Sunday, September 22, 2013

PAFA MFA 2 Fall Week 4: Ann Gale

I have sailed past the 1/4 mark in my fall semester already with this week into the record books. It's been a real world wind and I am super busy between all of my various demands of teaching, working on various commercial gigs and being in school. I feel like I have fallen behind where I want to be painting wise in production of new work, but I guess that's just the way it will be for a while. I did work on new work in gather photo sources and collaging in photoshop as well as some small studies. I did have a critic meeting and got some good artists to consider in my process.

However the biggest and best thing this last week was the visit by Ann Gale to PAFA via the Visiting Artist Program. Gale is a teacher at the University of Washington School Of Art. Gale is one of the leading figurative painters today, the "Secret Queen of Painting" as I called her when we met. Like Edwin Dickenson she is a painter's painter-- and a painter who might fall under the "perceptual painting" umbrella. At school there are several artist like Scott Noel, Peter Van Dyke as well as his wife Carolyn Pyfrom who also work in that mode or designation. In short I have been a huge fan of her work for several years now, coming across her work in my undergrad, and she certainly was  fave of many of my Dirty Palette buddies. So I was stoked for her visit, they don't often get artists in the program I am that excited to see, the last one I was this jazzed to see was Daniel Sprick who visited PAFA in 2009. I have been requesting her as one of the visiting artists for a while now and made sure i was waiting for the sign up sheet to come out so I could be first in line to sign up for a studio crit with her.

The talk Gale gave for the school was really a painters painter talk, she brought work that spanned her career as talking points to discuss her priorities and issues as she developed as a painter, examples of what she was doing in grad school at Yale to the last piece she was working on in her studio. So we could see what she was thinking about and interested in at the stage we are in as students in grad school and how it was really the same yet deepening conversation she was still interested and talking about decades later. Some painters come and give a sort of general overview of their career and work, which is nice, but not always a lot of meat.

                      Gale talks with Al Gury the head of our painting Dept and Jeff Carr the Dean

Gale dug in right to the heart of what painting is, she talked about the different experiences of color as it moved around a painting, about painting the light, the atmosphere, about how important the space between things is, the space between her and the model, making  or following currents of marks, highways of vision through the work, how important something like the space between something like the chin and chest can be, what is similar as well as what is different between the figure and the background. How does it communicate or interfere with a the painting. Allowing herself to react to this and how the speed of the mark can open up something visually very dense or create chunks of space and light. Could she painting something before she could name it. This is something that Noel talks about a lot in his work and maybe that is a common link with the perceptual painters.

                             Ann Gale and Alex Kanevsky  I think are exchanging contact info

Gale's work has a lot of slippage, the background at points asserting prominence and sometimes the figure, sometimes it seems both at the same time.  Gale talked about how moving studios and the light changing forcing a different way of thinking. How at points her early painting felt like sculpture at times. She also talked about working from her drawings into painting and back and forth, drawing from her paintings. In short, it might be the best talk by a painter I have seen at school. In a world that often says painting is dead, or asks why paint, Gales answers those questions like a thunderclap in her work, which is both contemporary but clearly connected to the tradition of painting, seeing, giving you an experience of looking at the world through the eyes of an artist that is unique to painting. Her choices are ones only a great painter can make and convince you with each stroke or passage that they are right and are giving us a glimpse of a very personal world unmediated by anything but their eye, skill and unique artistic personality. What a breath of fresh air, a meaty mimetic joy in a world of non-retinal BS!

                                  I hauled in a lot of work from home into the studio for my talk

In my studio we had a good talk about formal issue, about using color more to move around my painting, maybe simpler areas vs more dense ones, about drawing from my paintings. She I think liked my drawings the most and talked about trying to achieve the same density of marks and channels

                                                        A pic of yours truly with Gale

In my paintings I have in my drawings. We also talked about how I feel that things like plein air painting are just not appreciated in the MFA, and how at times I feel pressed to move in directions at are artificial, or unnatural. Like most painters when they see the variety of things I do, comics, animations, etc, it does bring a different view on what I do. She also encouraged me to stop working on commercially made surfaces. She gave me artists to look at and that some some my images are a bit frightening, but that you have to be willing to make work that people might find disturbing. There was a lot of great talk and ideas that I am sure will continue to cook in my brain for a long time! I felt drained and excited at the same time, and I haven't been that excited about anything in art school for a long time, so it was a great week.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rooftop Painting Article

I contributed to an article by Bob Bahr on Outdoor Painter, the online home of Plein Air Magazine on painting in the city vs the country. My good buddy and fellow painter Aaron Thompson also contributed to the article. Aaron and I painted out together several times this summer in the country but also off the rooftops of Philly and we talk about the differences and challenges.


Friday, September 13, 2013

PAFA MFA 2 Fall Week 3: Go For Throttle Up!

 Things kicked in full this week with bring in work for our first assignments in Mike Gallagher's Drawing Seminar and discussing our readings in Tom Csaszar's seminar. I also got a bit of a cold which seems to happen within the first month each fall. This time the cold is annoying and not as bad as previous years but the sudden heat wave this week didn't make that feel any better. Especially when I had to run down to PAFA from teaching my storyboard class at Uarts for a meeting on the thesis only to arrive just as it was ending! Aggh! I know this will happen a lot this year, everything happens on the same days and same times. This week we reviewed the first weeks assignmnets in the Storybaord class which was to make an animatic about going to work. There were some entertaining little rough films and a few failures, but I think it was a good learning experience and next week I have the feeling that the animatics will be much stronger.

At PAFA I had my first studio meeting with the new MFA head Clint Jukkala and studio crit with Scott Noel. Clint has been going around to see each artists work in their studio and to get to know us better and our work. I've had the longest relationship with Scott of any teacher at the school besides Mike Gallagher,  Scott and I have had a lot of great times together and is certainly the teacher I have learned the most from in the undergrad through to my MFA years, he's also my MFA Thesis reader. We can lock horns but in a great way and rib each other too---which is great.

It's funny as we still debate the same things so often and disagree on many of the same points for almost 6 years now, each trying to convince the other, move the other to change their minds on certain aspects of painting. Scott just doesn't love any painting that involves photography( though Degas gets a pass). So for him anytime I have any "camera conditioned art", work from my own photos, he's always more stick than carrott, thus any artist who uses photography never can win for him. Except for Degas. I know he feels invested in me as student  and tells me this, we share many of the same issues as painters, however we sceperate at the paths of photography and illustration. He's pushing me a lot harder in the MFA than in the undergrad because he feels for me this is how my work will be challenged as a painter when I leave school. I agree on some levels and not in another. I think the orbit I seek to enter might now be the same orbit of artists like John Currin. I think I could be happy and successful being in a southwestern gallery or maybe a gallery similar to John Pence or Arcadia in NYC.  I'm a figurative and narrative painter, and I like that and want to be stronger and better, and know I do not seek to be a modernist abstract painter.

The photography thing frankly I think is silly, great work can be done with the aid of photos and a lot of bad art done from life.  Scott loves my plein air work better than anything else I do with the use of photography, and I had Scott's crit and my meeting with Clint  the same day, back to back, and they both liked the two different aspects of my work but the opposite of what the other liked. Clint wasn't interested in the plein air, but liked this painting, the Climax of Play, in which I employed photos I took. Scott didn't like this painting so much because I think more of an aesthetic preference or prejudice because of the photos, but loved the plein air paintings I did this summer. There are different issues at stake in both types of work, different approaches to making an image and even different ways of handling paint--- but there are also similarities as well--and the plein air work definitely informs the studio work and work I do using the camera as a source. Clint felt that Climax was much more contemporary, which is probably the thing that maybe Scott didn't like about it. A lot of contemporary painters use photography from Desiderio to Kanevsky at school to Justin Mortimer and Daniel Pitin, who's work I just discovered. However there are paintings I did that Scott liked which he though were from life that were not--so I got him! But keep that between us, OK?

Sometimes getting different "likes," even  opposite feedback can be confusing as a painter. You scratch you head trying to resolve all the feedback. I think its harder when its from people you really like and respect. If you don't like the critics work, or even personality I think it's easier to just dump it off. I feel photos or not its all a whole to me, all connected. This is the mash-up of the critic based program, because you can get very opposite views on your work, find it a bit confusing and maybe for a younger artist dispiriting, but in the end it's about me, not them. It can take a bit of thinking and reflection and searching after a critique to see  if there are common cords, ideas, approaches or issues or sometimes just really an overriding personal preference or prejudice behind the critics views and opinions. Sometimes just being figurative, or painting a female figure is enough for some critics to dismiss or knock the work. Sometimes in the end of the crit you can just say, well, I don't agree? I remember Vincent Desiderio telling me that if something the critic says just doesn't stick, ring true or isn't useful--just toss it out.

In my Aesthetics and Criticism seminar with Tom Csaszar we had a class discussion of last weeks readings on the Aesthetics of Appearing by Martin Seel and a review of the work of Jennifer Bartlett's by Klaus Ottman.
                                                 Details from Bartlett's paintings

The PAFA Museum is currently hosting a retrospective of Bartlett's work. One of the great benefits of having a school which also has a great museum--it is being able to go down in class and actually talk about the work in front of the work.

Now I have to admit right off the bat I am not a huge fan of Bartlett's work.  It doesn't grab me, and while some of the ideas like using the grid might sound interesting, in the end I want to be grabbed by the work, not the concept. If a concept sounds great on paper, fine, but the art has to grab me more than the idea.  This is my constant issue with mimetic work vs non-retinal work.

 The review by Ottman talked about her drawing chops, her painting chops, her ability to go from very abstract to very realistic work. Yes, she does cover that gamut, but her realistic chops are just weak, her paint handling is never as rewarding up close. And way too often I think in the modernists eyes any even half-way decent drawing- or heck any scribble in the process of making art is seen as being as good as a drawing by a great draughtsman. And I say hell no it isn't! Try and sell that weak-assed soup on the street and see how long you stay in business. The series of pool paintings are maybe the best of her realistic work, but fall far short of many great contemporary painters like the late Andrew Wyeth, or even current artist like Antonio Lopez or Vincent Desiderio for real feelings of melancholy. Or a host a finely talented female painters like these great woman painters! There is no reason for the scale in my mind and no bravura paint handling. Its clumsy painting and no better and any average first year student.  The strokes  or paint handling and techniques are flat and monotonous and the paint sinks into the canvas with a great dullness. I feel they get "In" and are accepted because people like her more conceptual abstract work. I think if she just did these paintings alone she would not be getting any hoopla or be as respected. Just my opinion, your mileage may vary

                                       Tom and the class in the museum discussing the work

For me the habitual use of the grid on some of the pieces like this which I think is on loan from the MET seem like an afterthought and don't really seem to mesh with the rest of the piece well. Where I think it does work is pieces like Amagansett Dyptch #1 which is rich and has a woven, tapestry feeling to the work. It was interesting to discuss the work nonetheless and get others feelings about the work in front of the work. We also discussed how the show was hung, curated and if we agreed with how it was arranged, what we as curators might do differently. In the end for me I think she is much more successful as a drawer than an painter, the drawings have a reward and richness  that makes you think of artist from Degas to Georges Seurat but still leave me pretty neutral to the work in the end.
Amagansett Diptych #1where its more organic, almost woven like a tapestry. These works do two important things for me as an artist, they give me an exrience when  stand back, and another when I am up close. I like some of the drawings the best

 In Mike Gallagher's class we had our class crit of our first assignments which was to use oblique strategies to introduce the conditions of failure and chance into our creative process that came from last week's class and a film on Brian Eno. Eno employs a huge list of strategies in his creative process when he gets stuck. Some of the ideas I used in my piece are:

Trust in the you of now
Turn it upside down
What mistakes did you make last time?
Abandon normal instruments
Change instrument roles
 Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do

I started by clipping newspapers and using matte medium to put them down of illustration board that I had covered with 2 coats of gesso. Then using a China marker I made some random marks using a straight edge. Working from a photos I shot of the old abandoned houses I have been working with since last year I massed in big shapes. I decide to work with acrylics as well, something I really haven't work wed too much. I turned the canvas the whole time. letting this slide and drip, using what was on the newspaper as sort of a drawing, or ignoring it, covering it it. I used chance in how I worked and if something failed or I didn't like it I had to decide to keep it or not. Paint, turn, paint, turn, drip, smush, etc. Then I decided to add a figure in, again working from a photo I shot.

To me the thing is trying to find a way to employ these ideas that work in an organic way, not just making a drawing for class. I did something very similar last year in Michael Moore's drawing class where we had to make a drawing employing a list of criteria or instructions we were given.  I also used my fingers and a toothbrush a lot on this painting and tried to have fun as well. We so often forget fun or disregard it.


You can see the work in three stages, I did leave it over night and come back and finish it the next day. I was happy with the way some things happened here. The idea of employing failure or the chance of failure is something I think I do all of the time as a natural part of my process. You always risk failure, one stroke yes! the next--no!!!

I often wipe out work and restart, restate,  and you do have the chance of happy accidents as a painter depending on your process. I my commercial work, well you can't have chance on a deadline or certainly not failure. Often I have to change up strategies in my mind and work in a single day, change my cartoonist hat to my painters beret or vise versa. I suppose maybe because of this I am used to having to really flex different methodologies. I didn't get the work reviewed this week because the class is fairly large and the crits for each person's piece was fairly long, so I'll get my class crit next week.  The best thing about nest week is that Ann Gale is coming to the school, so a lot of people like  me a really pumped for that!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

PAFA MFA 2 Fall Week 2: First Full Week and First Friday

This was the first full week for me of the Fall semester and it was full, full! I had all of my seminars at school and my first Storyboard class that I teach at Uarts. It was also the first First Friday of the school year so it was a busy time in the old town last night with all of the galleries open and a lot of shows full of the swirls of teachers, students, friends, foes, critics and more racing cross town gallery to gallery, openings all over Center City and Old City. It was also just one of the most gorgeous days of the year and the first day that really felt like Fall and everybody was in high spirits and a good mood.

                                      PAFA students sunning themselves like lizards--or Ultraman

The incoming class at Uarts seems like a good one, we had a good first day and the atmosphere was very jovial and the energy was good. I look forward to seeing the results of the first assignment which tells me a lot about who, what and where each student is on their path to being a pro artist. Each year the school moves to include more and more digital requirements from the teacher and students, I have to post a lot of material on-line. This is one of the biggest differences between PAFA and Uarts. I get very little communication or class resources on-line at PAFA, but as a teacher at Uarts I have to do quite a bit to the students through the Digication portal. I even started a blog for my class this year to post assignments, resources etc. There are still teachers at PAFA I can't email in 2013!

I also met the new head of the MFA Program Clint Jukkala this week and I will have a studio visit from him next week. Right away at the meeting with the MFA 2's he was asking for our comments and feedback and people were giving him some including me. He seemed open and receptive to what we had to say, some even wanted to get rid of grading altogether including Clint. I think he will have a lot of hard work to do on the program and maybe his biggest fight might not be with teachers or students but maybe the board of directors of the school. I could be wrong but that's my guess. There are a lot of things that need to be improved and that will require a great deal of $$$$$ and maybe some radical surgery. I hope they can do these things as the schools standing  and so many things important to the education outcome would greatly improve, at the same time I don't feel the school should try to be YALE, it should try to be PAFA. It was the first art school and IMHO should still be if not the best, in the top 10 in the world. Having been a student for a long while now and a teacher even longer and a professional more than twice as long as booth, I have very strong feelings on art eduction as a whole, the Industrial Education Complex as I call it.

I feel the system is nearly broken in many ways, especially because of the cost and the fact too many students graduate with a ratio of debt to skills that is spectacularly tragic. That translates into almost no hope to make a living as an artist for the bulk of students in school. Its not all on the school or the teachers, it is primarily the responsibility of the student to demand that they get the service ( skills and learning) they need to have the best chance to make a living as an artist, no matter what their discipline may be.

                                The gang and I beating it criss-cross the city arting we  go!

A group of my MFA buddies all gathered together to hit the galleries for First Friday, starting a Gross McCleaf and ending up at Rodger lapelle and then having some grub before we headed home with heads chock-full of art and soar feet. It's funny how you pass groups of students as we criss-cross galleries. There were some galleries that were just too crowded, so I'd peak in and pop out, or frankly just had work I didn't enjoy of find interesting. There was a lot of competent work,  but overall there wasn't a lot I found that tickled my fancy or gave me a charge. The work I think I found the most enjoyable were the work at Gross McCleaf by Ann Lofquist.
 Ann Lofquist

Christine Lafuente

I think she is one of the best landscape painters working today, the paint handling, the quality of light and atmosphere  she has in her work are fantastic. In a genere that is probably the most overpopulated with painters her landscape paintings really stand out and in with the best of the tonalists like Emil Carlson and Lanthrop. Gross McCleaf also represents the work of any of the faculty at PAFA like Scott Noel and Douglas Martenson but also many of the best regional painters in general. At Rodger LaPelle my buddy Bannister McKenzie was in a group show.

                                                                 Bannister McKenzie

                                                        Osborne's opening at Locks

                                                                     Michael Gallagher

                                                                      In Schmidt-Dean

Over at Locks Gallery there was a big show of Liz Osborne's work and the show was so packed I just peaked in for a second. We visited the Schmidtdean Gallery that has work by one of my favorite teachers and people at PAFA Michael Gallagher. One of the owners Chrispopher was really nice and came out and took time talking to us about many of the artists in the gallery. There is definitely a hierarchy to the Center City galleries like Locks or Schmidt-Dean which feel much more Chelsea, very contemporary and modernist and the galleries in Old City like F.A.N and my gallery Rodger LaPelle, they feel more Soho. The best thing is that unlike NYC, the  Philly art walk is very walkable. Still by the end of the night, and a long day at school which included Mike Gallagher's class and a film on Brian Eno I was beat when I got home.  But it was great fun to hang with my fellow PAFites and enjoy art, laughs and eats, the art pyramid and a great way to really kick off the Fall semester.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Supergirl Pin-Up

This is a freshly finished Supergirl pin-up that is for sale over on Ebay. They keep changing her costume but I prefer the classic one.