Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Visit to an artist's studio: Doug Frohman


Doug Frohman is an artist whose studio is upstairs from mine at the Cornelia Arts Building in Chicago. He makes abstract paintings on canvas and panel, usually at least 48" x 48" upwards in size, which are an absorbing combination of all the ways a painter can make a mark on a surface. He takes paint and he brushes it, lightly and roughly, thickly and thinly, he scrapes the paint off and relays it, he uses a knife and a rag. When he's covered the whole surface, he goes at it again, and again, putting down one small area next to or over another small area until the whole picture finally emerges from this accumulation of stuff. The overall tonality and visual effect of his paintings is like Sean Scully, the difference being that Scully's "blocks" are often larger.


After Doug spoke about his paintings for a while, he said something that might be a profound way of describing this process. Or it might not be. But it probably is.

He said:

"When the picture changes ... it changes."

Hmmm ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Visit to an Artist's Studio


Actually, this was a visit to a studio used by two artists: John Schettino and Sheri Wills, who are currently enjoying a month-long residency at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. John makes sculptures, Sheri makes film/photography based work. During August they collaborated on works which they showed in a temporary exhibit in a beautiful purpose-built studio building. The floor to ceiling windows offered stunning views of the expanse of wild prairie that stretches for many acres west of the residency buildings: trees, wildflowers, grass as high as your shoulders. The art inside the building seemed at first to be a response to this environment. John's sculpture was an assemblage of tree branches found outside, suspended from the ceiling by monofilament wire along with a framework of thin wood strips. Sheri's piece consisted of a darkened box containing a slide projection of images of trees, rivers, glades, the images being rear-projected onto a crumpled piece of tissue paper.




The photos were not taken in Illinois, however, but back on the east coast. Similarly, John's piece had only a tangential relationship to the very visible landscape around the building. During our conversation, they spoke about many ideas raised by their work. Nature and culture. Naturally growing wood versus machine made lumber. Free nature and tamed nature. Making a tear or rip in the viewing mechanism so that you appear to be looking out through a crack in the wall. Interior space versus exterior space. Finding an object and changing an object.


John elaborated these ideas via email:
During the residency, through continued reading and long hours of conversation, our notions of landscape expanded beyond the literal to include cultural landscapes. The vanished, forgotten and overwritten features – the invisible history – of our 19th Century western ecosystem retained it’s importance for us but as we contemplated what has disappeared in history in the cultural world – the loss, obliteration, and erasure – a deeper and more personal sense of urgency set in. The moral imperative of memory emerged, the need to gesture to a complex cultural landscape whose cumulative scope ranges from generosity to dehumanization. Our thinking came to hinge on not only the exterior ‘natural’ world but also the worlds within and between us as landscape and memory intertwined at the heart of our new work.
I remember when I did a residency in Vermont, way up in the hills near Burlington, how everyone eventually just couldn't help themselves: no matter how hard you tried to resist, no matter how abstract your work, you drew something relating to trees in the end. That's partly my way of saying that I responded positively to the combination of beauty and intellectual rigour in Sheri and John's work. There are more ways of reflecting the outer world than repeating the well-worn gestures of Impressionism, after all.

You can see more of their work here: John's site. Sheri's site.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Restoring my Printing Press



I've just finished restoring and assembling my large etching press -- a six week process involving lots of rust removal, scrubbing with steel wool, and repainting. I made a photo album with detailed captions documenting each stage of the restoration, which you can see by clicking here.

And here is a short YouTube video of me testing the press, making sure the motor still works after nearly seven years of lying in storage:


Thursday, August 14, 2014

At the Detroit Institute of Art, Part I

Two weeks ago, I made my first visit to the Detroit Institute of Art to see a collection that has to be described as 'fabled.' My first art history class was in my teens, and some of the very first pictures my teacher made me look at and consider are housed in the DIA, and here I was, many decades later, finally getting to see them for the first time. The collection is also great enough to catch the rapacious eyes of the city's bankruptcy manager, so perhaps this might be the last opportunity I get to see the collection in one place.

The first painting that caught my eye is this one:


Clearly the Renaissance (perspective, depth of planes, rounded modelling of figures, close attention to the detailed surfaces of things), probably from the Low Countries, good enough to be by Van Eyck or an earlier master. But the painter is virtually anonymous, known only by the name "Master of the Embroidered Foliage." So what is decoration, and is it more than just patterning on a flat surface designed to produce a pleasant sense of order?

The question becomes louder with Bronzino:


Painted about 1540, half a century or so later than that Netherlandish painting. It seems to be nothing but decoration, especially comparing the figures to the clothes. Figures: smooth like marble, airless, almost, unbreathing, so still that they could be statues, cold, withholding. Clothes: compelling, astonishingly rendered, so that when you look up close you can see the individual textures of braid painted with unerring and repeated perfection dozens of times over. Decoration as portrait, a portrait of wealth and power and privilege, a statue of a painting that suggest the permanence of temples.

Is Bronzino cold, unemotional? I respond positively to his work. As I was standing in front of it, I thought of contemporary painted Kehinde Wiley, and how heavily he draws on Bronzino for his effects. Sure enough, I found this painting by Wiley in one of the contemporary art galleries:


It's a big canvas, maybe eight feet square. Self-consciously baroque, from the heroic 'general-on-a-rearing-horse' pose to the superimposed floral pattern, and the gold-gilt frame. Highly skilled, but essentially flat and lacking in tension compared to the Bronzino. We approve of the idea -- appropriating the heroic styles of painting from the past to raise to consciousness a people under-represented in the western art canon -- but everything in the painting arrives very quickly at just that, an illustration of The Idea. I'm not trying to fault Wiley's project, merely trying to suggest the difference in effect between Bronzino-decoration and Post-Modern-Irony-decoration. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On the Need for Drawing

Yesterday evening, I took some Neocolor pastels and a sketchbook out onto the deck behind the apartment to draw for a while:


It dawned on me that I haven't sat down to draw for any length of time in more than a month, and that's too long for any artist of whatever stripe. Even if these drawings don't make it into any studio work, it's important to do it anyway, just to keep the hand and the eye working together. Here is the same drawing after working on it for a bit longer:


Clouds, light, and trees, in case you were wondering, using mainly lines rather than tone.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Visit to an Artist's Studio: Amy Crum


A few days ago, I visited the studio of artist Amy Crum, in her home near the Chicago River. We sat for over an hour next to a window with a view of treetops and plants, looking at her recent work spread out on the floor around us. She's recently returned to making art after a long break, and what she's been doing are collages with some ink and paint additions, all on letter-sized paper. The collage originates in vintage newspapers and magazines from Europe, which gives the overall tone of her pieces a subdued, cool, look. You can spot all kinds of individual objects and stylistic pattern in the source material (flowers, letters, clothes) but each piece is clearly about the abstract pattern of Amy's arrangement of these bits and pieces. They all occupy an elongated space in the middle of the paper, either vertically or horizontally, and the forms spiral out and back in on themselves repeatedly, no matter which side you see them from. It reminded me of looking at the patterns a skilled skater leaves in an ice rink after a performance.

Another impressive thing was that in less than six months, she's produced what art world people call a 'body of work' -- a group of pieces with a coherent set of themes and a commonality of execution. She's also produced them all in small spaces, at home, on table tops, proving that you can make good art anywhere.


You can get a closer look at her work here.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Restoring my big printing press

I am currently working on restoring my large Dickerson printing press to a working state. This mainly involves removing a heavy deposit of rust on the steel rollers, which built up as a result of the press lying in storage and not sufficiently protected from the elements. I've taken lots of advice and tried different cleaning agents and methods, including:

  • Going straight at the rust with steel wool.
  • Brushing on a combination of vinegar and lemon juice, then rubbing with steel wool.
  • Wrapping the rollers overnight in aloominum foil.
  • Coating the rollers in a strong rust removing agent.

None of these have really been satisfactory. The only thing that seems to have worked so far is to soak some rags in a mixture of distilled vinegar, mineral spirits, and baking soda, and wrapping the rollers in the rags for a few hours. I then use steel wool on the residue, which comes away pretty easily. You can see the difference in the following photos between the rusted and the cleaned parts:



The difference is particularly noticeable in the close-up.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Printing an edition

Yesterday in the studio I took one of the acrylic resist experiments and printed an edition from it. It's the 'Boxer and factory' image, on which I took an old copper plate, coated it with Lascaux hard resist, and did a mixture of carborundum/pastel ground collagraph, and drypoint:


I wanted to do an edition to see how well the material on the plate and the lines drawn into the resist would hold up to the pressure of a printing press. Below are six of the eight prints I took from it:


Two others were good prints, but the colour came out slightly different. My conclusion? I could probably get maybe ten uniform and good quality prints from the plate before the carborundum would start to be rubbed away. If I needed a big edition, I would probably have to look at sealing the surface of the plate more, but 6-10 prints is a good size for a small edition.

Now it's back to watching the World Cup...

Related Posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails