ballad, and need whiskey with a chaser if to enjoy a party. I, too, am complex and fiercely loyal to the few good friends who have stuck with me. 


Technically, I am a studio painter, rather than a plein air painter. I tell people my paintings are a conversation with the subject, and for the same reasons I am not a good conversationalist in person, I am much more articulate later, after I have had some time to mull over things, perhaps like an Irish writer. 


I spend a lot of time outside in the landscape itself, but the visual is not the only consideration. It is as much about spending time somewhere, experiencing the bad days as well as the good, the boring light as well as the ideal. 


Finding interest in the face of someone you want to paint is harder but more potent when you can find it in the character that is stripped of the layer of self-concern that causes people to shave or put on makeup or even brush their hair. You have to have studied them. It is born of have to put in the hours. 


People constantly recommend places to me that I may want to paint. I almost never go. They are usually beautiful postcard-type places and I am not interested in that. I am much more interested in vastness and space, in the puniness of myself in scale, the fragility of the line between the various opposing forces we as humans struggle with every day. Most painters I know paint the escape from that, the moment when the pressure lets up. I am one of those who likes a little piece of everything in every bite... 


This residency was spent in southwest Ireland, in County Cork. The residency cottage clings to a steep hillside on the northwest-facing slope of Sheep’s Head Peninsula, looking out over Bantry Bay, with its boiling sky and the shifting shadows of Behr Peninsula across the way. The land is rocky and mountainous, wet, windy, and steep. Both the land and the inhabitants here remind me of something I wrote the last time I was here in “The Ireland Diary” up in Mayo. Speaking of Ireland, I wrote:


“Without her people, she is an unforgiving wet rock where Nature is relentlessly testing those who set foot, and which the sea is trying constantly to consume. Ireland's magic is in its animation, its inhabitants who breathe myth and life into every challenge, who plow and plant between the rocks, and instead of ridding themselves of the weeds, extract from them the secrets of tenacity and survival.”


All of that energy is present in the rocky shores of the peninsula region of the southwest. 


Our closest neighbor was the farmer Charlie O’Donovan below us on the hillside. I stopped in at one point and met him and his wife, and we became friends for the duration of the time on Sheep’s Head. 


It was a joy to travel around with Charlie, who had spent his life getting to know the people of the area, whose ancestors’ gravestones mingle with his own in the tiny Kilcrohane cemetery, and whose dog Biddy could not bear to be without him. On one occasion he had cut a field of silage just below the cottage only to have it rain-soaked before he could get it out. So he stirred it many times to loosen the water before a dry-enough couple of days would let it be rolled. He never complained about it, but would instead smile and take a deep breath looking out over the bay...he just loves the place. 


As the evening transitions from dusk to dark and the sparse lights across the bay start to glow, Charlie’s tractor slowly makes its way back down the winding road to the O’Donovan cluster below, Biddy running ahead of it in the headlight wash like a mystical figure from some dream... 

It is out of this that the paintings come.


-- Afterword --


I have been to Ireland three times now for extended stays, and each time gets harder to return to my life in the U.S. 


My first time was a longtime dream of riding a pack bicycle around the country in 1996 for three months, which was life changing in many ways... not the least of which was the connection that I knew would last a lifetime. 


The second time was as a Fellow with the Ballinglen Foundation in 2005, which was a tough time to be an American anywhere outside of the United States. There was a lot of political tension, which diverted a lot of energy from the work of making connections. In spite of that, my time in Mayo became a continuation of my love of Ireland and an opportunity to stay in one place for two months and live among the same people. I also met some amazing other artists at the Foundation with whom I stay in touch to this day. 


My third trip was made possible by the Claire Short Residency Award of 2011, which was a complete surprise. I had applied for support from Artist Trust like many artists trying to make a go of it in the present economy, and when I was notified of the residency award, I could not have been happier. 


My father passed away right around that time, and I was tasked with cleaning up his affairs, which delayed our going in the award timeframe. Donors Emer Dooley and Rob Short graciously allowed us to go in May of 2012, after we were through with our obligations and free of the burdens of the family crisis. This may have amplified the joy of the trip much like the best rainbows follow the darkest storms. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

At least a sigh of relief...

I don't care what anyone thinks about politics or policies, or nationalism, or much else for that matter. But I do care about dying in an asylum. I am lost now, in the land I was born in, no longer feeling like home.

Watching neighbors, and people I know believing in and parroting completely made up nonsense and worshipping the most ridiculous characters imaginable, while expressing a piety to a "savior" that would admonish them if in their presence has been the most bizarre phenomenon of my lifetime. Up is down, in is out, bad is good. What used to be decent people in the U.S. have gone completely off the rails, and it is dumbfounding. If you are one of them, and believe that a tawdry game show host is the second coming and the Clintons are running an international pedophile ring, don't come here anymore. If you insist on stolen elections and seditious insurrection, stay away. If you honestly think Jesus would support any of this, stay far away. 

I used to travel the back roads of the country all the time. I met many people in rural areas and enjoyed my time with them in the decades I did that. But the last ten to fifteen years something began to change. People I used to trust began to look at me suspiciously, and I slowly began to start backing away from them. Now I am flat out afraid of them. It is like a movie, where a virus turns people into zombies... there is a misplaced anger, and a toxic aura about them and the environment they inhabit. It is heartbreaking being unable to trust your neighbor to call the fire department if your house is burning.

So don't come back here. Dont write comments, don't admonish. Just leave. Go be nuts somewhere else. If I lose a couple friends, I am ok with that. My hourglass worth of sand is on the wane, and I do not have time left to spend on things that do not matter, or people that have lost their minds. 

The cancer of Trumpism is here now, and will continue to erode the fiber of whatever was good about America, but for a while now we get to sit on the curb, be exhausted, wipe the brow and take a breath. 

What does this have to do with art or painting? Everything. The spark of creativity is fanned best by quiet, not fear and apprehension. And for four years now, each and every day saw the dismantling of every pillar of reality I trusted by a band of pirates... my first out and out mentally-ill grifter president. And the following... the con man relies on participation of his marks to succeed. I thought we were better than that.  The level of wrong I was has been incapacitating at times. The painting mind was full of smoke and ashes. 

Though I know there are fires still burning everywhere, watching the exit of this band of pirates has brought the first glimmer of quiet... the first feelings of rest. 

I hope it continues. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

November Thoughts, on the new home and upcoming upheaval of an election.

Went onto Google Maps and did a walkabout through our old neighborhood in Seattle of 30+ years and felt the tugs... some things have changed, some have not. But the familiar is what i miss.
I know every crack in the sidewalk of the old neighborhood, the occupants of every house. As much as I bitched and moaned about the things there that were making me nuts, ie: seaplanes right overhead, cut through traffic down our narrow street, houses 16 feet away fron each other, windstorms year round, and incessant grey skies in winter and the smell of burning forests in summer... there was the unaccounted-for familiar. The faces of friends, the feeling of connectedness, the sheer education of the population. I didnt weigh them appropriately.
The pandemic has interrupted the healing that needs to take place when you rip old roots up and move your tree of life. I am reminded of an old favorite Harry Chapin song: “ and now she’s acting happy, inside her handsome home, and me.. im flyin’ in my taxi, takin’ tips and getting stoned..”
It is not a perfect soliloquy (right word?) I love many things about the new life here. But the pandemic and its extension into the forseeable future by deniers and those who do not take it seriously means the healing of the roots and their nourishment are delayed, and unnecessarily delayed indefinitely so that the roots bleed longer than is healthy, and maybe longer than is recoverable.
We knew the change would mean a time of re-rooting would be necessary, and all was anticipated. Everything would be interrupted while new roots would be introduced. All helped by old friends and family visits each bringing thier own style of fertilizer. But I find myself staring up into the grey sky today and longing for that familiar... any familiar beyond the lawn. The growth was stopped. New connections and friends retreated (mea culpa) and time stopped having any meaning. The problem is at this stage of life, is that time is no longer kind.
The oaks at the top of the rise on 29th Ave NE are still there, the house looks the same and i imagine the new occupants are doing well. A glance at the Bryant Cafe on 65th is still the hub of the neighborhood, even if the patrons have changed some, and I hope Sarah has new favorites.
I am happy to have great horned owls speaking to each other at dusk here, and the profound quiet in the evening. I enjoy biking to the Rail Trail, and walking on the beach. But I miss the connections. I miss people. And when I look at who we are and what we are embracing I am hungry for hope... hope in this shifting cultural landscape that is so unwelcoming to roots of any kind.
Please vote. If you do nothing else this year, vote.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Notes on Gesso and Panels

Q: What is your process for panel preparation...Do you treat first with PVA and then Gesso? You paint with you use a Gamblin oil primer or a acrylic many coats...both sides? Curious. Thanks

A: Sort of depends. When I built the large panels, had to do pinhole fills so when all was sanded, used commercial primer sealer which was sanded smooth. Usually just gesso direct. Paint with oil and alkyd, alkyd medium. All my gessos are acrylic. Usually do a clear sealer on back sides, not always. Baltic panels are very stable. Larger panels get 7-8 sanded coats, smaller 4-5.

Q: What kind of panels do you use?

Baltic birch, or double tempered masonite only...  Favorite small panels are double tempered masonite, with edges smoothed and well grounded makes the best panel for up to about 10x12". It is extremely stable, and I love it. Have used it for decades. Anything beyond that size I go to 5mm baltic birch. I bought a lifetime supply of it in Seattle, and use smaller paintings un supported, and larger ones supported ("cradled"). Some of the large ones were done with 3mm supported for weight loss, and I wish I had picked up more of it.

Q: Gesso?

A: The large 48x60" panel in the pictures has 5 coats of white Liquitex gesso. Finished withtwo coats of grey tinted Speedball gesso, sanded between. My first few coats are Liquitex, which is heavy and a bit more plastic. Final coats are neutral grey Speedball gesso, which is thinner but sands better. It is much harder.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

So long Maestro Mort Drucker

I corresponded with Mort years ago. Told him he was responsible for my artistic life, which he was, and I wanted him to know while he was still around that I knew that and he should as well. I enclosed a couple books, and he wrote back a long letter with some drawings of his, and some signed stuff.

He taught me how to draw. Countless hours in the desert sun of Fort Bliss and El Paso where we were stationed I studied and then copied his parodies on used copy paper my father brought home in boxes from the base, wearing down many a pencil. There could have been national secrets on the one side, but I was only interested in the blank sides. I was a weird lonely kid with thick glasses and I found my voice in his drawings.

He was a master of caricature and nuance, anatomy and physicality, line and shade, humor and satire. I soaked it all up, and made it my way of dealing with the outside world. Pencil, pen and wash, a myriad of line shading tricks with hatches, swirls, textures. My BFA belonged to Mort.

I remember being excited for the new comic books to appear, but I lived for the new Mad Magazines. They came with new Drucker parodies. More drawing... hot women, men with machine guns, vehicles, and an endless assortment of background characters he carefully penned to life. And those hands... his knowledge of anatomy was no less than extraordinary. And always, always somewhere there was Alfred lurking in the scenes.  A very deep well to draw from... literally.

Mort Drucker was my teacher and invisible friend. I am grateful for the chance to connect with him, and sadly bid him adieu.... the world is a duller place without him.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Solution To The Failed Paint Tube Caps

It has been a constant battle for me, trying to keep older tubes of paint from being unusable. Once the caps crap up, and don't fit anymore, the tubes start to end-dry, and then harden. Especially the alkyds, which cure when exposed to air. I have wasted too many hours of what is left of my life digging out caps, cleaning off threads on tubes, and digging out tubes to get to the wet usable paint, only to have to do it again next day. For oils this is not as big a deal. Oil is cleanable, and usually takes so long to cure only a skin forms on the tube that does not penetrate into the tube. Hardly any need for caps in oils as a result. Acrylics and alkyds are a different story.

So, I was looking at bolt end covers after looking at a wire shelf end cap in my hardware cabinet, and a light bulb went off. It appears that the vinyl bold caps come in many sizes and depths. My tubes are  mostly 3/8th inch (or 10mm) and there is an end cap that size. They come in a variety of depths as well, as they are designed to protect bolt ends from injuring others, or from paint when a bolted product is painted. Protects the threads.

I also found a 3/8 inch silicone end cap in the auto world, as vacuum line caps, so I ordered some of those as well. I am currently using both and will see which is better. I suspect the silicone will work better, as it it stretchier and more pliable, making a better seal. If one buys them in bulk, they are cheap. The green ones in the photos were 50 for 10$. If you get the 3/8 x 1/2" length vinyl caps from the hardware store, they are over 50c apiece. I suspect the silicone will be more resistant to paint adhesion as well, since I use silicone pans to mix gesso, and just squish the pan when the remnant is dry, and it just falls out or easily peels out. Nothing sticks to it....

Stay tuned, and I will see how they do.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

An Artist's Voice

A painter’s voice

A while back I posted some thoughts on the passing of Russell Chatham where I mentioned the dilemma of being compared to others while trying to develop one’s own “voice”. I was asked to expand on that and thought it might be worth doing. 

It is true that we are each an amalgam of our lifetime of exposure to others influence, and all those contributions help create the language we as painters use to both observe and respond to our world. And it does not matter what ‘style’ one paints, from abstract expressionism to cubism to realism or any of the other “isms” that get thrown around in the world of pigeonholing fine art. All painting is representational, and all is an attempt by the painter to observe and respond to the inner or outer (or both) world we find ourselves in a way that gives us deeper meaning. I think that when an artist is successful, that meaning becomes shareable. 

There is a long tradition in the apprentice model of learning where any artist learns things from others before them (or alongside them) who are seemingly doing a better job of it than the apprentice, and emulation is a common reaction. 

It can also be a trap.

When I was in art school, Andrew Wyeth was a big deal. Many of us “realists” (as opposed to “representational” which is all encompassing) studied Andrew Wyeth’s voice in detail, and painted paintings that mimicked his work to the best of our abilities. This is an old technique in art schools everywhere, not unique to mine. But I realized at some point that I was not speaking with my voice, but with Wyeth’s, so I began to pay more attention to his (and others) PRINCIPLES rather than style. That change kicked me off onto my own path and for better or worse I have tried to keep to the trail.

There are many Wyeth “clones” out there, people who stayed with the Wyeth style, painters who felt most comfortable speaking with his voice than their own and I have met plenty of them. Mind you, I was on that path too so this is not a judgement, just an observation. Most of the ones I know are phenomenal painters who have successfully tweaked Wyeth’s voice to work for them, but I admit that I feel a little estranged from them. Kind of like meeting Elvis impersonators, some of whom are extraordinarily talented individuals, but without a voice of their own. I am often confused by what I am looking at, because I knew what Wyeth was doing, the underpinnings of his conversation with the world, which were unique to him. Those underpinnings were what gave Andrew Wyeth’s paintings so much depth. Wyeth’s paintings are not about his paint, they are about what he FELT. I don’t see the same depth in those who mimic him because his paintings were the perfect union of knowing what he wanted to say and saying it with his own unique voice.

Just to be clear here… I am in no way making any comparison of myself to the great Andy Wyeth. His influence on me is just the scaffold on which to make the point. 

Part of the process of finding my own voice has been looking at others work over the years from a principle of painting or drawing standpoint, or not looking at others work at all. For many years I stopped going to galleries and museums to look at other’s work and worked in my own isolation struggling through the processes of tweaking my own painting to do what I wanted it to. It is important to note that there is a significant underpinning to my journey of study and experience that equipped me to do so. This does not mean I don’t look at other’s work, but I don’t study it. I just let it impact me as viscerally as possible. It also does not mean that I am any model of success with my own beliefs. It is a process that is never perfected.

Eventually, I think every painter has to do two things:  One, have a point. Have something you need to express, something you can articulate. And two, spend the time finding your best unique voice to express that point. Every painter has to give him or herself permission to do both.