Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2012

1000th Blog Post!

After three years, thousands of words, dozens of interviews, 100 web videos, thousands of photos uploaded, it's finally here: this is the one thousandth post on this blog. In my first post, at the end of December 2009, I quoted John Ruskin, from whose great autobiography I borrowed the title for my blog: 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 silence things that I have no pleasure in reviewing." I think by and large that I've followed through on that. My reason for starting this blog at all was for the purposes of self-marketing, to talk about my studio work and to lure potential buyers of my art (complete failure on that score, so far). But I quickly started using it not only to record my thoughts about my own work, but to seek out other artists and invite them to talk about their work and process, as a way of finding out about creati

Last 2012 Studio Session

My trip to the studio this Christmas Eve will be my last for 2012. I used the time to work on some panels that I have been adding to for a long time, some of them from the beginning of 2011. The ghostly 'coal circle' forms you can see are buried under many layers of slightly opaque white paint, acrylic gels, moulding paste, covered over and excavated lots of times. Today I painted those dark circles in a mixture of acrylic paint and airbrush pigment. When they were dry, I erased them slightly with wire wool: And then squeegeed over a fresh layer of matte medium mixed with a little white paint: When that layer is dry, I want to paint more circles and partially erase them with the wire wool, too. The idea is to create this effect of a small panel from the middle of last year, which I still like: And that's it for 2012. Last year I got to the studio 70 times, this year I feel it was slightly less, though I did finish a public art project away from Chic

How Can it Be Right When It Looks So Wrong?

A couple of posts ago, I wrote something about seeing Matisse's "Bathers with a Turtle" in the St Louis Art Museum, and how it's only now being acknowledged as one of the seminal works of early twentieth century art. Right in front of it is his sculpture "Decorative Figure", which was modelled around the same time, in 1908, and is as revolutionary for the language of sculpture as "Bathers" was for painting. It's another of those works that I have known about for decades, but only saw in books or online before. Being in front of it is an experience akin to seeing the Empire State Building or the pyramids for the first time: it both fulfills and exceeds your mental picture of it. It's an extraordinarily bold piece of work, almost breathtaking in the liberties Matisse took with the figure. Every proportion is 'wrong', with the head being too large for the body, the hands and feet only approximately and occasionally fashioned, the

Every artist needs a cat

I finally watched the documentary about Chinese artist/activist Ai WeiWei, Never Sorry . I thought it was terrific. I've liked his work for a long time, though not all of it. A lot of the 'confrontational' gestures, like raising the middle finger in front of monuments, are hardly outrageous in any part of the globe - unless there was a society that was isolated from the rest of the world for so long, and kept under the iron control of a totalitarian regime, that it simply had no contact with the social and artistic trends of, say, the USA, and so flipping the bird seems to be incredibly brave. Oh, wait ... But I think his installations, when they hit the mark, hit it big, like the Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern that I did a piece about . And in watching this film, you realise that his opposition to the Chinese government is sincere, and that he has genuinely put his reputation and even his physical person in danger by pursuing it. I expected to finish watching the

Six of the Best: Part 22

Part 22 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity  (previous interviews:  1 ,  2 ,  3 ,  4 ,  5 ,  6 ,  7 ,  8 ,  9 ,  10 ,  11 ,  12 ,   13 ,   14 ,  15 ,  16 ,  17 ,  18 ,  19 , 20 , 21 ). I am honoured this time to post an interview with +Juanli Carrión , a multimedia artist who was born in Spain and now resides in New York City. I was fortunate enough to encounter him when I entered a silent auction and won the right to commission a small print from him.  і Gracias, Juanli! Flyer (performance) Philip Hartigan : What medium do you chiefly use, and why? Juanli Carrion : My main medium is site-specific interventions, and then photography, video, installation, sculpture and drawing as a result of the mentioned interventions. My creative process works as a reaction to a situation or in some cases as an encounter between a pre-existing idea and the location of the right place at the right time. For these rea

From the Studio

It's probably a mistake to have posted so much work in progress here in the last two years, when my work is so much in flux at the moment, and what you see here might not even exist next year. But anyway, I'm doing a few things that I will keep on file, even if they don't develop into extended projects. Here are the latest 'swirling shapes over coal circles': I drew over the collaged coal shapes with a fine pen and India ink. I notice that as soon as I picked up a brush, I started creating these bounded forms, which take on a sculptural quality. Frankly, I think it was a way of not drawing so many circles and spraining my wrist. I did some pours on another picture, using thick pools of acrylic gels with micaceous pigment in them. The following pigment shows how the poured shapes sit up off the surface of the picture:

Matisse Now and Forever

During a quick visit to St Louis last weekend, I dashed into the Art Museum for a few hours before joining my wife for her reading late Sunday afternoon. The museum is not easy to get to on a Sunday, without a car, being in the middle of a park on the western side of the city. It was worth trekking across the fields from the metrolink station, though. It’s not just the high quality of the collection that amazed me, but the fact that there were three or four works that I was seeing for the first time, more than thirty years after becoming introduced to them from an art history teacher in my high school. One of them was the head of a peasant woman, by Van Gogh. My impressions: smaller than I imagined, only 14 inches by 10 inches, maybe; very dark earth tones, just like my teacher talked about; a feeling of painful honesty in the expression of the face, partly due to the labour, the slight lack of ease, in the way it was painted; the way that the left side of the face (to the righ

Recycling old prints

Last year, when I was making the 100 page accordion book of prints, I took a long signature of folded paper and did a few trial prints, to test that the colours were right and that I had mixed up the lithographic materials correctly. It was just a set of offcuts, really, that I put aside because they were not bad enough to throw away. Well, recently I tried to add some stuff to these pages. I first covered them in the coal-circle pattern, using thinned acrylic paint. Then I drew some abstract shapes on them in ink, using a fine point steel nib. The combination of these different things produced something not too bad: The brown and blue lines are the paper-litho transfer prints from last year. Everything else was added on top of them.

Do Exactly What I Say

Continuing with my following the recommendations I've given to students: This is what I added to those 5" x 4" circle drawings: That is, swirly drawing with airbrush pigment, thin lines with India ink, and a bit of poured/dried acrylic paint collage. Bish bosh, sorted. In other news, I added a coal circle pattern to something I started a few weeks ago:

Do As I Say

When I teach, one of the pieces of advice I often give to students, if I think they're developing a good idea, is: That's Great. Now do 20 of them. So I decided to follow my own advice. I took up about 20 offcuts of various bits of printmaking and watercolour paper, and drew the coal-circle shapes on them in thinned acrylic paint: Each one will end up as miniature (5" x 4") versions of the larger works on paper that I have been writing about in the last few months.

Good/Bad Public Art?

I saw this sculpture on Clark St., Chicago, just south of Diversey Avenue. It's just been placed there in the last few weeks, and all credit to the city again for continuing with its huge drive to install sculpture all over the place in the last few years. I don't know its title or who the artist is, but I assume it's made from steel. I sort of liked it, at first, until I began to see a sort of Halloween witch emerging from it, particularly that pointy-hat shape at the top. For some reason, I was disappointed as soon as I began to 'read' it as something representational, and something representational in a banal way. Is this fair or unfair of me?

Too Many Notes, Herr Mozart

The title of this post is from "Amadeus", and according to Maynard Solomon's superb biography of Mozart, the film at that point reflects at least a partially accurate view of how Mozart's music was considered towards the end of his life: "The later 1780s really were for him a period of consolidation, during which the splendors, challenges, and sometimes unbearable beauties of his work were being confronted and assimilated. This was not an easy process, even for sensitive or professional musicians, for whom Mozart's music was somehow profoundly disturbing in ways that could not be quite explained. 'Mozart is unquestionably a great original genius,' wrote Dittersdorf, 'and I know of no composer who possesses such an astonishing wealth of ideas. I only wish he were a little less prodigal of them. He gives his hearers no time to breathe; as soon as one beautiful idea is grasped, it is succeeded by another and a finer one, which drives the first

Writing and Printmaking

I've just spotted two things in my internet RSS feeds that are close to my heart. The first is an article from the excellent blog about printmaking, That's Inked Up. It's a long, informative, nicely illustrated piece about British engraver Clifford Webb. Here is one of his book illustrations: And the winners of the Arts Writers Grants for 2012 have just been announced. Here are the winners in the blog categories (with links, where available): Caryn Coleman, The Girl Who Knew Too Much . Farrah Karapetian, Housing Projects. Meg Onli, Black Visual Archive . Harbeer Sandhu, Critical Condition. By the way, it seems weird that two of the winners in the blog category have blogs that are difficult to find! But as an erstwhile art writer myself, it's good to see this format being recognised in this way. UPDATE: A reader pointed out to me that the AWG also awards grants to blog proposals , so that's why there might not be any links to some of them yet.

Same problem, different solutions

I have a strong memory of mountains of coal standing next to the pits in the area where I grew up.The problem: how to take the different shapes and marks derived from those memories, extend their abstract possibilities, and organize them in a flat space. One way: keep adding collaged layers and painted layers (using a nozzle and paint-tube) until the space fills up completely: A second way: drawing only, using airbrush pigment, fluid acrylic and brush, followed by the paint-nozzle: \ Another way: nozzle only: And yet another: take poured and dried shapes, and collage them on top of and around each other: I keep trying to cram all these ideas into one picture, but maybe the better thing to do would be to allow them each their own series.


I have a shelf of the Penguin paperback edition of Shakespeare's plays in the hallway of the apartment, and the one I picked out at random the other day was The Tempest. Leafing through the introduction, I read that the play has always been considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", because it puts aside the deep psychological complexity of his great tragedies in favour of almost mythic and allegorical ways of telling a story. Prospero is an exiled aristocrat who in his exile has mastered sorcery and magic. He is possessed of powers to summon the spirits of the air to do his bidding, to cause a great storm that wrecks a ship at the start of the play, yet also with enough power to prevent most of the people on board from drowning:                                                    Have comfort. The direful spectacle of the wrack, which touched The very virtue of compassion in thee, I havewith such provision in mine art So safely ordered, that there is no s

Imagism and Beyond

I saw a fascinating exhibition in Chicago that is ending this month, devoted to the work of the Chicago Imagists and their heirs. The Imagists were a group of artists living in Chicago who started to exhibit together as a group in the 1960s, at first under the auspices of a curator from the newly-built MCA. Their work was notable for its use of comic book imagery, and indeed some of the artists, like Jim Nutt, worked sometimes in the counter-culture comics scene. People think of the Pop Artists as appropriating imagery from popular culture, but as the notes to this exhibition pointed out, Warhol, Lichtenstein et al usually referred to commercial imagery. It was the Chicago Imagists who really went all in for the comic book look, a strand of art that has emerged in many forms since then (street or graffiti art, to name only one). This exhibition was divided over three venues: The De Paul Art Museum, the library at the School of the Art Institute, and the Book and Paper Center

The William S. Paley Collection, de Young Museum

I have seen many good exhibitions this year, but one of the best is at the de Young museum in San Francisco, which I visited on Sunday: " The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism ." Paley was one of the founders of CBS, and when he began collecting art in the 1930s or so, it was still possible to get great examples of works by the likes of Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse, for relatively little, because not many rich collectors wanted those works at the time. And it's not just that he got a few good pieces: it seems that almost everything he bought is a superb example of each individual artist. Just look at the pictures below: many of them are iconic pieces that are considered key to the work of the artist: Paley's discerning eye was evident in the small works that he collected, too, such as this painting by Vuillard, and this small drawing by Picasso: The quality of the work is, to us, self-evidently very high. But it took a

A Visit to the De Young Museum

I think that if I didn't live in Chicago, I would live in San Francisco (if I was richer, of course). Another reason to add to the long list of things that would entice me here is the De Young museum, the one in the Golden Gate park that had the redesign by Herzog and De Meuron a few years ago. This is my third visit to SF, but my first to this area. The museum is, quite frankly, outstanding. I love the building, I loved the current exhibitions (one of which I will be reviewing for Hyperallergic), and I loved the permanent collection. Instead of showing whole pictures, here are the details of some paintings that caught my attention. A Willem de Kooning from 1977. What I notice: the dragged paint (squeegee, maybe), the collaged paint (he liked to press newspapers against the surface and then drag), the brushwork with a 1 inch brush, and then that heavy impasto that has crackled over the decades as it dried. A collection of mark making, his entire process displayed in a few