Monday, January 31, 2011

On Kirsty Hall, another artist I discovered recently

While I'm still recovering from the flu and unable to get to my studio, hence unable to blog about anything new in my own work, I thought I'd bring to your attention another artist I've discovered since Christmas.

Her name is Kirsty Hall. She lives in Bristol, England, and I found my way to her excellent blog when I was doing some of my periodical research around the interwebs for interesting art blogs, websites, and so forth. Her work mixes conceptual ideas with a deep absorption in materials. There's something playful about it, too, which, judging by the tone of her blog, evidently stems from the artist's personality.

In a piece called 3 score and 10 (shown above), for example, she made this work by tying knots in 70 pieces of string, each string containing 365 knots (for each day of one year, obviously), to make a total of 25,568 knots - the exact number of days including leap years that someone would live during their Biblically allotted lifespan of 70 years.

In 2011, Kirsty has started a project called 365 Jars. Each day she takes a walk and releases a jar containing a tiny piece of her art into the wild. Glued to the lid are instructions about what to do when you find the jar. One assume that many jars will be lost, but if people follow her invitation to log their find on the project website, the project soon becomes communal and collaborative, and may lead to interesting connections between the artist and the finders.

If you visit her sites and like what you see, drop her a line either by email or on Twitter. She's extremely tied in to social media and very approachable.

And say that I sent you.
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

On an etching by Australian artist Fred Williams



I may have the flu, but I still got web-talky-thing number 54 together. Have you see Fred Williams' work? Australian artist, did paintings and prints based on the antipodean landscape. Beautiful stuff, particularly the prints.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

FLU ATTACK!!!!!


And that's why there are gaps in my blogging at the moment, which not even being on the road last year for a total of about three months could accomplish.

I haven't had flu in at least eight years - heavy colds, maybe, but not the influenza - and I tell you: it's as if there's this virus in your body, making you ache, sweat, sneeze, cough, and no matter how you try and fight it, it knocks you down and sends you back to bed.

I'm really annoyed that no-one's yet invented some sort of stop-gap measure to ward it off, like, I don't know, a vaccine or something.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

On two artists I discovered through Twitter

I've had a Twitter account for nearly a year, but I haven't been using it the way God intended. When I set up the account, I added some code to this blog so that every time I published a blog post, it would automatically generate a Tweet about it. Starting this year, I decided to venture a little further into the Twitter-verse, limiting myself to looking at it in a specific 15 minute period each day. Among other interesting things, it led me to discover the work of two artists whom I might not otherwise have come across.

The first is Kesha Bruce, a mixed-media artist who I think now lives in France. Here's one of her artist's books:
HOUSES TELL STORIES 2008. Edition of 10. 3.5 x 3.5 x 2 ins. Commissioned by the
New York Foundation for the Arts.
If you live in Chicago, her work is currently on show at the North Central College Library Gallery in Naperville.

The second artist is a British chap called Paul Normansell. He creates figurative and portrait paintings out of thousands of circles of brightly-coloured gloss paint:
Elvis Costello, Gloss paint on acetate.
It's well worth your time to spend a few minutes over at their websites.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 14 1/2: The drying room

With the start of the new semester at Columbia College, I won't be able to spend so much time in the studio. so this is an interim post, while I wait for things to dry. Here are some canvases laid out to dry in the second room of my studio:

Here is a smaller picture, the image being the result of applying a small pool of fluid acrylic squashed with wax paper:

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 14: NOW see what you've gone and done

After holding back from putting larger, darker shapes on one of these recent paintings, I finally went ahead and tried it anyway:

If you tilt your screen a little, you'll still be able to see the texture, coal circles, and dots. I got those dark shapes by pouring out small pools of Payne's grey, adding a few drops of sepia and white, then placing some wax paper over them and spreading them out until they got bigger and the paints mixed together. Most of the mixing, and those swirl patterns, occurred when I carefully lifted the wax paper off the canvas. The effect depends on chance, as you don't exactly know where the colours are going to go until you lift the wax paper off. But I was doing this a lot in a different series about ten years ago, so I already had those memories to draw on. This also demonstrates that nothing you do is ever entirely forgotten. You may try something and not see an immediate use for it, you might feel that it's not quite right for a specific picture. But the idea gets filed away and is always somewhere at hand, ready to be pulled out again and re-evaluated under new circumstances.

The wax paper itself acquired an interesting pattern of paint. I photographed it below with a spotlight behind it:

Now this opens up more exciting possibilities--for example, collaging onto a panel or canvas, or gluing to plexiglass and lighting it from behind. And it chimes in with something one of my teachers at art college said: that when you reach the end of one piece of work you should be alive to the possibilities it suggest for the next piece.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 13: Watch me work

I've been talking about the process of doing these paintings and showing the results. I thought I'd set up the camera on the self timer to show me adding the dots to a canvas:
The top picture gives a very good sense of how sunlight bounces off my shaven head. The bottom picture, on the other hand, shows the bottle-applicator that I'm using to draw circles and dots with.

With the tondo, I drew a series of coal circles with acrylic medium (left):
Then I covered that with another thin wash of white and iridescent paint (right).

Finally, I did some squashy-squashy on an 18" x 24" panel:
On the left is the panel, on which I drew some shapes using the bottle-applicator. On the right is the sheet of blotting paper that I pressed onto the panel. When it dries, I think I'll layer it with some gel medium, then repeat this process a few times and see what sort of surface emerges.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Meditation/web-talk on 'Limehouse Basin' (1990) by Jock McFadyen



Number 53 in this weekly series is on a painting by a Scottish painter whose work I first saw in the early 1990s. It's no exaggeration to say that McFadyen was among a group of artists whose work finally pushed me into applying to go to art college.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 12: Pouring and drying

The tondo with a pour of thin white paint, and splashes of iridescent white:

And an 18" x 24" panel, layered with molding paste, stained with a mixture of white and sepia, then a drawing with Payne's grey paint into a pour of clear tar gel:

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On my favourite brush


This is my favourite brush. It may not be the best brush that I have, but I have had it for ten years, and no matter how often I've used it, or what I've drowned it in, it's always cleaned up and been usable. I bought it in London in 2000, so it's come with me across the Atlantic to the USA. It's been with me in three studios. I've used it for watercolours, acrylics, even oil paints. I've whisked it around in jars of pigment to mix up paints. I may even have used it for printmaking, so it's had all kinds of chemicals and inks on it. But every time that I used it, I washed it with warm water and a little detergent, then left it overnight in cold water, and every time the bristles sprang back into their original shape, like a cartoon animal that's flattened by an anvil and then - SPROING! - it's as good as new.

I have a set of beautiful Chinese brushes, but they are very delicate, they need a lot of care, and they can only be used for one thing. I have a few 12 inch round point brushes that can make broad, gestural marks with thick paint. I have small angled brushes, long-handled brushes with fine points, house-painter's brushes from 3 to 6 inches wide. Most of them lose their shape after a few months. Many of them end up being discarded (sorry, environment!). But this ten year old brush just keeps on going.

There's very little in my life that I have from ten years ago. Just a few books, several hundred CDs, and some canvases still in their packing material that came with me from London to Chicago in 2002.

And this brush. If I were a general, and this brush were a soldier I would have to promote it to a higher rank, or at the very least give it an important award.

Arise, Sir Brush! Truly you have given excellent service! May your bristles never wilt, but continue standing stiff and straight (if a little discoloured) for another decade.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 11: I paint more dots

So the picture that I posted yesterday, the one with all the dark dots making the shape of a piece of machinery? I didn't like how they looked today - too dark - so I went over all of them again to make them white. I'll probably add hundreds more dots before it's over:

I stuck with the white dots for the next canvas:

I've also been making my own pieces of coal from air-drying clay. When you paint them and then put acrylic gloss polymer over them, they look - well, maybe more like rabbit droppings than coal. But I thought I'd try fixing one of them to the surface of a small canvas that I'd done some loose painting on, just to see what it would look like:

I don't know what it all means, but I quite like that idea.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 10: A tondo

Remember what a tondo is? It's a picture on a circular surface, popular in the Renaissance. I bought the canvas last year, and finally found a use for it:
After covering it with gesso, modelling paste, and a watercolour-like wash of fluid acrylics, it looks a little like the Earth seen from space. But the next stage will be to cover it with a wash of iridescent paint, which will tone down the blue and sepia tones.

I finished the dot-pattern drawing on the large canvas. This one is getting close to finished:

For good measure, I did some more small (2" x 2") canvases, squashing two of them together at a time to get the effect of lumps of coal:

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 9: Back to the larger canvases

I went back to some of the larger canvases on day 9 in the studio. With one of them I finally felt I'd come to the point where I could start drawing a shape against all the texture of the background:

I used the broken dot pattern to maintain balance with all the rest that's going on in the picture. I have a feeling that this one will be finished in a few days.

With the other one, I had a bit of a disaster when the bottle I was using to paint from broke and spilled all over the surface. So I just spread the paint out over the whole canvas and decided to use it as another layer:

All the dots and textures are so thick that they're still visible through the new wash of paint anyway. So not so much a disaster -- more of a happy accident.

I used my good camera today, but it's still difficult to take a set of photos of the same painting with a consistent tone. In other words, the colours in these photos are a good approximation, but I will need to take them outdoors to get a better representation of the actual colours. And currently it's in the low twenties Fahrenheit outside, so ...
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 8: Printmaking & small paintings

On day 8 in the studio, I printed 3 more sheets/12 more pages of the 100 page accordion book that I'm doing for one of my other projects (click here to see one of those). I then turned to some small, 2" x 2" canvases, on which I painted a layer of iridescent paint, and then poured a small pool of sepia fluid acrylic:

As they used to say on Blue Peter (UK telly reference), 'Here's one I made earlier.' (Or was that 'Vision On'?).

I separated these into groups and poured different kinds of gels over them. Here are the ones with gel medium on them:

They're not really blue: that's just the temporary effect of the gel sitting on top of the sepia. The gel will be completely transparent when it dries.

Then I took some 6" x 6" panels and added a layer of drawing, using the needle applicators:


If you click on those two images and embiggen them, you might be able to see that there are several layers of drawing, each separated by a layer of clear gel.

Process is important - working with material, moving stuff around, making things messy - but it's just as important to recognise the moment when it's time to turn back to the drawing. All painting is drawing. All drawing is painting.

Tomorrow, it's back to the big canvases.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

On why Matisse is a better painter than Picasso



Nearly a year after talking about Matisse in one of the first of these talks, I return in number 52 to the subject of why I like Matisse more than Picasso as a painter, now that I am older and wiser.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

On Ai Weiwei's latest run-in with the Chinese government

I paid homage to Ai Weiwei, the Chinese installation artist and all-round provocateur, in one of my web-talks a few months ago. Despite being one of the most celebrated and successful of contemporary Chinese artists, possibly more outside his home country than within it, he's constantly getting into trouble with the Chinese authorities. It seems that he refuses to play the assigned role of an artist in modern China: a few gestures towards revolution in art, while staying quite safely within well-trodden paths of Western art, but otherwise keeping away from making real trouble in the political sphere. Well, the government evidently grew tired of him, and they sent in the bulldozers in the last few days to completely demolish his large studio buildings in Shanghai.

Here is an interview he gave to the Tate Channel about a year ago, in which he talked about the time he spent in New York City as a young man.



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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Progress report on the solar powered luminaries

I was snowed in yesterday in Chicago and didn't get to the studio, so I spent the day working on some proposals for public art projects. In the meantime, the luminaries from last year's Carroll County Historical Society project have been moved to different indoor locations within the county, both to protect them from the harsh Illinois winters, and so that they can be seen by more people:


The one on the left is at the Kraft building in Mount Carroll. Formerly a clothing store, the building was struck by lightning and gutted in the subsequent fire about six years ago. It has since been rehabbed by the local Community Development Corporation and will soon reopen as the town's Visitors' Center. The photo on the right shows a luminary at the public library in Lanark, Illinois. The other two have also gone to county libraries, and I will post photos of those when I can.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 7: Working on large and small paintings

Each of these posts from the studio will start with a number that indicates how many days I've spent actually working in my studio in 2011. On day 7, I worked on a large canvas to which I'd previously added several pours of iridescent colour (the second image is a close-up detail):
The gloss medium really stands out in relief through all the pours and colour washes.

I did the same patterning with gloss medium on the other large scale canvas. It seems to be getting the look of a painting by Australian aboriginal artist Colleen Nungari:

Then there was a small wood panel, about 5" x 5", which I had smothered with a layer of clear of tar gel. This resulted in a an extremely glossy surface:

None of these are finished yet. The first one still feels like it needs more washes of colour to take down but not eliminate the blue. The small one will get another couple of layers of drawing and clear tar gel. The one that is closest to being done is the second one to which I'm adding the dots. Maybe I'll have something finished by the end of January.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

On the awfulness of talent shows

Susan Boyle. This blog post isn't really about her.

Is it really true, as Jonathan Jones writes in The Guardian, that there is currently a dearth of artists with new ideas who enable us to look at the world with fresh eyes? His main complaint seems to be that people think talent alone defines what makes a good artist, and then this becomes debased in the idea of discovering artists through talent shows. He’s talking mainly about pop music shows such as American Idol and The X Factor, but there is an art world equivalent (ArtStar on Bravo), and I agree with him that such shows are ultimately very depressing because of the limited way that they define what makes a successful artist (hint: it’s about appearing sufficiently glamorous to the voting public). But really, these shows have nothing to do with the state of culture as a whole. Dig around enough in history and you’ll find a Jeremiah in every age who wails about the decadence of his contemporaries. There is a lot of good art being made by a lot of good artists, most of whom will not be selected for ArtStar or for the Whitney Biennial. They are making the culture of their times, even if the art critics of the broadsheet newspapers aren’t writing about them.


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