Sunday, March 23, 2014

Final Semester: 5 weeks to go!

Like a sequence in an old movie where the pages of a calender fly off with the racing days I am now down to only five weeks left in the MFA. last week was my final critique with Martha Armstrong, one of my two visiting critics as well as one of my last crits with Scott Noel. Martha and I have had some very interesting conversations and she has been one of the most insightful of the critics I have had in my entire time at PAFA.  I wish I had more time with here as its hard to cram so much into just 30 minutes 3 times a semester. She did push me to try and make the current subject I am painting  my own as it were. What am I really trying to say and go for? Why this subject, to really dig down into it. Like Scott, she wants to know what I am really after as a painter, or as Scott bluntly puts it--whats at stake for me as an artist? Is it journalistic, or a chronicle of space in some way? Just facile paintings of the urban is not enough.


I like a lot of types of art and artists, that is in my case something that I also do, comics, storyboards, illustration and landscape painting etc. This is fairly unique in many ways and certainly at a school most students never do this wide a variety of work. So because of this at times Scott has asked me what am I most interested in as a painter because he sees many things going on in my work and my technical skill he feels can trap me in a way.  He's always very complimentary about my tech level, skill level, but he feels that can trap you as a painter from getting down to the core of what a work is about. But this last group of paintings he doesn't feel that way about, he really likes them--and from Scott that is pretty high praise as they are based on photos. I think with the series of landscapes that I started last semester and mostly in acrylic I am exploring the urban landscape as a specific space of memory has clicked. The best example is one of the latest paintings I completed, Snowy Field.

Here is the description of the painting I did for my seminar class:

 Snowy Field, (18 x 24 Oil ) This skirmish in paint is the latest work in my series of urban landscapes that I have been obsessed with for the past five to six years. There is something about the light striking these open areas in West Philadelphia along the train ride in and out of the city that reach out and grab me. I try and capture these moments of passing in paint in a dash and yet they are a somewhat journalistic fashion, as I want to report about these places in paint, but not obsess about all the details, just the facts of how they make me feel.

These settings which pass my view at 35 to 40 miles an hours go by in 5-7 seconds on the train, yet they grab me more that the new urban graffiti murals that are filling up the walls of the homes and buildings along Market Street in the past few years, like an ivy that is spreading from house to house.

When I saw this scene as the train slowed into the station, I knew I had to paint it, to try and capture it as a distinct location, as distinct as the face of a sleeping relative. This painting depicts a snow covered field at Market and 48th street along the Market/Frankford El line just after the storm clouds move off to the east. I have painted this spot before, in late summer, but its character in winter was just as enticing a subject. There is something magically alluring to me about these open, abandoned and melancholy plots of land.

The parking lot with its cracked and patchwork fixes, an overgrown field like an unkempt head of hair, spaces between places, or links between houses and streets demand more of me to paint than a Brandywine field. These spaces are as powerful as any beautiful bucolic landscape to me, the way they push back the houses or cut between them in odd shapes or spots. Under the pristine snow, the crystal clean frosting, are a few bones and tufts left that poke through like a skeletal remain of a previous inhabitant. What was the story here? Like an old grave site in a way of some other time, it races me back to my old neighborhood in Detroit which fell into the blight of urban decay from the riots of the 60’s. This field reminds me of the big open field across the street from my old home, and along the back of that field was a train track, about the same distance  away as the row of houses in this painting, so in a way this painting is like a mirror image reflecting from my present to my past.

I’m hearing an old song playing on a new radio, the beat is a poetic sense of space and light, my challenge is to try and play along, get this riff down in paint as fast as I can to keep the feeling fresh and alive. I want to paint the smell of the air, the feel of light in pigment. How can I do that? I don’t know, it seems impossible, but I must try and there is no exact formula, so I just paint until I can smell it and  taste it. Most of the paintings I do like this one are done in one session, a ''premier- coup,” keeping only the essential details needed to create the mood and poetic space I want to capture.

So this I think gives you an idea of what I am going for now and trying to lay stake to in these recent paintings.
                                            Blue Shadow, 114 x 17 Acrylic on heavy paper

We have graduation rehearsal on Monday and I'll be cleaning out the last of the Star Wars work so I can really finish my thesis and have a few weeks of really just painting away for my ASE Wall.

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