My Blog About Art

Finally Here! September 06, 2016 10:01


My Blick Light-Duty EaselI moved from Elmira, NY to Pawtucket, RI on August 18/19, but it's taken me all this time just to get sort of settled in. I still have stuff to unpack, but "only" about 15 boxes, mostly kitchen stuff, clothes, and more importantly, all of my art stuff. I love my new place--a loft in an old fabric mill. This space is filled with light from ten windows and has more room than my former house. And I can walk to all sorts of things and take the bus to others. It's fab.

I did take some time the other night to put together the easel I bought from Blick a couple months ago. I'm still missing the bit that holds the top of the canvas, but I remember putting it in a box and so I just haven't gotten to that yet. Meanwhile, the easel is there to spur me on.

Someone on FB posted that Blick is having a canvas sale, and even though I've got 5 or so 18 x 24" wood panels and one 16 x 20" canvas on hand, I bought 6 18 x 24" canvases. I've gotten used to gessoing the canvases and how they feel with a lot of gesso layers that allow me to paint without any "bounce" but still leave enough flexibility for me to press the canvas against the scanner glass so I get a good image for reproduction. I didn't want to deal with gessoing the wood panels and then trying to photograph them correctly right now. So they are going to wait until I have enough time to do that. 

I have a lot of ideas for new paintings. I still want to work on water images and have a raft of reference photos I took on my last trip up to Seneca Lake, my favorite of the Fingerlakes. It was a great day for photographing--the water had that sort of oily quality it does sometimes when there's no wind. So I look forward to trying that out on canvas as well as doing some little wavelets against the rocks and some nice contrast between surface reflection and weeds and rocks below. I love those sort of palimpsest type images. Layers on layers! 

But I also downloaded a bunch of reference photos of all sorts of industrial buildings, inspired by a photo of a very foreboding prison, now abandoned, that stands in a town I lived in as a teen. That photo sent me down a rabbit hole about industrial buildings which in turn gave me all sorts of ideas for new paintings. I would like to move toward more complex images on larger canvases that allow for that a bit better, so I will try it on one of the new canvases as soon as they get here. I'm planning on two series, neither of which is about clouds or water, although they might be included in these images.

I've got notes about color and two reference photos ready for a basis for a sketch for the next painting--not on the actual canvas but on a sheet of paper I can in turn use as reference for the illustrations for my forthcoming book on herbal magic. I got the idea from the way I used notes in grad school--the very act of writing down the information was enough to sort of fix it in my mind. I thought drawing might work the same way, and it did for the plant illustrations, so I'm going to try the same technique for paintings: Put together a drawing based on arranging and aspects of various reference photos and imaginary stuff to come up with a drawing that I use as a reference for the painting. I'll take photos of the process.

Politics and [My] Art July 30, 2016 19:55

A typical Botero paintingSome people believe that the combination of politics and art in general is a deadly mix, but I'm more of the school that art can never be free of politics--that even "art for art's sake" is a political statement (thank you, Russian Formalism). The big question for me is how I can go about combining art and politics successfully. Note, this is not a manifesto ("This is the way you have to do it!!!!"). That's why I've got "My" in brackets. It's about how I might combine art and politics in my art. 

botero abu ghraibI remember when Botero did his Abu Ghraib series. Here was an artist whose work I never liked much because I thought it was a bit gimmicky in style. And yet he was able to produce a series of 80 very graphic and IMO powerful paintings based on the leaked photos of Americans torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu GhraibI know that I could never do what he did. I could never paint one picture of people being tortured, much less 80+.

But lately, because of the stuff going on in the US, I've been thinking quite a bit about the relationship of my art to politics. I wasn't sure that it actually had any. Did that mean I was just being self-absorbed? I hoped not, but...

I've always been a firm believer that we each have gifts that we can and must make use of to give back to our world. I see this not only as a responsibility we fulfill to our society but as an act of gratitude to the gods for giving us those gifts. My art has a strong relationship to spirituality and magic, and I thought that working to make the spiritual and the divine more visible was more than enough of a use of my artistic skills. But then there was the increasing darkness of the politics of our society.

El Lissitzky, "The Red Wedge will Beat the Whites"I consider that political art can help us make sense of what is happening in our country and maybe even help us a find a way out of this mess, at the very least by bucking up our spirits and letting us know that we are not alone. I kept thinking of people I knew long ago who succeded at making good political art. I didn't see how I could do that with my own art. After all, what have I been painting? Landscapes and abstract stuff. Not even any human figures, which seem essential to most political art, with occasional exceptions, like El Lissitzky's "Red Wedge Will Beat the Whites" from the Russian civil war. Figurative art is just not me. I even tried doing deliberately political art back in the seventies. Fail.

But I also have found, as I have come along in my development as a painter, that I am tending to paint more dark images than bright ones. I wondered at first if these were a reflection of my emotional state and kind of shuddered, but the thing is that despite all, I generally feel pretty happy. No evil eye, I am satisfied with my life, small though it might be in the grand scheme of things. So I didn't think it was my emotions that were being expressed in these dark paintings.

Then I thought about one of my favorite ideas about art, that all sorts of artists pick up on a society's subconscious and even can feel the edges of the future and that it comes out in their work. But honestly, I don't think there's anything hidden or futuristic about the darkness in our society now. It's real and it's now.

I concluded that much of my art is dark because we are living in dark times and that my art dark paintings are simply a reflection of that. And they are probably going to get a lot darker no matter what happens with the election. Because either one can lead us to hell and will if it is profitable enough for their masters.

Belly of the Beast by Harold RothSo maybe my job as an artist is to reflect that darkness without picturing the actuality of it. To paint not prisoners or the dead of our wars, foreign and domestic, but to paint storms and black waves and dark water. Yes. I think so.

Those images as a double-edged sword. They are a reflection of the dark doings in our society, of our fears, and the further darkness to come, but they are also a reflection of justified anger. The storms I paint are not just destructive. They are refreshing and make available great energy and power. I hope that people who view my paintings will be able to tap into that power and that it will assist them in their work of changing our society to something much more positive.
Such a society would merit paintings of sunny days. 

It's not that I won't paint refreshing pictures of water or clouds or fields. Our souls need rest too. But they will be spiced with the invigorating flavor of storms. 


Letting Images Arise: Automatism December 28, 2015 18:25 1 Comment

For years, I began a painting with a drawing. Often, these drawings were quite detailed, especially during the period when I was doing a lot of botanical art. The resulting work was Realist and quite tight. I thought this tightness was just part of my nature as an artist. I was wrong.

When I began experimenting with acrylics, two things happened: my underdrawings became simpler and my painting style looser. Because of the use of white pigment in acrylic painting, which is generally forbidden in watercolor, and because it's possible to paint over acrylic without concern about lifting what is beneath it, I became more relaxed about painting. I even tried different brushes. I'd always used expensive sable rounds, but I tried synthetics and other shapes and loved them.

Mandrakes in SpringOne day I was playing with a filbert brush. I enjoyed the root-like shapes it could make and decided to do a painting without any drawing at all first. I really liked the results and experimented more and more until finally I abandoned Realism for abstraction. Slippery slope. :)

As far as abstraction went, I did a lot of stuff that was simply pattern. I found I had a fascination with ripples, waves, striations, and cavities--all sorts of patterns found in the natural world.

Elemental Water I by Harold RothBecause I didn't have the right audience for this sort of work, I didn't get the responses I had expected. I lost confidence and went back to more typical (and perhaps bit boring) Realist stuff. I did my best to convince myself that it was okay for me to do this, even though I never felt any sort of gut challenge in doing a Realist still life or landscape like I did with an abstract. I do love real and painted landscapes, though, and so do lots of other people. So...

But I could not stop envisioning abstract shapes and forms. How to focus what was coming out on the support? How to make it more than a mere pattern? I thought about how I often work with tarot. I ask a question but simply let the cards tell me whatever it is I need to know..

Water WitchWith painting, this meant that I allowed the image to arise as I painted. I hoped that if I were open to a connection with the spirit world while I painted and at the same time tried to focus on a particular concept (like spirits of Mars or Water magic), that whatever came out on the paper would simply take the form most appropriate for that energy or work and for me. A meeting up or coming together of a magical current and my consciousness and my skill or lack of it as a painter.

This was a bit scary, since I feared that this method might be skating quite close to the bullshit area. Many of you out there are aware of the snobbishness often focused on abstraction ("people paint abstractly because they don't know how to draw/a monkey/toddler could do that"). I've run into quite a bit of this on art forums, which is the main reason why I don't participate in them anymore. Even though I reject such a perspective, I didn't want to be a bullshit artist either.

Despite my fears about possible bullshittery and worries about inadequacy, I kept on. The more practice I got painting in this way, the better I felt it working. It was like a groove being worn in ice or stone that could channel a greater and more focused flow the more it was delineated. And I felt that my painting improved. I had better use of color and saw my composition improving. I thought I had simply discovered this approach on account of my long association with magic.

Then I ran across a discussion of automatism in Surrealism, an art movement I know little about. I was familiar with automatism from spiritualism, where mediums might use it to channel communications from the dead (automatic writing, for instance). The Surrealists took up this technique, but instead of channeling the dead, they channeled their own subconscious. As Andre Breton wrote, "‘Pure psychic automatism is the dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all moral or aesthetic concerns." And artist whose work I'd had on my wishlist for a long time, Ithell Colquhuon, was a magician as well as an artist, and she used automatism a lot in her work.

I wouldn't consider myself a Surrealist, but I intend to make further use of automatism in my painting, drawing on the astral or spiritual (or woo) instead of the subconscious. It was wonderful to find out there was plenty of historical precedent for this.