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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Final Semester: 6 weeks to go!

It has been said that life is a series of choices. From what kind of cereal you will have for breakfast to what you will wear to work, do you want pumpkin spice coffee or Kona coffee?  What kind of mate you want, job, where you want to live, what kind of dreams you have? Sometimes we really have almost too many choices or one choice negates another.  One choice might start as a pepbble falling which turns into a landslide. In the past seven years I have made many, many choices or decisions as not only a professional artist but a student. I chose to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as opposed to going to another school, and  I chose to continue on after graduating with a certificate in painting and attend the school again in the Masters program.

I am mostly happy on both accounts although to be honest I have a lot more fond memories of my undergrad experience than my MFA experience. The MFA has been a more lonely road. Maybe an MFA program is not supposed to be as an enjoyable or comforting experience as an artist, maybe it is supposed to push you and prod you and test you in new ways with new choices and the consequence of those choices.

With just six weeks left in my last semester I am finding myself having to make many many choices like passing on participating in this year's 4th Wall. With a month and a half left for my final semester in the MFA and PAFA things are gonna cook off fast.

Man, and am I getting itchy, I am so very ready to go! Like a runner in the blocks, all coiled, and anxious. I would leave today if I could--just pack and go! I didn't feel this way in the undergrad, but my experience in the MFA has been very different, and I guess I just want to get out and move on and see where the road goes. I already have a lot of plans, opportunities and goals--so I suppose I just want to get on with it. Maybe a lot of MFA 2nd year students feel this way---I know its been a long run in school and I know that's a part of it. I just don't want any other voices in my head for a while.

Last week was the 4th Wall Review. This is where the school invites a group of critics in to give the students a glimpse behind the curtain if you will of the critical and judging process that happens in the art world--or in certain orbits of the art world, and by orbits, I mean one I am not looking to enter as an artist. I am not looking at the Art Forum world.  There was much hand wringing the weeks before by some of my friends who did submit, and I wished them well and good luck.

The class of 2nd year  PAFA MFA student's works are discussed by a panel of contemporary art critics.
This year the  Panelists were:
Alex Baker, Director of Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, former Curator of Contemporary Art at PAFA
Josephine Halvorson, painter, US Fulbright Fellow, and The Tiffany Foundation Award recipient
Crispin Sartwell, teaches art and philosophy at Dickinson College, contributor for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Times Literary Supplement and it was Moderated by Robert Cozzolino, Senior Curator of Modern Art at PAFA.

I have been to two of the 4th Walls in the past and as a result decided to not participate.  I had a few reasons, the first is, I know since I am not a modernist, but a traditionalist, observational, narrative, a craftsman ( a real no-no word) and thus not making work that will fall withing the interests of such critics, they will not be interested in what I am doing. Thats fine, this is the way the art world works, so its best to put effort toward the opportunities that will be open to the type of work I do. You will never see what I do in New American Paintings magazine. Maybe in Plein Air magazine though.

I have also come to loath the word "Contemporary". I think its a terrible word, an overused and a terrible term. I think its smarmy and exclusive. A way to keep certain types of work "out" and a lot of crappy work "in". I think if anything my two years in the MFA have come to make me even more strident and given me greater conviction in my tastes, ethics, choices, passion and goals as an artist.
 Maybe that's the purpose of such a program, or the purpose for me.

In recent weeks there have been other galleries and shows coming to school to check out and give opportunities to students which is great. But they are all about places that really don't show work I am doing or interested in. No pink vacuums or floors with garbage bags and Cy Twombly dirt  scribbles for me.

So I decided to pass the 4th Wall as my time is short. Art is about choices and my choice was to instead work on what is important for me at this time. My work. No painter with any real traditional skill ever does well here. The other reason was I didn't enjoy the past two events at all when I did attend. I actually got so pissed last year I walked out. I just couldn't take  listening to the reasons work was rejected. Art is about rejection, and God knows I have been dealing with that as part of my career for 30 years as a working artist. Actually since I even thought of myself as an artist. So instead I spent the day painting on work which may go into my final ASE wall. I think its great that they do this for the students who do want to take part in this, and congrats to the winners.

I have also been super jamming between the strip and the final illustrations for the Star Wars ABC books for Workman. All the planes and deadlines are coming in in this last month. I have had so little time to paint since the end of January and I have found this to be super frustrating, but I've broken through and have been back at the easel.

I have also been back painting with my group of Dirty Palette buddies, which is great! I cannot stress again how important it is to have a supportive group of friends as painters along for the Journey. Its essential! Will and I set up a still life in my dinning room and we painted on it for two sessions and Alina joined us on the second session. We also enjoyed some pizza as well to keep the art fires fueled.

 Alina's skull and Will's Piggy bank and brain with crown.

This is a photo that Rodger took years ago that earned him a byline and $15. The next pic is the vault of LaPelle where he keeps all of the work of the artists he reps which isn't on display. I helped my friend Lexi search for some her paintings she wanted back.

I took down my paintings from my group show at LaPelle this past week and hauled the work home. The paintings are stacking up! I could hang my final ASE wall now, I have enough work, but I will keep pushing for my final review.

There are only a few weeks left in the semester at PCAD as well, and yesterday I did another demo in my Concept Design class. I gave them an assignment to design three kitchen environments. One for robots, one for animals who trash pick from our world and one on a pirate ship.

This was done in Photoshop in about an hour to show the students how the do what I call a quick "thinking comp" design. I started by creating a basic perspective grid and then doing an drawing that grew organically as I asked a series of questions like a detective. Who, what, where, why, etc. Who is the character, where to they live, what do the do, how did they build their kitchen. The calender started out as an old truck tire flap that cover the door, the kind that had a sexy lady on it, but as we talked we changed it to a calender that was maybe the dream place that the character wanted to travel to. Next week I think I will do another demo and invite some of the other classes to come and watch.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Draw! 27 hitting the Street!

I just got my comps of the latest issue of Draw! which means its hitting the comic shop in your neck of the woods or your mailbox ( digital or snail mail) if you are a subscriber. This issue we  cover the "Cover Guy", Dave Johnson! From 100 Bullets to Deadpool, Punisher Max and more, Johnson gives us an intensive blow-by-blow on the creative process that makes him a top cover artist for Marvel, DC, Image, and others. ALSO: Even if you don’t know his name, you've seen Stephen Silver's work as one of today's most in-demand character designers, for shows such as “Kim Possible”, “Danny Phantom”, and Kevin Smith’s animated “Clerks” series. Silver even has his own Character Design App, and will walk you through his approach to creating the look for some of the most recognizable creations in Hollywood. Silver also runs his own school, the Silver Drawing Academy in LA which just opened this year. PLUS: "The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the ORDWAY!" with new columnist Jerry Ordway, “Crusty Critic” Jamar Nicholas reviews art supplies, and "Comic Art Bootcamp"By Bret Blevins and myself

You can grab a copy from TwoMorrows