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Another Life

  I took this photo ten years, in February 2011. There are so many things about it that are so different from now that I feel I'm looking at something from someone else's life: The location is the living room of an old farmhouse that my wife and I owned back then, in a very small town in northwestern Illinois not far from the Mississippi River. The old fireplace, the old wood pocket doors, are all original, but I repainted the walls and put up a faux tin ceiling. The watercolour over the fireplace is something I did back in London in the 1990s. The ceramic vase was from a ceramic artist who had a small workshop and store on the little high street in this town. Finally, I took the photo on a Samsung flip-phone, so it was probably 160 Kb, as opposed to the multi-megabyte photos we all take with our smartphones now. I imagine this is true for all of us: the older we get, we can look back at more than one time in our lives with the amazement of people discovering the ancient Egypti
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Photographing my Work

  Every artist knows that you need to have good, high quality photos of your work if you hope to attract any attention online. This applies to: Your website. Blog. Social media. Physical mail such as postcards. We all know this, yet it's hard to get good advice. I am no expert, so I'm merely passing along what I've learned from scouring the internet and talking to professional photographers. So, consider this post a quick source for where to find some useful information, via the following links: In the photo at the top of this post, you can see how I followed the advice. I bought two Neewer softboxes from Amazon ( ) which cost $90. They were well worth the price: very bright daylight-style bulbs, can go up to 7 feet high, and they have an opaque covering over the fr

Story of a Painting

  This video clip has audio of me giving a brief description of how this large painting evolved over time, and was finished quickly while glancing at a small oil sketch. What I couldn't say in 60 seconds: the painting began as a completely different image, possibly not even of a giant bird shape with hands reaching for it. The first version was painted in early 2019. Then I overpainted that one so much that the surface became too clogged with paint, so I ripped the canvas off the stretcher frame and stretched a new, blank piece of primed canvas. The next stage was a bird shape across the bottom of the canvas, and four arms+hands reaching for it. That version stayed more or less the same until a month ago. Why did I change it again? Because it looked too much like an outline drawing, something waiting to be filled in rather than looking as if it had been brought to a final stage with any authority. So, this is what I did: I took one of the small oil sketches I made at the start of 2

Thinking Back Ten Years

Luminaries outside Mount Carroll History Center, IL Despite my left-leaning politics, I generally try only to post art and art-related stuff on my blog or social media. After the events here in the USA yesterday (January 6th, 2021), that is proving a difficult thing to maintain. But here is something that might speak to both urges (please bear with me to the end). A public art project The photos in this post show a public art project that I did in collaboration with @patricia.a.mcnair.7 at the end of 2010. We spent time in a small town in northwest Illinois, named Mount Carroll, on a community memory project. The request: people of all changes supply an old family photo, together with a page of memories they associate with it. What was nice is that we gathered the memories of some of the youngest and the oldest people in the town, ending up with one memory for every decade of the twentieth century. Luminary with phototransfers Phototransfers I then printed the photos and one line of me

How a Painting Changes

This oil painting rom my current series, Crow and Hands, is four feet by three feet. The version you see here was how it looked until yesterday. Even that was the result of working and reworking the canvas until there were about three previous layers with slightly different versions of the image.  But it still didn't look right to me. Incomplete. Like a sketch rather than a finished painting (if a painting can ever be truly finished). So I decided, one more time, to rework the surface of the painting, keeping the paint as loose as possible, using a big brush and bold strokes, and aiming to finish quickly. I also took a small oil sketch as a reference point: It's a similar idea: a bird shape flying horizontally near the top of the canvas, and hands reaching p from below. The tonality is also warmer, due to touches of yellow ochre, which as a reddish tone, rather than the slightly colder Naples yellow. So I followed the movement of this sketch, working quickly, using big strokes,

Melissa Stern at Firecat Projects, Chicago

  DUTCH SHOES, 27 inches high. Clay, wood, objects, charcoal, graphite Melissa Stern is a New York-based artist and writer who is exhibiting work at Firecat Projects in Chicago, in a solo show titled Does She or Doesn't She? The art consists of paintings, drawings, ceramic sculptures and found object assemblages, in all of which we see a common feature: hair. Specifically, a female face or head or form with the hair styled in every imaginable fashion (and probably some beyond imagining). The theme is both playful and serious. Serious, because the idea underpinning the subject matter is the way in which a woman's hair has, since time immemorial, been one of the key ways in which female identity is determined. The title of the show derives from an old advert for hair products, and the unsubtle message that when a woman "fixes" her hair, her personality is completed, which comes with the opposite corollary that "unfixed" hair leads to a socially incomplete wom

A Decade of Praeterita

It's actually eleven years and one day since I published my first post on this blog: that doesn't sound as bookendish as "decade", which clearly I forgot to celebrate a year ago. This is the text of what I published on December 21st, 2009: Praeterita was the title of the great English writer John Ruskin's reflections on his life. In a sense we are always looking backwards at things that are now past as soon as we try to describe our experience. Ruskin's choice of the Latin word, with its archaic and somewhat grandiose feeling, was well-suited to his manner of thought and his writing. I have chosen to echo it not just from philosophical principle, but because my work involves reflections on personal narrative - mostly a childhood growing up in an English mining town in the 1960s and 1970s. Ruskin also said that he would write "frankly, garrulously, and at ease; speaking of what it gives me joy to remember at any length I like ... and passing in total silen