Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sound and Silence

Somewhere in the midnight hum of nerves and flesh, there is a rhythm. Each city, each street, each place has its own subtle beat. At certain moments, perhaps in a drunken but acute stupor, we have all at one time whispered to the sublime in the undercurrent of the night and felt the pulse of the immediate. And it was in such a moment that I met Alexandra Pacula, recent winner of the Saatchi Gallery Showdown.

My wife and I attended an eclectic and vibrant party in east Williamsburg, amidst the rush of the tango and the thrum of voices. My good friend Adam Miller had invited me to his studio for this party in almost the nether realms of the warehouse jungle. It was this night that we requested of his girlfriend, Alexandra, who had a studio in the same building, to allow us to visit her studio.

I was immediately taken by the homage to Nighthawks above, entitled Nocturnal Escapade. In the blur of my own aesthetic intoxication, I was able to sense the pulse of the city as I had never before encountered. Stretching back into the inky darkness of Jack Kerouac's New York, the Subterranean bee-bop of a lost generation, and Hopper himself perched upon the bar stool, I glimpsed the string which connects the ghosts of past - through the fluid hours - to strum a steady note under the fluorescent lights. I realized then, that the hum I heard, in the cold New York night, was not that of the warm bar lights, but a supernatural communion with all those lonely souls who've passed before. The city that never sleeps, has truly not slept for years, and somehow this enables each year to live on, blurring into the next to leave an echo which one might detect in the obscure encryptions of Alexandra's calligraphic brushwork.

Alexandra's work is a sensuous effigy to the night life. But more than that, it seeks a truth which lies beneath the clutter of voices and dirty martini's. It seeks (and finds) that intangible eternity which yawns into the depths of human collective remembrance. She employs the color and brush much like a jazz master, drawing on the greatness of the past, infusing it with her own soulful yearning, and improvising amidst our social and physical realities to create a fluctuating reverberation between the abstract and the corporeal. This excitement speaks of both passion and melancholy, but the tension between the two is what makes it so compelling.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What was Lost

My job at Jeff Koons' studio comes with many benefits. Not the least of which is it's location in Chelsea, and proximity to over 500 of the most successful galleries in the world.

And so, my lunch breaks are taken up with lengthy constitutionals accompanied by my good friend and colleague Adam Miller. Last Wednesday, the galleries of choice were Stricoff and DFN, two on my list of possible venues for my work because both show several artists who also graduated from the New York Academy of Art. It was at DFN on this fair day (well actually rather dreary), that we came across the haunting work of Dan Witz.

This is a man after my own heart. His soulful use of tenebrist light could stir the sentiment of even the most cynical gallery goers. They depict seemingly meaningless and forgotten moments in such a way as to point out what we might have missed along the way.

The school crossing might be the moment long ago in early September, when I drove home from rehearsal for the high-school play, exhausted and proud. The ice machine is the half remembered acquaintance once met on a midnight road trip from some anonymous place to another. Lit by the buzz of gas station lights, he is familiar to my dreaming. And this woman I perhaps recall from a single glance, checking a voice mail as I walked by a restaurant in pursuit of my own thoughts. These too are companions to history and are worthy of remembrance. These are the moments which, once forgotten are lost to eternity, yet coalesce to form our existence. These too are the fabric of our very lives.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Lost Dreams of Titian

In past posts I have been known to say some choice things about Jeff Koons. Though I don't entirely recant all of my statements, I must admit that I have developed a different outlook on him and what he does.

You see, I just got a job working in his studio, and my first week has altered my viewpoint drastically. The pay is good, the health insurance is great, and what he gives to emerging artists by employing nearly a hundred of them, is the ability to make a decent living while pursuing their foundering careers in the city that never sleeps (nor gives you an inch).

In my first week I have met a number of intelligent and highly skilled artists in his employ and have struck a friendship with a few. Chief among them is my quickly growing friendship with the painter Adam Miller. His piece "Ariadne", above, awakens in me the haunting remembrance of visions in the dreams of Titian - images to which he never gave expression. These are the lost moments of a master, recently unearthed from the mists of time, and all the better as we can see these marvelous pieces afresh with searching and youthful eyes - never before exposed to this poetic mastery. These are the moments when art is most vital to the human experience. These are the moments when all the senses reach an apex in perception and the work transcends simply the beautiful and surpasses the sublime. These are the moments which reach the human soul.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Moment

It is hard for me to write about my own works keeping distance and the objectivity at the same time. So I realize that what you will read can be completely different from it, what really you will be thinking about them.

I am a bit of a surrealist, a bit of a portrait painter and something even more unspecified in what I do. Very man, as the topic, has always interested, however I am trying to determine this only moment, in which it alone is the most apart from the entire uniqueness of human character still with oneself, is revealing the uncontrollable inner life for his personality living in the very moment most intensively. It can be the moment of creating, the moment of staying in some surroundings, whether finally savouring one's body. Hedonism and the humility, distance and the closeness, everything it is making the image of the man up. Surreal World is being craved very much here, he is heightening the word through the unlimited amount of solutions, often surprising.

This "moment" has been accompanying me for ages in my works. Beginning the adventure with the drawing from normal painting portraits of people, through desire for expressing something more, to the attempt to show the entire complexity of situation, in the end till the shift techniques not to say fields of art established me. I mean stained glass in which I have only recently started being found which having the limitation with unique technology is causing that the form is becoming even more literal and strong.

Here are a few words about my art. I'm counting on constructive criticism....
The rest of them you can see on my website:

Maciej Gador

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Anti-Vice Campaign

I discovered these exquisite pieces by Zhang Haiying on the Saatchi website.
My first impression, which I shared on the previous post, was one of formal sublimity. Without the context of these other pieces I didn't at first see the "meta text" behind the work and assumed they were "merely" formal studies in virtuosity. (I say merely with a grain of salt).

However, as one discovers each piece in the series, a greater dialogue begins to unfold. There is a current of Nietzsche's moral relativism flowing through this painter from China. He speaks of a puritan desire for morality in a religious vacuum. He reveals the tensions of globalization, the colonialist insertion of western culture in a land where history and antiquity was once erased by western ideology. He describes the yearning for cultural context, the adoption of western virtues and vice and the simultaneous forces that oppress it.

As a discussion of the Chinese sex trade and the inadvertent arrests of innocent women as well, these works blur the line between virtue and vice and even alternate them at times. They compare and contrast the glamorous and self-destructive night life with the puritan power of the communist government. They refrain from specific judgement but don't shy from vigorous inquiry.

"What is the will to power"?
"What is the value of individual freedom"?
"Does the equality of individual power leave us vulnerable to absolute power"?

They converse in an international language intelligible to every tongue because each of us has experienced something similar: the cultural and social void, the bullet train of world change, and the slow extinction of bio-cultural diversity.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Zhang Haiying

It is my belief that the formal language of painting should convey the content of the piece. But when friends of mine who have not education in art see a painting, they see the subject. To them the subject is dominant and the formal language is secondary. From my perspective it is the opposite.

The piece above speaks to me about the artist. The bravado of his brush strokes and mastery of tone. The language of the brush is seductive, but the limited content of the subject fails to take the piece further.

In New York there is an overwhelming amount of "content" in the subject of the art, but most artists here show absolutely no concern for the formal language of the work. For me, this work is largly inaccessable. It does not compel me to consider its meaning. So, what I'm getting at is, can a piece stand alone simply on its formal qualities or its conceptual qualities alone?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Creative Solutions

Our new blog Sustainable Art seeks to find ecological, economical, and creative solutions to climate change and other problems endangering our planet (and our species).

We think that art, from its message down to the process of creation, can help solve the problems facing us today. Help us create a sustainable art and a sustainable future. It's a big and interconnected issue and we could sure use your ideas.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Craftsmanship is not a word I had ever entertained in the same sentence with the name Julian Schnabel. And because of my biases towards actually caring about the visual component of Visual Art, I had all but written him off in my mind. No, to be totally honest I had completely written him off.

However, I was taken by surprise when I happened to stumble upon his latest exhibition at Claire Oliver while dropping some work off at my gallery on W 26th st. At first, I was entranced by the distant light of what appeared to be stained glass windows glowing in the gray mist of a rainy Wednesday morning. Had Claire Oliver been turned into some minimalist cathedral? I thought this unlikely so I decided to investigate. Upon closer examination, my first impression was of exultation. I had found the contemporary iconographer: who I dearly wished to be myself if I could only shake the monkey of seductive Baroque light off my back. My second impression was of shock- for I saw the name Julian Schnabel stenciled on the wall, above the aptly named show:

Burning Inside.

Which is how I felt. I quickly cycled through the five stages of grief:

Denial:This couldn't be Julian Schnabel. There's no way.
Anger: Why would he do this? This isn't his territory! He should stick to his cracked china, dissonant colors, and crudely drawn figures!
Bargaining: OK, you can have stained glass, but you can't monopolize contemporary iconography or beauty.
Depression: Who am I kidding? I don't understand the art world. Maybe I should just quit.
Acceptance: You know, if he's starting to think about aesthetics that means there's a growing market for it. This could be a good thing for me.

You see, I felt as if the team for passion and sincerity in art had finally won a big name over from the dark side, or a Franciscan monk who had just converted a Benedictine theologian. Gothic references aside (and also my self-righteousness), I think that the slight aroma of humor and sarcasm did slip in at times to the detriment of this near mannered mastery of the more sincere pieces.

The artist has gathered bits of the Byzantine clerestory, alchemically bound the light into a Gothic exploration of contemporary subjects - the abject ascetic business man seated on an English bench; a forlorn Ophelia poisoned in her room of startling geometric beauty. But my favorite piece (above) hangs in the entrance, encouraging inquiry: the androgynous and slightly decaying princess of somewhere bearing witness to the Guernica death of innocence, caught between the diametric opposition of two cosmic forces. This is My One Desire.

Just as I grew warm with the thought, I glanced again at the name on the wall and my tepid soul reversed the sensation. It seems that I had not looked closely enough. All the hopes of the past half hour had been dashed upon the tiles of Clair Oliver's floor like the heart of a sordid lover. Well, perhaps not that badly, but I was sadly mistaken. The name on the wall was in fact Judith Schaechter and not Julian Schnabel. Well, of course, that explains everything.

But, this message is to Julian Schnabel if by some strange twist of fate he might come across this article: Oddly, I still harbor a dim and newly founded hope that you'll come join us while there's still time. The grass is truly greener over here.

And to Judith Schaechter, thank you for the beautiful work. It stands on its own regardless of what name is attached to it - a testament to time and man's quest for meaning. I am sincerely glad it was you and not him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Clean Revolution

Many people have criticized the fact that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, sometimes to the point of being livid. (I don't want to point fingers, but it's mostly republicans.) When I inquire why it makes them angry they list off reasons such as his contesting the 2000 election (unrelated), the idea that he's an economic elitist (related?), or they (ironically) say that he hasn't done enough to get his message out: they claim that he refuses to debate the point with an intelligent opposition. Regardless of the fact that he is a figure head and not a scientist. It is the scientists responsibility to debate the data, I think it is his (self chosen) responsibility to convey the information to the public. In the same breath they'll say that global warming isn't an issue of peace. But mostly these people question the veracity of An Inconvenient Truth - claiming that it's an exaggeration, that it's the worst case scenario. They further say that it is politically motivated. They don't tend to follow a logical line of reasoning, but merely throw out scattered and unrelated arguments to undercut his validity.

I must admit that the first time I saw the documentary, I also thought that it was only portraying the worst case scenario. However, I thought that it was necessary in order to get people's attention, and for the most part it has been effective. But as I've followed the research, more data is being revealed which paints a much more frightening picture than An Inconvenient Truth even hinted. First, there's the rate of ice melt on the north pole and in glaciers, which is accelerating much faster than all of the worst case projections. Then there's the report of the deterioration of CO2 sinks such as oceans and plants, which are loosing their capacity to absorb CO2 at the previous rates. The oceans are becoming over-saturated and acidic, the weather patterns are changing and disrupting plant growth.

Specifically, oceans and plant growth absorbed only around 540 kilograms per metric ton (1,190 pounds per short ton) of the CO2 produced in 2006, compared with 600 kilograms per metric ton (1,322 pounds per short ton) in 2000. Coupled with an emissions growth rate of 3.3 percent—triple the growth rate of the 1990s—the atmospheric burden is now rising by nearly two parts per million of CO2 a year, the fastest growth rate since 1850, the international team of researchers reports in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

New maritime measurements over the past decade also show that the North Atlantic's ability to absorb CO2 has been cut in half, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia who were not affiliated with the study by Canadell and his colleagues. "Until now, we thought that the decline in the efficiency of natural sinks was going to happen during the 21st century and more strongly during [its] second half," Canadell says. "If we didn't [include in the assumptions] that this was going to happen [so soon], have we underestimated the decline in the efficiency into the future?"
Just ice melt and CO2 absorption alone will drastically change the model projections for the next 50 years. But the research continues to mount, leading scientists and myself to believe that the doomsday scenario portrayed in An Inconvenient Truth might seem like a walk in the park compared to what may already be occurring.

We haven't had such a rate of emissions growth and pollution since the 1850's, in other words The Industrial Revolution. And we already know the results of that. Only 100 years later, our rivers were literally burning! CFC's were eating holes in the ozone layer, cancer rates jumped drastically. You couldn't drink water, breath, or swim without being seriously confronted with toxins. Though we've cleaned up our streams (somewhat), outlawed CFC's, and have reversed some of the local environmental pollutants, we are now dealing with an issue that is truly and unequivocally global. A rate of unchecked destruction like the Industrial Revolution, magnified by our greater technological power and the vastly larger population will not just compromise our health within the next 100 years, it will destroy our civilization as we know it. It will effect everyone, but especially the poor. It will lead to starvation, disease, never before fathomed masses of refugees, and violent conflicts over space and resources both in our own back yards and on a global level.

What will it take for us to give a damn about our children's and even our own future? What will it take to truly start The Clean Revolution?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Age of Prodigy

Marla Olmstead.
Many have called her a child prodigy, though I would gather, not on the level of Picasso who created superb realist pieces before the age of 14.
Nonetheless, her fame began at the age of four, and its persistence beyond the usual one-hit-wonder factor leads me to ask this question:

Is she the artistic equivalent of Buddha: a mystic reincarnation of an artist's soul and at the age of seven, amazingly knowns more art history than most cram into a college degree?

I've noticed from looking at her work, that the "child prodigy" references a great deal of artists who have come before her.

A simple google search on her can produce a wide array of styles that very nearly emulate Kandinsky, Van Gogh (sunflowers above), Basquiat, Cy Twombly, and a host of others.

Take the piece above, which combines elements of several artists and is perhaps one of her most successful. It incorporates the line language of both Matisse and Picasso, color and compositional elements from Gauguin, and a non-objective collection of German Expressionists and American Ab-Ex. Though I, and many other artists I know, were doing abstract paintings at that age, we most assuredly didn't have the visual vocabulary or hand eye co-ordination to even pull off the variations in line weight, much less the cognitive focus for triangulation of color elements and textural variation.

I'm not saying that I don't think she could or should paint, nor that people shouldn't buy the work. I'm not even saying that I don't like or respect the work (some of it is pretty good). I'm just saying that Occam's razor tells me that her father at the very least touches up the paintings. But, hey - they've got a good thing going here. I hope they've founded a fulfilling father/daughter relationship working together in the studio, which I think is the most important thing.

Call it a performance piece, revealing the machines of the art market. Call it a challenge to the perception of what constitutes a "masterpiece" - such as would hang in a museum. Call it what you will. Just don't call it sincere.

To play the devil's (or divine) advocate for a moment, one might attribute this as evidence of some kind of afterlife or reincarnation, certainly proof of the existence of the soul. There have been documented cases of children purportedly recalling the lives and deaths of WWII fighter pilots, etc... Does this hinge upon whether or not you can rest upon abstract belief? If so, it seems to me that all art rests upon faith - in some form or another. And so, maybe the only important thing is the belief that such a child can exist. After all, children are the future, right? I would certainly like to have faith in their potential for brilliance.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Aspirational and Operational Drawing

I made this untitled drawing tonight (8" x 11") (July 13, 2006) and something in the process triggered memories from a trip I took. I began leafing through my old sketchbooks. Damn it, I have never labeled their spines. I was looking for the sketchbook that I had with me in the late 80's while on a 44 foot sail boat that was attempting to circumnavigate the globe. Three of us left the Puget Sound and two of us came home to our families. Those are tales that I can only tell face to face. Extremes. Tonight, however, I was looking for a drawing that I had done (or thought I had done) that was going to be the kernel of the drawing above. I found the first book from the trip. I was reminded of how hard it is to draw while sailing. . . wind flapping the paper to annoyance and Sisyphean motion testing one's half full/empty glass:
I drew the only things that I could see for awhile. Boat stuff. The sketches are filled with words in the margins. I was reading way too much. There was nothing else to do. Point the boat towards some stars, do some push ups, and then read some Kafka. That was not a healthy combo actually, but, I found these words next to a drawing of a life vest:
Obviously, these are not my words. They are from something that I read. It is a great quote though, isn't it? "Universality is not given, it is perpetually being made." (I couldn't remember who had said this, but I figured that if Harold could give a context to a lyric by the Beta Band, then maybe someone could tell me where I got this. . . . never mind. . . google tells me Sartre created a version of it). We had sailed for over a month without seeing any other humans. Landfall was sweet:
We stopped moving at Fatu Hiva. The trees were like nothing I had ever seen:
The animals were ancient:
I started drawing the tiki figures that I would stumble across (I didn't have a camera on purpose):
(Later, I would turn these drawings into paintings, hence the spatters of paint). The natives seemed to walk past these votive offerings with the same disregard that Seattelites have for their fire hydrants.
Tonight, I wasn't finding the drawing that I thought I had done. I began to pull other sketchbooks from the shelf. In an interesting moment of loopty-loop connection I came across this drawing of a tiki painting I had done that was hanging in a house that I was living in (2 years after standing on Gauguin's grave): Tonight I really connected to this drawing. It is a rendition of a place that had a painting of a drawing of a place that I had been. Plus the Rainer "R" is so pretty. Here is the original tiki drawing:
Tonight I remembered how important sketchbooks are. They represent plotting and doing. You have no idea what connections you might make in the future.

swamp, sampson, whatever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pareidolia: Screaming at the Void

this is another old chestnut from the archives..but it seems pertinent via the discussion regarding abstraction/form..etc.

Kicking around the galleries lately I've been seeing alot of faces. Paintings have been staring back at me..following me as I walk around the room. It's spooky. Aside from an eerie humaness, what seems to be operative in all of these pieces is a visual trope in which the parts and the whole of the picture are in a Phyrric contest for dominance that finds no resolution. This reminds me of the frisson between the philosophical concepts of Nominalism and Realism. The doctrine of Nominalism holds that abstract concepts, general terms, or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names. This would be contrasted to Philosophical Realism, which holds that when we use descriptive terms such as "green" or "tree," the Forms of those concepts really exist, independently of the world in an abstract realm. The paintings in question refuse to be accepted either as parts or as wholes(named objects.."faces"), but instead vibrate between the two-which curiosly recalls the nature of light, alternately described as a wave or particle..some physicists have even referred to it as a "wavicle". Remeber that Arcimboldo famously made faces out of vegetables, and Dali made skulls out of nudes..both image systems operate on the same principle. Getting back to my point, what's exciting about nominalism and it's relationship to pareidolia (the tendency to see faces in random stimuli), is the illustration of one of the perennial problems of philosophy. For example, I often wonder how "society" can phenomenologically be experienced, if it is nothing more than a loose collection of individuals with various beliefs, attitudes, and values. "America" is just an idea, held in various terms by all those who engage in this peculiarly amorphous concept. Conversely, in crude, literal terms one could point to the geographic border of this country for an answer, but this would be ignoring all of those "Non-Americans" that reside within it's borders and contribute to the operation of the concept of "America". It's a problem in perception that's not going away any time soon, but mostly it illustrates that people see really what they wan't to see...what is convenient to them, and what doesn't contradict with the beliefs that they have curently found truth in.

So you can see the face or you can see it's parts..or hopefully you can see them all at once. By doing so you recognize that no "thing" that one can point to and name in the world can really only be that thing. Nothing can be taken at "face" value (excuse the lame pun). It's better to acknowledge the trap door behind every belief or phenomena that leads to the pre-linguistic nuomena that ultimately is closer to the source of all that is. Buddhists call this shunyata..and we could clumsily translate this as "void"..although the connotation is negative only in verbal form. Looking into random patterns we see faces staring back at us because we are human. This is why the Christian God is an old man with a white beard, and also why teleologists believe that this is all going somehwere. As an artists and thinker, my message becomes more and more point out that although nature is not a mirror..we are nature..and the universe is us. When you look into the void..the void stares back, and this reminds me of what my friend Steve Canaday usually says about Voids: it's best to confront them head on by raising a knife, screaming at the top of your lungs...and running straight at them.

  • Cauda Draconis

  • Pareidolia (pronounced /pɛɹaɪˈdoliə/ or /pæraɪˈdəʊliə/), first used in 1994 by Steven Goldstein, describes a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- – amiss, faulty, wrong – and eidolon – image, the diminutive of eidos – appearance, form.

    As a survival technique, Human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility, but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. Skeptics assert that sightings of religious or iconic figures in everyday objects, such as Marian apparitions, are examples of pareidolia, as are some cases of electronic voice phenomena. The Face on Mars is a phenomenon that succeeded the Martian canals, both eventually attributed to pareidolia, when the "seen" images disappeared in better and more numerous images. Many Canadians thought they saw the face of the Devil in the Queen's hair on a dollar bill in the 1954 series, adapted from a photograph. The bills were not withdrawn from circulation, but the image was altered in its next printing.
  • Fortean Times examples of pareidolia in nature
  • Dichotomous Analysis: A Formal Necessity in Painting

    I think there's an interesting play between abstraction and form/space that makes these dynamic. In my view, there is a correlation between abstraction and iconicism (graphic images imprint more strongly on the mind), whereas space seems to imply time.

    Yet, the format of painting is inherently iconic because it lacks the element of time and change. Perhaps this is why some of the most powerful painted images are iconic as they reinforce the nature of the medium. However, I can see how a narrative can be especially dynamic in contrast with the iconic nature of the medium if it holds a strong enough implication of time. But I think that the most intriguing images have a dynamic tension between the icon and the narrative - in painting, film, and photography.

    Three visual elements lead me to define an image as iconographic or narrative in painting:

    The graphic or tonal composition (contrast)

    Time - as implied by singularity (iconic/layered meaning), or repetition and variation of form (temporal/chronologically revealed meaning)

    Language of the paint (abstraction <-> form/space)

    Perhaps this last correlation is a bit unclear. So, my thought process is as such:
    The flatness of the abstract image defines the painting as a static object within the viewer's space.
    The illusion of form and space implies that the viewer is within the space of the image, or the image is an extension of space. Since the viewer experiences time, the image implies a stillness (which is a reference to time). The abstract image in itself does not relate to stillness or change/time.

    What is interesting to me is when an artist mixes these different elements to imply a seeming contradiction between both iconicism and temporality, which all the artists above do. It is the tension between this and other formal dichotomies that interests my eye:

    Light/Shadow, Chromatic color/Neutral color, Warm/Cool, Iconic/Narrative, Texture/Smoothness, Open form/Closed form, Organic form/Geometric form....

    Tuesday, October 9, 2007

    The Teaching Philosophy of Steven LaRose

    Sunday, October 07, 2007

    Teaching is a performance art.
    Teaching is a craft.
    Leading by example, I hope to develop a sense of wonder and inquiry.
    We live within the shadow of a potentially black and white endgame.
    I believe that we must cultivate a Culture of Grey.
    A Culture of the Shadow would perpetuate the infinite appreciation for variables and relativity.
    I would like to teach Creating Order from Chaos (and vice versa)
    I would like to teach The Fundamentals of Context
    I want to teach a class called: Set and Setting
    Don’t be afraid of accidents
    Look at the dog before you look at the fleas
    Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes
    There is such a thing as vicarious learning
    It is ok to change your mind, heck, it is essential!
    Sometimes, you simply have to just “do” and figure it out later, while other times it is wise to step back and figure out what the #%$@ is going on.
    To be good at Anything we must learn to plan our improvisations.
    I want to teach the fine nuances of Doubt.
    I want to teach the feeling of throwing caution into the wind.
    I want to teach the moment when a mistake becomes a brainstorm.
    I want to maintain a sense of wonder and expectation
    Practice and discipline are essential in making things appear naturally.

    Steven LaRose

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Painting Demo by Steven Assael

    Watching Steven Assael work is absolutely incredible. He will literally do an oil sketch like this in less than an hour. Here's a demo from one of his classes at the New York Academy of Art.

    If you have any questions on his technique, feel free to ask.

    Sunday, October 7, 2007

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Derivative Origins

    So, where's the line between the derivative and the original? Does "appropriation" make something derivative any more than working "in the style of" someone?

    Ultimately, everything derives from something else right? So, does one require only two elements to create something new?

    As a visual study into this phenomena, I have been creating these compositions by manipulating the works of other artists and recombining them (in photoshop, I'm still working on the paintings) . This particular piece was Rothko's Black on Maroon. I changed the proportions, color, and added a self portrait of mine.

    The others, below, include Gerhardt Richter, Rothko, Rembrandt, Nerdrum, Jenny Saville, Van Dyke, and some of my paintings as sources.

    Does it make them less interesting and engaging if you know the sources, or more so?

    On an Aesthetic level I kind of like this one. It's somehow simultaneously both familiar and not.

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    A First Tentative Step

    So, I'm putting my toe in the water. I've been having a lot of ideas along these lines and I've been thinking about some topics I brought up on The Mnemosyne Journal. What do you think?

    Friday, September 21, 2007

    Open Critique

    This is untitled so far. What do you think it should be called?

    Here, I was going for a kind of timeless investigation of the Baroque portrait - an image that might exist anywhere between the 17th to the 21st centuries. I'd love to know what you think. I'm open for critique if you like.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    A Tale of Two Cities

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was everything that they want you to think it was and nothing more.

    I have before me two stories. One might even think that they are two entirely different events in entirely different places. But they are both one and the same occurrence, yet with oddly divergent conclusions. They both take place in a small town in Louisiana called Jena.

    I'll begin with the story that was told on Fox News, which basically portrays the incident as such (greatly abbreviated, look to the link for the full story):

    A black student sits under the "white kid's" shade tree in the high school courtyard. In an obvious reference to strange fruit the white students respond by hanging three nooses in the tree. It was decided by the school that it was merely a prank, and so they received in-school suspension.
    Six black students beat a white student. He was beaten unconscious but was not permanently injured. The black students were charged with second degree assault and the white students were charged with nothing. Thousands of people have gone to Jena to protest the trial of one of the students, including Martin Luther King III, and Al Sharpton. They call this the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

    "It is not and never has been about race," he said. "It is about finding justice for an innocent victim and holding people accountable for their actions."
    -District Attorney Reed Walters
    If you're like me, (and I'm going to be painfully honest here), you're going to come to certain conclusions based on the information above. Here's my bias. This is going to sound ridiculous - but I'm not racist. Though, I am a white guy raised in white culture. I feel uncomfortable in black culture. I often think that those who populate the stereotypical black or "rap" culture are loud, obnoxious, say and do stupid things, expect special treatment because of their race, and are overly aggressive. This of course makes me defensive and much more likely to jump to certain conclusions. This also gives me a tendency to be less patient and be overly aggressive and judgmental towards them. But, of course, I could say the same thing about quite a few rednecks I knew in the south, as well as some of the kids I've seen here in Brooklyn (of various races). But I think that admitting my prejudices (which we all have in some capacity) helps me to work through them. See, I try not to let my actions be influenced by my prejudices because I see them for what they are.

    However, given my biases which I have painfully pointed out to you, I am extremely accepting compared to many people I know including family members that I dearly love. Someone not very different from myself might think that the white boys got off too easily, but they at least didn't brutally beat anyone. Someone not very different from myself might conclude from the story on Fox that this is just another mole hill made into a mountain by a culture that just can't let go of what someone else's great-grandparents (not mine) did to their great-grandparents, which doesn't effect us much anymore. Someone like me would say: Get an education, get a job, don't attack people - this will solve your problems. (Yes, berate me, I'm insensitive!)

    But there's more! On July 30th, the story was aired on NPR which I like to listen to while I paint. Like any other day that I'm working in my studio, I was listening. I suggest you read the entire story in the link above.

    Of course what I heard outraged me, but what outraged me even more was realizing the extent to which Fox News omitted extremely crucial information. Even a purely white-bread like me realizes injustice when I see it. Here's the kicker:

    "With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear."
    - District Attorney Reed Walters
    This, he said while allegedly looking at the black students who were in a peaceful, silent sit-in under the shade tree. (I have skipped some parts in the interest of brevity, but please do read the original article on NPR)

    The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten. The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

    After some scuffling, Bailey and his friends took the gun away and brought it home. Bailey was eventually charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who pulled the weapon was not charged at all.

    The following Monday, Dec.4, a white student named Justin Barker was loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night. When Barker walked into the courtyard, he was attacked by a group of black students. The first punch knocked Barker out and he was kicked several times in the head. But the injuries turned out to be superficial. Barker was examined by doctors and released; he went out to a social function later that evening.

    Six black students were arrested and charged with aggravated assault. But District Attorney Reed Walters increased the charges to attempted second-degree murder. That provoked a storm of black outrage.

    I don't know about you, but if someone pulls a gun on me and I take it away, I don't think I could show such reserve and just walk away. I would probably beat him senseless. Pulling a gun is an overtly life threatening gesture. In such a case, one is protected by the law, in that you may kill in self defense. I'm not saying I would kill the guy, but he certainly wouldn't forget what happened and I would feel entirely just in my actions.

    In short, there are two Jenas here: one in which a minor racist action lead to an over-reaction, and one in which a great disregard for justice spreads like a cancer all the way to the top officials of the town.

    I typically reserve this forum for art related events. But this is something that I simply cannot overlook. Further, I do not wish to overshadow the injustice of this event, but we need to get to the root of why this is an issue in the first place. People are influenced greatly by the media, and if the media condones such actions, so will many people.

    I encountered almost the same exact story on all the network news stations. I have known that the media has been misleading, mis-characterizing, and acting as political propagandists for years. But the degree to which this has been allowed to go is absurd! For Democracy to function, the people must be informed - if not in an unbiased way, then at least with all the basic information. This is not just an issue about racial injustice (which is terrible and obviously the case), this is about the media lying to us about the food we eat (growth hormones, GMO's, trans-fats, pesticides, antibiotics), the medicines we buy, and the wars that our leaders wage. This is about them robbing us of our families, our money, our lives through obfuscation- and clearly because the media is owned by the same corporations that stuff the pockets of government officials. I for one will no longer stand for it. If there ever was a time for a revolution of truth, the time is now!

    The Truth Shall Set You Free.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    Oil Painting Techniques: Glazing

    So, here I'll give you way too much information on glazing (or indirect painting). But you can pick out what you need and forget the rest. It'll be right here if you ever change your mind.

    Here's the first rule (yes, in art rules are for breaking, but you have to understand the rule before you can break it most effectively)

    Fat Over Lean

    All mediums are fat, all opaque pigments without medium are lean. You want to paint opaquely first, with little or no medium. In subsequent layers you can move to using more medium because the oil will soak through to the first layer. Also, you don't want the under layer to dry slower than top layer as this will result in buckling and cracking.

    The basic elements of glazing are pigment and medium. We'll start with the medium first.
    Mediums can be as individual as your brush strokes, so there's no "true" formula. However, there are a few rules of thumb that you want to keep in mind.

    • Never use Damar Varnish in your medium. If your painting is ever restored, they will remove the final varnish, and in doing so all of the varnish in your piece will break down. Meaning each layer will separate and your painting will disintegrate.
    • Too much solvent in your medium will cause your pigment to break down, destroying your color and texture. One should never use more than 50% solvent.
    • Certain oils tend to yellow more over time, so you definitely don't want to use vegetable oil. Stick with refined oils: linseed, poppy seed, walnut, spike oil.
    Here are a few formulas:
    (I recommend Gamsol instead of turp as it is safer and has no odor)

    Easy Formula: 1/2 Refined Linseed oil, 1/2 Turpentine (vary quantities according to viscosity that you want) This is pretty quick drying and good for sketching and painting fast. However, it's not great for layers of delicate color - too much solvent. 2/3 oil, 1/3 solvent is much better for that purpose.

    Vincent Desiderio's formula: 1/3 Venetian Turpentine, 1/3 Sun-thickened Linseed Oil, 1/3 turpentine

    Adrian Gottlieb (which he says was taught to him by "Scott" at Charles Cecil's Studio): 1/2 Sun-thickened walnut oil, 1/4 Canadian Balsam, 1/4 Turpentine

    There are three basic types of glazes:

    1. Traditional glaze: a transparent pigment diluted with medium, color will become warmer.
    2. Velatura: a glaze with a color which is lighter in value than the under layer and is semi-transparent. More simply put: it has white in it. This will cool off the color

    3. Scumbling: an opaque kind of glazing produced by loosely dry brushing one color over another so that the under color shows through. There is no set rule here for temperature change as this depends upon the pigments, but generally if the value of the pigment is lighter than the under layer it have a cooling effect, darker will have a warming effect. This is great for optical blending, where you do not actually blend colors to produce a third color, but they look blended from a distance.

    Transparent Glaze Palette

    It's important when glazing to know the transparency or opacity of the pigment, as this will affect your color temperature and how you work with it. Different pigments have different abilities. Due to the strength and intensity of these colors, painters only need to mix a small amount of color with a suitable painting medium to produce a rich and vibrant glaze.

    Indian Yellow — warm yellow makes painting look lit by sunlight

    Transparent Orange — warm orange

    Perylene Red — cool red with yellow undertone

    Quinacridone Red — cool red replacement for Alizarin and makes high key tints

    Quinacridone Magenta — cooler high key red

    Quinacridone Violet — clean, warm violet

    Dioxazine Purple — cold purple that can be used for a black

    Manganese Blue Hue — cool (leans toward green) transparent blue

    Phthalo Blue — 20th century replacement for Prussian Blue (also slightly greenish)

    Phthalo Green — cold, dark green with great transparency and tinting strength

    Phthalo Emerald — warmer, more natural looking Phthalo Green

    In addition to Transparent Glaze Palette, these colors provide the abstact painter with a unique set of visual possibilities:

    Mono Orange — clean, bright semi-transparent color, masstone of Cadmium Orange

    Mars Black — dense, strong mark making black

    Black Spinel — only black with neutral masstone and tint, dries matte

    Hansa Yellow Deep — golden yellow, semi-transparent

    The beauty of oil paint as apposed to acrylic is it's flexibility. There are five basic paint consistencies that you can use that will dramatically change your results. The more medium you add to your pigment, the more transparent it will become.

    Impasto - thick textured paint application (Lucien Freud)
    opaque - flat, even paint
    semi-opaque - slightly transparent

    These relate to the visual effect you want to produce.
    Most of the old masters stayed in the semi-transparent, semi-opaque range with areas of Impasto and limited glazes.
    Alex Katz paints completely opaque - which reinforces the flatness of his paintings.

    *For an old master technique, here's a good rule of thumb: Shadows lean towards transparency, light mass is more opaque. This helps to reinforce the way light functions.

    Here's a great exercise that Stephen LaRose recommended:

    The most successful lesson that I had in glazing went this way:

    I handed out, as homework, swatches that the students had to match. I didn't tell them that the swatches had an order.

    There was a uniform color swatch, much like a paint chip (here the students simply honed their mixing skills)

    There was a swatch that was the first color scumbled with medium to show the white of the canvas peaking through in an organic and random way. This was a technique lesson.

    There was a third swatch that had a warm glaze over a version of the second swatch.

    Then a fourth swatch with a cool glaze over the third swatch.

    Four levels of optical confusion is all that most rookies can handle.
    And another great exercise from me:

    Cover your entire canvas with a wash of any transparent pigment, Castle Earth, Transparent Red Oxide, Indian Yellow (I prefer more neutral colors, but chromatics like Pthalo Blue or Dioxazine Red work too). Paint into the "sauce" with only white to model the values. This is also great for beginners because it helps them to see how their alla prima technique relates to glazing and how a wet glaze will change their color.

    Or a similar technique also from me:

    Make a charcoal drawing. Dilute yellow shellac with denatured alcohol. Spread this mixture over the drawing with a large squeegie and let dry (should take around 30 min.) You can then cover this with a glaze and paint with oils into the glaze on top of the drawing (which is completely preserved) - this produces a very interesting effect.

    Light Temperature and Form

    You can find each of these above.

    Highlight: cooler than light mass
    Light Mass: warm
    Turning: cooler
    Shadow: Warmer than turning, but cooler than light mass
    Core Shadow: cooler
    Reflected Light: Always warmer than core shadow, but depends upon the color reflected.

    *note - the color and temperature of the flesh is greatly dependent upon the color of the background. Also chromatic intensity in the background influences chromatic intensity in the flesh.

    Vincent Desiderio likes to use a single unifying glaze over his whole painting. He feels that this helps to set a mood or atmosphere. Many artists use glazes for local color. Some leave them as is, and some modify them by painting back in wet into wet.

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

    Oil Painting Techniques: The Grisailles

    It's helpful with students who are new to painting to isolate different elements so they can learn the technique and not focus on juggling. The strengths of this are great for learning, the artist can isolate drawing and value problems first, let it dry, and then tackle color.

    So, with this in mind I would like to share with you the grisailles wipe out technique (image on the left). What you see of the light is the ground showing through. I reserved the use of white for highlights. Instead of black and Trans red oxide listed below, I used only Chromatic Black (Gamblin).

    Under-painting methods: The Grisailles


    Oil paints: Burnt Sienna or Transparent Red Oxide, Cold Black or Ivory Black, White (I use Gamblin flake white replacement, but Permalba white is a good one too).

    Medium: Refined linseed oil, solvent (I use Gamsol because it is the least harmful to your lungs).

    Brushes: A 1” house painting brush for blending or a large fan brush, One filbert about as thick as your thumb, One smaller filbert, and the smallest should be a round maybe a # 4.

    (The important thing is that your brushes are not too soft or too hard. Bristles tend to be inflexible, and sable brushes are too soft so that you can’t control them. I prefer mongoose hair, which is in between leaning toward bristle, but these can be expensive. One can find a nice synthetic that should do. To test them, press the tip down and to the side with your finger, the hairs should spring back into position when released.)

    Surface: Panel or canvas, around 24”x36” is a good size. Make sure it is prepared with a dry ground (will be explained later).

    Easel: This is a must, because you cannot observe accurately if you have to keep looking down at a table. You can find small table-top easels for fairly cheap. The important thing is that your surface is vertical.

    Palette: Just a hard surface to mix paint on, preferably white or grey (these colors give you the ability to clearly see your paint color and value without distraction. One can make a great one with plexi-glass on top of half inch foam core cut the same size and duct taped around the edges. This is easy to clean up and can be wiped down with solvent.

    Containers: You will need something to hold your solvent (old olive jars with lids work great) and smaller containers for your medium.

    You will also need some paper towels, a kind that is somewhat soft. I prefer the blue rolls you find in automotive stores because they don't release fibers.

    The Ground:

    Mix a grayish neutral with your burnt sienna, black and white. (I prefer to lean more towards blue, like faded blue-jeans) It should be a little lighter than a middle gray-see grisailles above. Cover your surface with an opaque layer.

    If you use oils for the ground, make sure you give them ample time to dry (36 hours should do it) before you paint on it. Acrylics are great for grounds because they dry within a few hours.


    Set up the subject with a strong light source. This makes it easier to see the value relationships and can be quite beautiful as well. It’s good to paint at night, so you don’t have a lot of light from windows coming in. If you work during the day, try to block out light with black curtains or something.

    Make sure you have room to set up your easel a few feet away.

    If you are right handed you should set up with your still life to the left, and your easel on your right at an arm’s length, and the opposite if you’re left handed.

    It is very important that your easel and surface are nearly vertical and set up in this way, because it gives you the ability to quickly glance back and forth (with your eyes) from your objects to your painting without moving your head. When you move your head your perspective of the objects changes! And you will have distortion in your painting.

    The Method:

    Mix 50% trans red oxide and 50% black on your palette.

    Mix 50% linseed oil and 50% solvent in your small container.

    Add some of these two mixtures together in equal portions, this was called “the sauce” in the French academies (save some of your oil paint without medium for later).

    Cover your entire surface with a thin, semi-transparent layer of “the sauce” and lightly blend with a rag until it’s fairly uniform.

    Looking at your subject, make a light sketch of your composition in simple contour lines using the oil paint mixture with no medium. You should be able to get long smooth brush strokes painting into the medium on the surface. If not, then you need more solvent in your mixture. You can compensate by adding a little medium and drawing with that. Remember;

    Rules for drawing:

    Work from light to dark. Always draw out the entire composition lightly first. If you make a heavy mark, it is harder to change than if you make a light mark. You can always go back and redefine and darken lines later.

    Work from general to specific. Start with large ideas and large relationships first, the detail comes much later. Example: light area and shadow area. Squint your eyes.

    Work from large shapes to small shapes. Accuracy is first in how large shapes relate to other large shapes

    Work the total surface. You cannot move on until you know how each form relates to each other form in the entire composition.

    Once you have your basic relationships between large shapes set up and your drawing is where you want it, Wipe out your major light shapes with your paper towel or rag.

    Further build up the light mass with only your large filbert. (Use only the large brush in the beginning and for as long as you can, then your medium brush, then your small brush. Small brushes are for detail and detail comes last.)

    (If you’re not sure where the change is between light and shadow, hold your brush over the questioned area of the object. If the shadow that it casts is visible, that is light mass. Where it disappears is shadow.)

    You want your major light masses blocked in before you move on to other values. One way to get a good idea of the major light/shadow forms is to squint your eyes. This simplification is essential in starting the painting. As you develop your value remember the elements of

    Chiaroscuro, or light and shadow

    Highlight: the lightest light, or reflection on object.

    Light mass: the major area of light.

    Turning: where the light mass meets shadow.

    Shadow: general area of shadow

    Core of the shadow: the darkest portion of the shadow. It may be subtle and hard to see, but every shadow has one.

    Cast shadow: the shadow made by the object on another surface, such as the table it is on or another object beside it.

    Reflected light: light bounces off of another object that is light and may create a lighter area within your shadow. Some people like to leave this out (Caravaggio) but if you choose to have reflected light, remember that it is still shadow and cannot be as bright as your light mass, because it shouldn’t compete with your light.

    Edges: If you look at a piece of paper, the edge is always sharp and hard. But if you look at a round object, like a shoulder or face, the edge is soft and fuzzy. You want to exaggerate this in your painting to make it look as if it turns in space.

    Identify the elements of light/shadow… also notice which edges are hard, and which are soft.

    Cast shadows are never hard edged. They become even fuzzier as they move away from the object that makes them.

    Learn, experiment, and have fun!

    But come back tomorrow, I'll discuss glazing techniques.


    Vincent Desiderio, Sleep 8' x 24'

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Kitsch Questionnaire

    Following the train of thought from the last post, I'd like to expand on the discussion on Kitsch.

    Here's an interesting little yes/no questionnaire I came across in Odd Nerdrum's book On Kitsch.

    1. Do you prefer truth to talent and sensuality?
    2. Is the ironic mask better than the serious, trusting face?
    3. Do you have contempt for those who try to rob the old masters of their technique?
    4. Are the great archetypes, such as; two lovers by the sea, mother and child etc. outdated cliches?
    5. Do you long for a dialogue with the present rather than an eternal expression?
    6. Are you more preoccupied with exposing man rather than giving him dignity?
    7. Are you more attracted by living in an artistic process rather than creating a masterpiece?
    8. Do you like the decorative expression above the sentimental expression?
    9. Are progressive ideals more important than natural studies?
    10. Do you want your work to be accessible to only a select elite and not for all?
    11. Do you think that a classical-figurative painter has to live as an inferior <>?
    12. Do you work towards the development of rules of originality and not for your own ego?
    13. Is the term <> old fashion and inapplicable?
    14. Do you despise those who seek their own desires even in a work which is not understandable?
    15. Do you view the knowledge of craftsmanship as being a hindrance to free expression?
    16. Is debate in the public world more important than the intimate sphere?
    17. Are there motives you are afraid of portraying because you've seen them done so many times before?
    18. Are you more interested in belonging to a group which is fashionable, rather than being in contact with an isolated individual with ability?
    19. Do you maintain that humankind constantly improves itself and that their hearts are never the same?
    20. Have technical aids, such as the photograph, greater magic than the work of the hand?
    21. Do you think that the relationships between the hand and eye of a living person is a defunct expression, and that the future will only deal with visuality untouched by human hands?
    22. Do you believe that your life and your work are two different things?
    23. Is modernism [post-modernism] the final level in the development of our history?
    24. Are you disgusted when you hear that modern artists hate talent?

    Rate yourself:

    If you answered "no" in response to all of the above, then you are - according to the following art critics: Broch, Calinescu, Greenberg, Kulka, Kundera and Ortega y Gasset - a real kitsch person.

    If you answered "no" in response to question number 10, you are well on your way.

    If you answer "no" in response to five questions, or fewer, you are still an artist.

    Have you read the book? Nerdrum seems to address only Modernism - do you think he's specifically ignoring Post-Modernism, if so, why? Do you think it's just a [successful] publicity stunt, or do you think he brings up some good points? Is the redefinition of Kitsch important or relevant?

    Saturday, September 15, 2007

    Beautiful Lies

    Victory, Pax ---------- The Wounded

    As I am reading Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig, I came across a description of a Nazi propaganda film entitled Her Real Glory. What interested me was the way Molina (the character narrating the film in the book) describes the beauty of the film. Though Valentin (the communist revolutionary) finds it necessary to point out the lies within the film, Molina asserts that he appreciates it even so - regardless of whether he believes the message or not.

    This brought to my mind a fairly well known quote:

    "Art is a lie that [reveals] the truth." - Picasso

    And so I began thinking (once again) about the relationships between art, beauty, and truth. What some would call Kitsch, others may label sincere. Certainly, Nazi propaganda was rightly disavowed by Greenberg, though in attacking kitsch, he shot the messenger for the message. But is it truly necessary for something to be true to be art? Can one, in this age, appreciate a work of art for its own merits (as Molina does) and not consider the political implications even if one disagrees with them.

    "Beauty is truth, and truth beauty." - John Keats

    Or is it a matter of the specificity of truth? What I mean is - the Nazi film did not present the truth in terms of its main content, but perhaps it did convey some truth: a truth about human nature. Yes, it served to strengthen the virility of the propaganda, but it also created a greater value in the work beyond the implicit meaning.