Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bold Brush Finalist

My painting Bravo was one of the finalists in this months Bold Brush painting contest. I've been entering the monthly painting competition for over a year now and have been a finalist twice.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

PAFA MFA 1 Spring Week 10

 Spring is here according to the calendar, but you sure can't tell it by the weather--greay day after grey day....we had one really nice day this week before it seemed to turn back to winter and Old Man Winter is giving us one last wedgie it seems with a early spring storm. But in 5 weeks we'll be into May and the last week of the spring semester.  But before then the whirl-wind shall ensue! Lots of activity for the MFA 2's who have their graduate ASE show.  For me it should be smooth sailing for the most part, just one paper to write and some more art to make for my final crit. This time I will have all paintings so I hope to have 5-6 painting to show in the current  series  I'm calling the "bride" that I am working on.

 Around school the last week was super busy with the Art at Lunch series and Jerome Witkin visiting for the Visiting Artist Program. Witkin was really the one artist I was excited to see this year. He did a talk and slideshow and then some group critiques. I was miffed I didn't find out in time to sign up for a crit from him, but that's the wat it goes. He was kind enough to tell me to send some jpegs to him and he would try and reply. Witkin is a very heavy and serious artist, his subject matter and even the way he paints is heavy and serious with no mirth. The Holocost, AIDS, social realism to a series he's currently working on about Vincent Van Gogh. In his talk Witkin covered his jorney as an artist and the dedication he brings to his work, series of paintings that sometimes take him years to complete. At 74 years oldhe planning on working on a series that might take him 10 yers to complete. I can't begin to imagine working on something that long--it would drive me mad!

 In the afternoon after the lunch time presentation Witkin gave some grou crits. i saw a few of them as I had other things to deal with. They were insightful and to a sharp point, he didn't pull any puches and in a way reminded me of the brusk crits and manner of George Nick who visited the school serveal years ago.


Renee Foulks also gave a great talk at lunch on her work and her process--which is really intensive. She spend years sometimes on a piece doing very finished drawings and often shooting a hundred photos to work from. Her work is sensative and intricate and very deliberate. She is a awesome person and teacher and very popular amongst the students. When I had her as a critic in the undergrad she'd give examples of paintings or ratists to look at, even down to the page number in a book.

 I returned to my friend Leigh's place this weekend with the DPC to have another little painting session. This time leigh and Ernest had some flowers so I used one in my still life and it gave it a very rich color scheme. I really tried to play with the light and the paint application, really think of how light not onlt reflects and bounces but also how you can have it "fall off' push that idea, like dropping down the background to push it back.

 Here is the finished still life which is 11 x 14 in oil. I did quite bit of painting and repainting working over certain areas and transitions, painting through and pulling things back out. Liquin relly helps here as it helps to tack things up quickly.

 We didn't have a model in painting class last week so instead Scott had us bring in some of our work and we had a group critique. I love the gestures Scott makes when he talks, he's such an actor with his hands.

 In the studio I have been working on this paining for about 10 days, or about 4 sessions or so. You can see the start in the photo above and the last two sessions below. I had three crits on it as I worked, one from Denise Green, One from Michael Gallagher and today one from Scott Noel. Scott didn't like a lot of it, but my other critics all responded well to it. He made me defend my concept--which is good. Scott wanted the background realized more, which I did on my final pass. He probably still won't "love" it as its from photographic sources, and he just can't give a lot of love for stuff that isn't from pure observation. But that's OK, he and I have been having the same discussion about that since day one year one in undergrad. So many artists I like work from photographic sources. I don't have any problem with it and think its a pretty old argument now as artists have been using them for well over 100 years.

I've been working on my personal mythology, digging in and pushing and pulling ideas around in paint-- using the figure as a medium within the mediated environments of my imagination as well as observation. The Paradox of beauty, irony, the sedduction, the illusions of and the judgement of beauty and technology, its oppositions and overwhelming control are some of the themes I'm exploring. How tech seduces us and we let it blinds us, kidnaps us in a way, engulf us with this umbillical of sorts that seems to come from everywhere---and I'm still digging in, working these ideas out on the canvas. Do we pull the bag/umbillical connection over our own heads? Often I think we do. I want to paint the figure, but I want to find a way of painting it that is beyond just the male gaze or decoration--though for me there is nothing wrong with the male gaze as a lot of women also do great work through a similar lens as well. I'm working on the painting seeking to define the quality of space/light as well as the quality of flesh.

I also went on an arting with several of my friends from my MFA track to the Barnes museum which was a very brisk walk from school. I had visited the origional Barnes museum a few times  but this was the first visit to the new museum. It was  pretty much recreated to look just like the old barnes mansion and the layout seemed almost identical from what I can remember. It have to say I had a much better apprciation of some of the Cezannes this time, but still can't abide the Renoirs--good lord, I just can't stand his work. My favorite thing in the whole mueum though is a little Egyptian sculpture, a little head from 1350 BC. Its so creepy cool!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hitting the Wall

I'll readily admit, I've been a bit of a Mr. Cranky Pants lately. I've been pretty unhappy with the state of some things at school this semester and also with my work. I was going great guns and then hit a snag, but one has to keep the head down and lean forward into the wind to make progress.  I knew there would be certain frustrations with the whole grad school process, and my love/hate--well honestly more hate or loathing towards much of Postmodernism. I am pretty unhappy with my writing and research class this semester. There is just no "click", and I know I am by far not the only student who feels this way about this class. We are studying the art world since 1960, my least favorite period in art, especially post 1980 or so. Honestly I don't think the Master Program will change my attitude toward much of the PM world, but I try to remain open to the possibility some things are bound to change on my end as a result. I wonder though if there was a better way to go about this? Throw enough rocks and eventually "they" have to admit the "human hand" has not been taken out of the equation in art. Maybe not. That doesn't mean the process as student will make me less cranky at times or not wanting to have a handful of good stones to toss at the glass houses and a good raincoat and gas mask for the tons of bullshit spewed about that is masquerading as art.

 I also needed Spring Break to catch up on work on the strip and to recharge and sleep big time! I've been reading a lot about how chronic sleep deprivation can really end up taking its tole on you, and I am the KING of sleep deprivation! For much of my art school experience I would routinely get by on 4 hours of sleep a night for most of the week, only to try and catch up on the weekends if I could. Between earning a living as a full time cartoonist/commercial artist/teacher/ student there were many weeks where I would just not get enough rest between huge expenses of energy. I am well trained at the wind sprint, and like a cellphone on low battery I learn to shut off functions ( like laundry, paying bills, taxes and yard work) to save precious battery life---or time.

My crits have gone well with my local and my visiting critics. My visiting critic this semester is Denise Green and we had a good first crit, she gave me some things to think about. I wouldn't say I "get" her art, and so I think its hard to relate to her POV sometimes. This is one of the things about the MFA program is that you might get paired with artist you have nothing in common with as critics. This might give you a real insight and a way of working along new paths---or not. There are very few painters as critics in the program who work in any way like I do, in fact none of the visiting critics do. Green said she  was impressed and a bit confused by my variety of work, the plein air to the recent work like Bravo and the figures with the wrapped heads. She felt I should abandon the still life painting and urban paintings and just do the newer work with the figures, which I don't agree with. Neither do my other critics and so you get very counter in fact very opposite feedback. I went ahead and returned to one of the themes I have been painting the last few years, my commuter series and did this painting called The Signal. I was thinking a lot about Diebenkorn and Hopper and some of the Bay Area painters while doing this piece.

                                                          The block-in for the Signal

The best thing this semester is I have Scott Noel's painting class. I also think after a while, as much as I enjoy some aspects of it, going into a classroom to have an assignment, a set-up by another teacher--even if its a "mental thing", is different than say going into the cast hall and deciding to paint. I might also be a bit burned out on painting that same classroom on the 4th floor after 5-6 years---however I do love my times talking to Noel. We share a lot and a lot of love and respect for each other and he always pushes me, something not all teachers can do after a certain point and I certainly have grown and learned the most from him as we share a lot of things, artistic lineage --even though we will forever disagree on Rockwell. Scott has this great way of holding out the carrot, the hope and then like the master hitting you with the stick as he pulls away the victory with a funny remark. He is the most encouraging teacher and at times frustrating. I also know that painting at 8:30 am after working late means I don't really get going till the end of class and start to get into the zone.
This latest painting was done last week in class and I like it 50/50. I wish I was sharper and had more time, but Scott liked it.  I suppose every painting is a combination of successes and failures, the best ones having more successes, and this one is by far no exception. 
                                                                 The Signal 22 x 22 

The best thing was that Scott came up and gave me a crit in my studio during class. It was the first time we had really looked at and talked about my work since I graduated last year from the undergrad. He laid it one the line in a way no other critic can I think because he has the most invested with me as a teacher. We have a long dialogue, 5+ years at this point. So he gave me a kick in the pants in a way I can use to move forward along the tracks--and that makes everything worth while for me. That's what the benefit of an extended dialogue with a great teacher and painter can provide.

We also had the 6th annual 4th Wall Review Panel this week at the school, which is open to MFA, Post Bacc, and CERT/BFA students. The school invites a panel of distinguished artists and curators  to review the work of the students which is  projected digital images along with written statements submitted anonymously by the MFA thesis students.The panel this year consisted of Michelle Grabner , Fionn Meade and Adam Pendelton. The review ends with the selection of three artists that the panel determines are most competitive for grants, residencies, exhibitions, teaching positions, and other professional opportunities. The event provides the students the chance to see behind the curtain and gain a better understanding of the criteria and selection processes that often takes place behind closed doors. It was the first one I attended and I honestly have to say while I think it's a great thing that the school does it, I felt it predictable in every way in how the three judges chose the winning work. There was a lot of work to look at as there was work from 53 second year MFA students. I am happy for my fellow students that they do this, but at times it was a laughable and infuriating event and re-enforced my dislike for much of the modern art world. I knew if I liked it, the judges wouldn't, and if i thought the work was crap, they'd love it! Some of the reasons given to reject a work seemed like something you'd read on the Onion or a skit on SNL Sprockets. 

There were three rounds of eliminations, from 53 to over 30 and then down to the final three winners. I stayed for the first and most of the second before I had had enough. During the review the panelist made comments like, "Animation is charming and attractive, that's one of the problems with it."A quote from I believe by Pendelton about the animated pieces.

Another critic, "oddly enough I don't know what I'm looking at, but that doesn't bother me". Some other comments that I tweated about as I heard them were, " Arms length abstraction, Constellations of paintings" and "Looks like French Cinema" and the best, work being rejected by a painter for having an " uninteresting point of control". The panelist rejected some work for the exact reasons they liked other work and I found the review extremely inconsistent in that manner.  I'll have my chance next year to do the 4th Wall, but if I had my chance today I'd pass because I don't plan on shooting for any of the orbits these panelists work in. If anything it has convinced me even more to stay on course for the orbit in the art world I have always wanted to be in, narrative, figurative and in control. 
  The Belvedere Torrso 9 x 12 Oil

I enjoyed  the Coffee, Conversation & Drawing in the Cast Hall  hosted by the PAFA Alumni this last Thursday which was run by Nancy B Miller . Lots of former and not so former ( like me) PAFA alumni showed up to chat and draw and paint. I got to spend a good time painting this quick painting of the Belvedere Torso and talk with David Shavlino and Garth Herrick. After much of this week, painting that cast was like a healing salve.

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Big Update--MFA Week-San Fran and Spring Break

 As the song goes. "I left my heart in San Francisco...."

Its been a few weeks since I have had a chance to update the blog with traveling and work, classes---you name it. As I sit here writing this update in the studio Spring break has started for me--and boy can I use it!

The last month has been a real mash-up between the strip, traveling to San Francisco and then back to Philly and classes. In San Fran I visited the John Pence Gallery twice and the Disney Family Museum to see the Snow White exhibit and to attend my buddy John Heebink and his lovely wife Bonna's wedding reception. I also got to catch up with some old friends who were also attending the celebration. I love San Francisco! I've been there 4-5 times now and almost moved there back in the 90's. It was a quick trip, only 4 days including the travel so I packed a lot in. I stayed at a great Hotel, the Hotel Carlton down near the Tenderhorn. It was a great little hotel with a new redesign, great freindly staff and located a few blocks away from Union Square.

It was also a few blocks from a great bookstore Kayo Books! man I could have spent days there looking at the great old paperbacks and pulps.

                                    One of the zillions of old great pulps to be found at Kayo.

I have wanted to visit John Pence for a long time, its a great gallery featuring some of the best realist artist working today with both the figure and landscape as well as the still life. It is also one of the few galleries that has a sizable section set aside to display drawings.

 Most galleries I go into don't have any drawing up and certainly not prominently on display. One of my current  favorite artists Jeremy Mann has work on display there. I first became aware of his work a few years back at the USArtist show that was held here in Philly. Principle gallery from Virginia had some of his work on display as well as Lynn Bodge. I've followed Mann's career as he has been becoming an even better painter--working more with figures than just with the landscape. I also saw work by Travis Shclat, Jacob Collins and many others including Peter Van Dyke who teaches at PAFA.

Jacob Collins

                                                                      Robert Liberace

                                                                         Jeremy Man

                                                            Detail of two of Mann's paintings

Along with my buddy Scott Cohn I hit the Disney Family Museum and saw the amazing Snow White show. I had seen many of the drawings before but never in person---just fantastic work.


I find when I see that level of drawing and craftsmanship I feel sad that we had lost so much by everything going 3D. It was remarkable to also see how they were really inventing the modern cartoon with more realistic figures. The craftsmanship alone was astounding when you see the animators clean up drawing and then the cell next to it that had to "keep the drawing"--amazing delicate draughtsmanship!

 I wish every animation student or hell--fine art student could see this work in person. It was also one of the best museums I've been to and maybe the best ever display wise. The layout and presentation of the work, touch screen technology was just so well designed, eye pleasing and enjoyable. APPEAL! That was the key word. Disney was always appealing from design to action, the whole corporate thrust was an appealing product and experience, and while it is common coin to knock things as "Mickey Mouse", being that well done isn't easy by far. I don't know if any other company ever pushed as hard to always grow the art and craft and appeal as Disney. Even today, decades after Waly has passed you can still see that esthetic on display at the museum.

                                                              Mary Blair's tabaret

One of the hundreds of  drawings from the story dept. on display as well a the amazing watercolor backgrounds! It was almost an overload of material to really take in and appreciate and I was awed, something that I am rarely. The amount of talent and craftsmanship and inventiveness was off the charts. I think its so easy to look at something this old and say, "oh, how old fashioned". But this was cutting edge and we are standing on the shoulders of all of these immensely talented men and women today.

One of the old animation desks that was lined up with a lot of great animation drawings! Boy would I love to have one of these!


Two great story drawing from Pinocchio, the top one by the great Gustaf Teggren.

Then it was back to Philly! Man I missed the California climate immediately!

                                                              OPEN STUDIO NIGHT
Right before I left for San Francisco we had the annual school wide Open Studio. The whole school is open to the public to cme in and visit the 10 floors of open artist studios to see what we all have cooking. Last year I was on the 4th floor but now I'm up on the 9th floor. As usual I didn't get to make it around to all floors myself as I was pressing the flesh and yakking about my own stuff--but I did get a chance to run about and snap a few pics before it was all over.

Here is a shot of my studio ready for Open Studio, and below a bunch of pictures of my fellow PAfa students and their studios. Our floor had a theme of the Gnome Prom, and there were all kinds of gnomes , including Noam Chomsky.

The weather was a bad actor this year and so I think some people stayed away, but it was a fun night and I had a great response to my current work.

When I got home the next weekend  DPC all got together for some food and painting at my place. We ate some of my famous curry and Jamie brought an awesome dip. We ate talked, painted, sketched and looked at art. These folks are like family to me and there are few things I enjoy more than hanging out with my pals and painting.

 This is the painting I did during our session of my dining room. I can't stress how important I think it is to have a like-minded group of artists to be there as a support and encouragement. We are at some similar stages and at some different stages in our art careers and I think that also helps the mix.


Back in school with Scott Noel, and Bruce Samuleson I continue to do one session drawing or paintings. Scott really pushes us with these complicated set-ups where Bruce is the opposite, he has us stripped down to just a model on the floor, a blanket and that's it.

Scott always has the books out and a bunch of drawings and paintings of his up to stress the points he talking about. The two drawings below are by him, my favorite is the first one where you can see how he drew the skeleton first and then drew the figure on top.

These are the last two smallish oil paintings from Scott's class by me and a drawing from Bruce's class. The drawing is in prismacolor pencil.
You have to work fast and bold to try and get all of these set-ups in as suddenly the light might change. My only real dissatisfaction is with the Reading and Research Seminar this semester. I really just don't like the class or how its run. I really enjoyed my class last semester, but this is a torture in many ways and I know I am not the only student who feels this way. I don't feel I am getting much out of the class, which is frustrating. But you know you just have to suck it up and keep your head down and concentrate on the good.