Friday, December 31, 2010

Praeterita 2010: the year in review

Collage of work by all 17 interview subjects
I started this blog a year ago after I read Alyson Stanfield's book "I'd Rather Be In The Studio: The Artist's No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion." One of the things Ms. Stanfield recommends is that artists use a blog as self-promotion tool. I quickly decided that it would be just as interesting to talk to other artists and people involved in the arts, to try to find out what makes them tick. I ended up posting 17 interviews over the last 11 months, for which I've gathered together all the links:

Deborah Doering: conceptual art, gallery director.

Carrie Ohm: ceramics, performance.

Lisa Purdy: painter.

Judith Sutcliffe: artist, writer, director of Shake Rag Alley art center.

Julia Katz: painter.

Diane Huff: monoprints.

Allison Svoboda: collaged ink drawings.

John Hubbard: painter.

Janet Chenoweth & Roger Halligan: painter; sculptor.

Tom Robinson: Chicago art legend.

Kay Hartmann: graphic novel.

Chuck Gniech: painter.

Suzy Takacs: independent bookstore owner.

Rebecca Moy: painter.

Philip Hartigan: mixed media (this fulfils Ms. Stanfield's suggestion that I use a blog for self-promotion).

Ann Mazzanovich: jewelry maker.

I also set myself the goal of recording and uploading one web-talk each week about an individual artist or work of art. Sadly, I fell short of that goal -- I only managed 50 of them in the end. They are all available in one place on Vimeo, a high-def alternative to YouTube which also provides this smart widget to browse through all 50 at once:

The last time I checked, people were beginning to read this blog all over the world, and especially in the USA, the UK, Spain, Holland, France, Germany, Latvia (yes, indeed), Australia, and Indonesia. In the middle of the year, thanks to people who subscribed to it via Facebook, this blog was in the top 50 of Facebook's Networked Blogs. While it's since been overtaken by other art-related blogs, you can help change that by using one of the buttons on the right to subscribe. If you're reading this for the first time, and you like any of the links posted above, please join the current followers of Praeterita by subscribing via Facebook's Networked Blogs, or the feed service of your choice (all you need to do is click on one of the 'Subscribe' buttons to the right).

In addition to continuing with the interviews, the web-talks, and the opinions, I'll be trying out a few different things in 2011. Happy New Year and Feliz Año Nuevo a todo el mundo.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last meditation of 2010: On Cecily Brown's 'The Fugitive Kind'

Whew, did it! I wrote, recorded, and put together in Windows Movie Maker 50 of these short talks on artists or single works of art. For the year, that amounts to more than 100 minutes of video, and 15,000 words of writing.

The final one of 2010 is on Cecily Brown, an English painter who is also the daughter of the grand old critic David Sylvester (whose main claim to fame is that he played Boswell to Francis Bacon's Johnson).

Coming in 2011: the audio/printed book version of these meditations on art.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In the studio

Here are some shots of a painting I've been working on since May, and which I've been adding to recently:

I'm using acrylic gels, pouring mediums, and modelling paste to build up the textures. Then I lay the canvas flat and pour fluid acrylics and reflective paints freely over the surface, which then settle down and dry in the surface:

Instead of a brush, I use needle applicators (plastic paint bottles with a nozzle at the top) to draw these circular patterns all over the surface (they're based on piles of coal). Then I'm repeating the process several times over:

I've been trying all year to introduce figures, buildings, shapes that would more directly imply narrative, but so far I keep getting lost in this basic mucking around with texture, and one basic idea - the 'coal mountain' shape. After painting over and painting out again and again, I'm now resigned to just letting it happen, to keep on with this process, and then I'll just see what emerges when the surface of the canvas waves the white flag and says: "Please, no more!"

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Monday, December 27, 2010

On looking through old sketchbooks: 31

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan, 2001
"Sketchbooks in general... seem to contain mainly studies for paintings. For me, the sketchbooks are more like a secret and wholly spontaneous jeu d'esprit and some of them I like as much as anything I have ever done. They are invariably without premeditation. I mean not only that I have no plan when I make them, I also have no plan to make them."--Robert Motherwell.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tate interview with painter Terry Winters

Terry Winters is in that category of artists 'if you don't know of his work, then you should.' Here he is talking in his studio in a short interview for the Tate Channel.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

On Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols

I heard this on Chicago's excellent classical music station, WFMT, the other day. It's Ralph (pronounced 'Rafe', if you weren't already familiar with the weird customs of the British upper classes) Vaughan Williams' 'Fantasia on Christmas Carols' -- a marvellous piece of music, somewhat appropriate for the day. If you listen to the entire work for long enough, it starts off sounding like something by Benjamin Britten, and ends up sounding like something by Leonard Bernstein.

When I searched for this on YouTube, the versions that kept appearing were filmed in Newcastle, England, which is actually where I was born.

Feliz Navidad a todo el mundo.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Meditation on 'Chalk' by Luc Tuymans

This is the 49th short web-talk, meditation, slideshow with commentary, call it what you will, of 2010. Luc Tuymans paints from magazine images, film stills, reproductions. So perhaps it's fitting that the painting I chose to talk about was one that I saw in a brochure before I saw the original on a wall. But if it was derived from a photo, what is the 'original' anyway?

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

On a new accordion book with embedded video player

Well, not that new, but as we're getting to the end of the year and blogging time is tight, I thought I'd post images of another artist's book that I made in the last year:

It's called 'My Earliest Memory of My Father.' It's 2" high and 5" wide when closed, with bookboards wrapped in teal fabric. When you open it up, you see two things: on the right, an MP3 player showing a short stop-motion animation on a continuous loop; on the left, an accordion fold print of images from the animation. The animation is called 'My Earliest Memory of My Father', and I made it in 2006 for an installation at Finestra in Chicago. Here is the stop-motion animation:

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview with jewelry maker Ann Mazzanovich

Necklace by Ann Mazzanovich
Ann Mazzanovich is someone who I've worked with on the travel articles that I do together with my wife, Patty. In addition to helping shepherd travel-journalists and photographers around US destinations managed by her employer, PR firm Geiger & Associates, it turns out that Ann has a few other equally interesting sides to her personality. One, she studied sculpture at art college. Two, she comes from a family with a very interesting past. And three, she is still involved in art as a maker of jewelry.

Philip: You studied sculpture at art school. How did you get from there to making jewelry?

Ann: I’ve had a fascination—or some might call it an obsession—with jewelry my entire life. I had worked with beads and wire since I was small, but in college I began selling my work to make a little extra money. After graduating with a BFA in Sculpture from Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, I found selling my sculpture to be a difficult and lengthy process, often ending in heartache. I would spend countless hours on pieces only to be haggled down on the price, or worse yet, receive a free critique and not sell them at all. I found my jewelry to have a much more universal appeal, and it offered me the instant gratification I craved. Instead of laboring weeks or months over a piece, it was more like creating “sculptural sketches” which were done fairly quickly, fawned over and sold!

Philip: What sort of jewellery do you make?

Ann: I work mostly with vintage glass beads, semi-precious gems and sterling wire. I love the crazy colors and shapes of vintage beads and the challenge of incorporating them into a necklace. I also make wire-wrapped rings, which connect me to my background in sculpture the most.
Necklace by Ann Mazzanovich
Philip: You also have a busy life as a PR person working for Geiger & Associates. How do you balance the time between working and making?

Ann: Honestly, it’s a bit of a necessity. I’ve always been a crafter, a cook, a creative person, and tend to get depressed if I stay away from it too long. Being on the road so much means I’m in the studio less these days, but when I’m home I usually manage to find some time in the evenings to turn off the TV, tune in to NPR and get lost in the beads for a while.

Philip: Someone told me that your great-grandfather was the painter Lawrence Mazzanovich, and that his wife had a connection with Nina Simone. Could you tell us something about them?

Ann: Yes, my great-grandfather, Lawrence Mazzanovich, was born in 1872, right around the time his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Croatia. He became one of the early American Impressionist painters and was quite well known in his day. 
Verdant Country Landscape, Lawrence Mazzanovich, c. 1915
I was named after his first wife, Ann, who we think had a lot to do with his early success (at least I’d like to think so!). However, in 1923 he left my great-grandmother and my grandfather, who was a child at the time, and moved to Tryon, NC where he eventually married Muriel (Harrington) Mazzanovich. In Tryon, Lawrence created some of his most admired works, and Muriel, known as “Miss Mazzy,” taught piano. Eunice Waymon, better known as Nina Simone, was one of her students.
Yes, THAT Nina Simone!
She began her formal music training with Muriel; I think she was only about 10, and several benefactors contributed to this early start of her career. My great-grandfather died before I was born, but in the 70s my parents would take us up to Tryon to visit Muriel, who still lived alone and taught piano until the day she died at age 102 in 1985. How I wish I had some of her genes as well!

Philip: Finally, how would someone go about obtaining some of your jewelry?

Ann: I mostly sell my work through two galleries: Humidity Gallery in Tallahassee, FL, and Newbill Collection by the Sea in Seaside, FL. You can also contact me about the work on my website,, and get information on upcoming shows there.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the horrible artistic taste of the filthy rich

I was in St. Augustine, Florida, last weekend, a beautiful little town on the north-eastern cost of the state. Its main claims to fame are the fortress and other buildings dating back to the mid-1500s -- quite unusual for the USA, obviously -- and the grand palaces built by several late nineteenth century robber barons such as Henry Flagler and Otto Lightner. The later buildings are impressive, actually. What turned my stomach was to see the things that Mr. Lightner put in the museum built to house his personal collection of loot. Lightner founded Hobbies magazine or some such, and the various bits of Victorian sculpture, crockery, and Pears Soap Advertisement oil paintings were clearly put together by that sort of character: the one who gets a certain reassurance by poring through catalogues of things, and feels that he has broadened his personality when he has noted down all the numbers of one particular type of train. In other words, most of the Lightner Museum's collection was hideous. It just proves the age-old truth: all the money in the world can't buy you good taste.

'The Favourite of the Harem', Leon Comerre: Herr Lightner found
works by this 19th c. French hack particularly alluring.
UPDATE: Some people have emailed me to say that this post reflected harshly on St. Augustine. Let me correct that impression by saying that even though I was only there for three days, it was one of the best places I've been to in the USA. And because of the travel writing that Patty does, I've been to 34 of the States in the last 7 years, so I'm comparing it to a LOT of cities. Patty and I were discussing what it is that attracted us to St. Augustine, and a large part of it is the Spanish history, and the contemporary Latino (perhaps Cubano-American) influence. Patty has lived and travelled extensively in Latin America, and I have a lot of connections with Spain, so whenever we find cities in the USA that are enriched by this, we identify very strongly with them. This is why the current anti-Latino bigotry exhibited by the Angry Old White Republican Voters in this country both infuriates and saddens us -- not just because we have lived in those cultures, but because the AOWRVs seem not to realise that this is what makes the fabric and texture of society in the USA so interesting.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Meditation on 'Aphrodite of Cnidus' by Praxiteles

For this week's web talk on art - number 48 of this year - I decided to go back more than two millenia to the Greek sculptor Praxiteles. I wonder which contemporary artists will still be admired in the year 4310 A.D.? If there are any humans left to make and appreciate art, that is.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

On 'Coal', a new artist's book

I don't think I've posted this before. It's an accordion-fold book, called 'Coal'. Linocuts and xerox-litho transfers of sketchbook drawings, based on the mountains of coal that lay around the mining village where I grew up.
Text printed on inside cover:

I grew up in a mining town in the north of England.
It was really a village, with 200 residents.
You could see the wheels of the mines’ winding houses from the streets between the terraced houses.
In the yards at the mine there were mountains of coal.
Coal seemed to be everywhere. Bits of it lay on the streets where it fell from the carts that delivered it to the houses.
We lit our fires with coal. We even bathed with soap made from coal.
In the Victorian era, it was called King Coal.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On a recently discovered interview with Francis Bacon

One of the many treasures to be found on the Tate Channel site is a recently re-discovered BBC interview with Francis Bacon, from 1965. He's showboating a little, but he's spellbinding too, as he goes through some of the things he said in his famous series of printed interviews with David Sylvester.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with artist Philip Hartigan

After publishing a series of interviews with other artists on this blog, here is the text of an interview that I gave to an educational website a few months ago. The link was just sent to me yesterday. The focus of the interview was on advice from a working artist to students and recent graduates from college.

Artist Interview

Philip Hartigan has worked as an artist for 16 years, including running his own studio, exhibiting his artwork, and studying art in Spain. He currently teaches a class at Columbia College of Chicago.
Artist Career Path
Philip had a flare for art throughout his life. “I always had some talent for drawing and painting, and felt that visual art satisfied me more than writing,” he says. This is what drove him to following an art career path.
Experiences of a Professional Artist
Starting in 1994, Philip spent six years working in the art studio and exhibiting his work, as well as doing freelance IT work for an additional income. After those six year, though, he’s been able to rely solely on art-related pursuits.
Philip earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and American Literature in Cambridge University in England, but veered toward art because he knew it was in his blood. He then went to the Winchester School of Art in the UK for a Master of Arts degree in fine art, which is a “small but highly-regarded program.” During this time, Philip worked in a studio in Barcelona Spain, where he worked on his craft.
“In addition to having studio visits from many well-known artists,” says Philip, “I was also able to study and work in a city that is itself a work of art. The main experience of doing the MA is that when people asked me ‘What do you do?’, I felt able to reply ‘I am an artist.’”
Artist Degree Programs
According to Philip, the level of education necessary for an art career has changed drastically over time.
“Until the last century, of course no one really needed to have academic training to become an artist. You learned by being apprenticed, or you had natural talent that you developed however you could,” he says.
But talent isn’t everything; an artist isn’t just born overnight.
“Everyone can learn something from being in an environment surrounded by their peers and people with more experience than you,” says Philip. “So I would say that you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t consider taking undergraduate or graduate courses in art.”
Artist Job Description
In the last few years, Philip has worked several jobs, including doing freelance editorial work for a magazine, teaching printmaking workshops during the summer, and teaching a class called Journal + Sketchbook at Columbia College Chicago. Besides that, Philip can be found in his art studio or updating his blogs.
Artist Daily Routine
“On studio days, I pick up any materials I need,” says Philip, “and I go to my studio in Wicker Park and work through until the late afternoon. I try to manage my time so that one day a week is spent on a specific project, and the other days I spend on continuing projects.” Philip also takes every opportunity to attend art openings in the Chicago area, and updates his blogs quite regularly.
Artist Career: Steps to Success
“Your skills are related to the kind of art that you make,” says Philip, “and they should be as highly developed as you can make them.” Philip suggests that an artist shouldn’t stop learning if he or she wants to be successful.
“Even if you’ve already been to college,” he says, “are there new techniques you can learn about? Are there change in your own field that you should know?” Philip also says that an artists needs to be determined, able to concentrate for long periods, able to overcome discouragement and setbacks, and to even be able to enjoy your own successes.
Artist Job Opportunities
Becoming a successful artist isn’t the pretty picture that most people paint; it takes more than talent and going to school.
“The career path that most people imagine for an artist is: have talent, go to art college, exhibit and get noticed by a commercial gallery, graduate college, and then become rich from sales of your art. Only a few will truly follow that path, and success of that sort is really only partly about the work and is more about having a combination of superb schmoozing skills and what advertisers used to call a ‘unique selling proposition,’” he says
According to Philip, a practical artist has to figure out what their ultimate goals are and how they want to obtain them. “Everybody has to define what they mean by success, and then plan realistic steps to achieve it. Sample definitions of success as an artist can include earning a specific dollar amount from sales or teaching, getting into a certain number of juried shows per year, or spending a set number of hours making work.”
Favorite Part About an Art Career
As any artist should, Philip loves to see his work come together. He says, “there is nothing like that feeling of working for a long time on a piece, to the point where you think that the idea is never going to work or the materials will never cooperate, and then suddenly you stand back and you are surprised to see that something has worked – a combination of colors or shapes, or one element balanced against another.” Philip also enjoys the people he gets to work with. “I mix with and meet extremely interesting and talented people,” he says.
An Artist’s Future Ambitions
“My dream job would actually be to run my own public-access printmaking workshop, equipped with the best tools and presses that money could buy,” says Philip. “Then I would also love to have the time to work on public art pieces and exhibit my own work.”
Advice for Art Students
As Philip has said, anyone interested in art should take classes before they try to enter the field. After that, Philip says, “My advice to art students is get a studio as quickly as possible after graduating, and then buy a book by Alyson Stanfield called ‘I’d Rather Be in The Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion.’ I’ve been professionally active for 16 years now, yet I found this book to be packed with all kinds of useful advice.”

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Monday, December 13, 2010

On looking through old sketchbooks: 29

Brooklyn, May 2001
"Drawing includes three and a half quarters of the content of painting. Drawing contains everything, except the hue."--Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

On new discoveries with drypoint printmaking

If you go to Dick Blick to buy a copper plate for etching, you'll find that in the shelves reserved for printmaking supplies, a 5" x 7" plate will set you back about $15. But I just discovered last week that if you go the craft supplies area, you can buy a thinner but perfectly usable 4" x 12" plate for half that amount. It's perfectly suitable for both etching and for drypoint. To test the plate, I drew a drypoint on it using the found images of Lucerne that I downloaded from the internet for my ongoing Lucerne project.

A drypoint is when you create the image by scratching lines into the metal plate, without using a resist layer or etching chemicals. You then ink, wipe and print the plate. I use a diamond point needle to create the lines, and to see how the drawing is 'developing', I would normally rub a little etching ink over the drawing with my thumb. But today, I decided to see whether I could scan the plate in order to see the lines better. This was the result of the scan:

I then reversed the scan to get a 'positive' image:

This is a surprisingly good result. It's not exactly how it would look when inked and printed. The scanned lines are much sharper, compared to an actual drypoint, when the ink spreads a little out of the scratched lines to create the characteristic 'furred' look of the drypoint:
Drypoint by Whistler
But as a way to get a quick test of how the drawing is going, and to gauge where you would need to scratch harder to get blacker lines, this is (for me, anyway) an exciting new discovery.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Cornish artist Peter Lanyon

It's two years almost exactly since Patty and I spent a great four days in St. Ives, Cornwall, in the southwest of the UK. Here is one of the photos I took for the magazine article we were doing while we were there:

The Tate gallery built an outpost in St. Ives about twenty years ago, drawn there by St. Ives' long tradition as a colony for artists. One of those painters of a former generation who lived and worked near St. Ives was Peter Lanyon (1918-1964). The Tate St. Ives has recently mounted an exhibition of his work, and this short film from the Tate Channel is a nice introduction to one of the best British abstract artist:

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The giant luminaries in the snow

I drove the 136 miles to Mount Carroll the other day to check on the luminaries, and to discuss with the Historical Society the idea of moving them indoors during the winter to different locations around Carroll County. Here are a couple of low-res cellphone photos of the luminaries in the snow:

They are surviving the first blast of Illinois winter remarkably well. More than six inches of snow fell in the last week, and temperatures at night having been getting down near zero Fahrenheit. For you centigrade-thinking people, that is what we scientists refer to as 'fucking cold'. Yet, apart from a slight bowing to the lids, the wood of the frames looks fine, as do the plexiglass panels. But I don't want to push our luck by leaving them out all winter, so I'm going to arrange for them to spend a few months at a time in public buildings in the area.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On David Hockney's iphone & ipad drawings

There was a nice piece on National Public Radio's 'Morning Edition' today about painter David Hockney's latest pictures (note to non-Americans: NPR is a bit like BBC Radio 4, and definitely the best news organization in the insane US media landscape). He's been using an iphone and ipad application to make bright, colourful sketches - really small paintings - which are being shown at the Yves St. Laurent Foundation in Paris. As I said in my web-talk about Hockers a few weeks ago, the style, the use of the latest gimmicky technology, and the choice of exhibition venue all add to his reputation as the Noel Coward of contemporary art. But the pictures themselves are good enough, they contain enough good draughtsmanship to be considered for what they modestly claim to be: the exploration of traditional skills in a a novel medium. Here is one of the pictures (this may disappear depending on copyright interpretations):
David Hockney: untitled, 10 July 2010, ipad painting
And here's one that looks more like a drawing:
David Hockney: untitled 16 April, 2010, ipad drawing

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On Barbara Koenen at Thomas Robertello Gallery

Silk Road War Rug, 2006
Barbara Koenen, Silk Road War Rug
Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago will be previewing some giant paintings/prints by Barbara Koenen starting this Friday, December 10th. Koenen is a very fine artist, who created these works by drawing the patterns with adhesive medium and then carefully sprinkling aromatic spices onto the shapes. The final works are an homage to the long tradition of rug-making in Afghanistan which has been severely curtailed since the western invasion in 2001. I can't attend the opening at this fine gallery, but if you can make it, it's at  939 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, on Friday December 10th from 5 pm until 8 pm.
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Monday, December 6, 2010

Paula Rego interviewed about printmaking

American readers may not be familiar with artist Paula Rego, born in Portugal but residing in England for many decades. In addition to paintings and large pastels, she is also a master printmaker, as this interview from the Tate Channel indicates.

And if you want to do two weeks of printmaking with me at the Interlochen College of the Creative Arts in 2011, registration is now open for the two classes that I will teach: Reduction Linocut, and The Artist's Book.
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On looking through old sketchbooks: 28

Three views of Havana Vieja rooftops, Cuba, 2001
"Beautiful colours can be bought in the shops on the Rialto, but good drawing can only be bought from the casket of the artist's talent with patient study and nights without sleep."---Tintoretto.

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