Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just Leave It

That's the problem: I can't.

Leave a picture alone, that is. I may have spoiled at least one of the small and large studies that I posted about before, but as I always say to students, you have to go as far as you can and risk spoiling something, so you know when to rein it in the next time.

For the top, smaller one, I used India ink and a fine nib to draw lots of spidery lines, before collaging some more poured acrylic shapes on top.

For the bottom, larger picture, I drew freely with red airbrush pigment from the bottle, then went back in with a brush and the pen-nib again. This is where I may have gone too far. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Meditation on a painting by Wangechi Mutu

Number 101 in a continuing series of short talks on individual works of art. This time it's about a painting by New York painter Wangechi Mutu.

Click here to see previous videos in the series.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The History of a Medium: Waste of Time?

Is it the case that an artist just creates in a vacuum, with no knowledge of the art that came before? Is it really true that it's better just to make your work, whether it be fiction, film, or painting, and not "spoil" or "taint" yourself by getting bogged down in the work of the past? Should you, when you go to college to study any of those arts, be prepared to consider the history of your chosen medium in an analytical way, or should you just learn how to hold a brush, focus a camera, and write a scene, and not bother with all that old stuff?

Still from Federico Fellini's "I Vitelloni," 1953

It's an argument that is pertinent to the Film and Video Department of Columbia College Chicago at the moment, which as part of its academic prioritization process is facing the elimination of its Cinema Studies from the curriculum. Department Chair Bruce Sheridan, who I mentioned in my last blog post about the superb film/live orchestra event last week, has just published a lengthy reply to a Tweet from eminent film critic Roger Ebert in which Sheridan defends the role that Cinema Studies plays in the Film and Video curriculum. You can read that article here. Much of the article is taken up by correcting an assumption that Ebert made about CS being a major at Columbia, when it isn't--though as Sheridan points out, this is a mistake that was actually made in the Blueprint Prioritization report.

The general point remains, though: what is the value of a historiological and epistemological approach to a medium? For any serious artist, I think that answer has to be: it is invaluable. Yes, an overly-academic approach can stifle creativity, but that is entirely in the hands of the individual teacher. The approach itself is sound: to discover what came before you, to find your own place in the continuum of artistic creation. If that sometimes makes us uncomfortable--if, for example, you discover that Fellini's camera movements are something that just blow your own thinking apart--then that, in my opinion, can only be a good thing.

Pablo Picasso, 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," 1907

When I was at art college, I was there as a returning student ("mature student," as they say in the UK). I remember starting to talk about Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" with one of my highly talented peers. And then I found out that she had never heard of this painting at all, never even seen it. When I pointed out that it was probably the foundational work of art of the entire twentieth century, she said: "I'm only concerned with my own stuff and what I'm doing now."

I ask you: is that a good thing?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Muhly, Nyman, Campion, Daldry at Columbia College

I went to a great event last night at Columbia College Chicago: excerpts from the films "The Piano" and "The Reader", plus three 5 minute student films, all accompanied by a live orchestra. It took place in the movie studio space (big, cavernous, but acoustically good, believe it or not) of Columbia's prize-winning new media arts building. There were three screens, the central one showing the movies, the other two showing the orchestra, via a live relay from two cameras positioned on either side of the auditorium. In front was the 25 piece orchestra -- FulcrumPoint, an ensemble dedicated to new music, and led by the charismatic Stephen Burns.

For "The Reader", they played Nico Muhly's music, which was surprisingly conservative for him, though the fact that it sounded like a tasteful movie soundtrack is not to detract from the experience of hearing it live. The student films had scores composed by Columbia students (who have since graduated and are making their way in Hollywood). As I was watching these shorts, and hearing the music played by real musicians, I thought to myself how great it must be for these student filmmakers to have access to such high-level facilities, and how thrilling it must be to see your work (writing, directing, lighting, sound, music, acting, etc) up there on a screen.

The highlight for me was the Michael Nyman score to "The Piano." My memories of the last time I saw the film are not great - I thought the story was somewhat leaden and pretentious - but the music is just incredibly good. It's full of references to Celtic folk music, which Nyman wove together with the repetitions of musical minimalism a la Philip Glass and John Adams, but always with a feeling for contrast between the musical parts, and the textures of the different parts of the orchestra. Then there's the piano theme, leading to the great melody at the end of the film. The orchestra and the pianist played it brilliantly, and paired together with wordless scenes from the film, there was an emotional power to the images that would simply not have been there if we had just been seeing the film in its "normal" setting, with the music balanced back into the soundtrack. That emotional effect reminded me of when I saw Von Stroheim's "Queen Kelly", a demented farrago of over-the-top twenties sexuality, but with a musical score that sounds like Tchaikovsky, and which pulls the film high up onto the level of an opera.

That special combination of images with live music was what Bruce Sheridan, the chair of the Film Department, talked about both before and after the concert. Another strong theme of the evening was "collaboration". Film is such a collaborative medium, possibly even more so than theatre, and in addition to that, the concert was a collaboration between FulcrumPoint, the Film Department, the Music Department, the Television Department, and the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department of Columbia College Chicago. Its a pity that this can only happen once a year, due to the obvious nature of costs, but I for one will be back if they do it again in twelve months' time.

And I can't resist by ending with this:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another Landmark for the Meditations

Here's what happened yesterday on the YouTube channel for the Meditations on Art series:

See in the top right hand corner, where it says "Video Views"? It just passed the 100,000 mark.

Again, compared to the cute cat videos to which I am addicted, it's a drop in the ocean. But in my particular bucket of YouTube water, it's significant. Thanks you to all and anyone who has watched and listened to these short talks.

See them here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Six of the Best, Part 16

Part 16 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity  (Part 1Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15). Today's artist is Hazel Ang, a Canadian-born illustrator who now lives and works in Germany.


Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Hazel Ang: From 9 am to 6 pm I mainly use the computer, as I make vector illustrations, technical drawings, product renderings, and infographics for my day job. For my own personal projects I use acrylics, colour pencils and ink, and oils on paper or wood. It basically depends on what the piece calls for.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Hazel Ang: I’m working on a self portrait, as well as a sketchbook series of visually narrative illustrations exploring my current fixation on the” Kitsune” myth. I also came across some really wonderful packing material, so something has to come of that as well. I am not sure what yet, but maybe I will surprise myself!


Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Hazel Ang: I am often tempted to move away from two-dimensional work. The temptation is killing me! It’s like there is someone whispering naughty things in my ear: “Sculpture…paper…paper sculpture." This is where the newly-acquired packing material might come into play.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Hazel Ang: A pleasant smelling room, clean air. Music by Chopin, and Brahms. Nature. 


Philip Hartigan: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Hazel Ang: A circus parade . Done old school, with caged tigers and lions, baton twirlers, and brass band. Oh gosh, maybe I should revisit this piece!

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Hazel Ang: Because I am an explorer by nature, and art is the perfect vehicle for that.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Some Non-Toxic Printmaking Results

I've been experimenting with non-toxic printmaking for a few years, and have even started teaching printmaking classes in the summer using these principles. What does "non-toxic" mean? It means that you try to replace all the chemicals used in the traditional printmaking processes -- many of which are now known to damage your health, as well as causing damage to the environment -- with agents that are safe to the user and can disperse harmlessly in the local water supply.

As I've converted my own processes, I've discovered that nothing is really completely non-toxic. There always seems to be a residual pollution, but compared to the acids and tars that were formerly used, the difference is huge. In terms of what the new materials can give you in terms of mark-making, I have also found that certain things are easier to replace than others. The Akua range of soy-based printmaking inks, for example: I found it a little difficult at first to judge the correct amount of ink to use for relief blocks and etching plates, but I soon got used to them. I still use oil-based inks for the paper-litho transfer technique, but I always use vegetable oil to clean up now, instead of the solvents and spirits I used in the past.

"Coal", paper-litho transfers, accordion binding

But for several years, I have tried to follow the non-toxic path to reproduce the etching techniques that are still my favourite form of printmaking -- such as hard ground etching, soft ground etching, and aquatint. The old grounds were produced with a lung-choking chemical mixture of tar-based resist, and rosin dust that is a known carcinogen. In an attempt to reduce the use of chemicals even further, I have been experimenting with ways of using carborundum and acrylic resist to make collagraphs that reproduce the appearance of an aquatint and hard-ground etching. I have had very little success, but last week I finally made a few prints that come close:

The lighter areas are in fact a dried layer of Lascaux acrylic resist, poured onto 5" x 7" aluminium plates (the thin, cheap variety that you can get from hardware stores for about $20 per 100). I then drew lines into the surface, which when I inked them up caught the ink like a hard-ground drawing. The thicker, darker areas are produced by pouring a mixture of resist and carborundum onto the plate. When that dries, the combination of grit particles and the tiny spaces in between each particle holds a lot of ink. You can vary the tones in those dark areas by adding more of the resist and making it more liquid.

For good measure, I added some chine colle when I printed these plates, though the contrast between the two kinds of paper wasn't strong enough to show. Another test that worked, though, was to clean one of the plates (using vegetable oil), then inking it up and printing it again, to see if it produced more than one print. I'm glad to say that it did. The ink, by the way, is Charbonell Etching Ink, Madder plus a little Black.

These were only test plates, but I had the imagery of coal, circles of coal, and mountains of coal in my mind that I have been playing with and returning to for the last few years, so I am of a mind to keep these and add them to the developing work.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Guest Post by Artist Susan Shulman

This is the second part of a dispatch from a visit to Europe by the three artists of the Seeking Kali Collective (Part 1 here). Today, artist Susan Shulman recounts what she saw in Paris -- including a visit to the apartment of the legendary Matthew Rose.

Musee Maillol, Paris

The week I spent in Paris was a non-stop cornucopia of art adventures. One of the highlights was to see the vast collection of Artemisia Gentileschi's painting at the Musée Maillol. I had admired her work for many years and was struck by the mystique surrounding her life, and the challenges she faced being a woman master painter in the 17th century. She was born July 8, 1593, and died approximately January 1654. She was apprenticed to and trained by of one of Rome's greatest painters, her father, Orazio Gentileschi. His style of painting was heavily influenced by Caravaggio and so was hers. Agostino Tassi, a colleague of her father, raped Artemisia at the age of 18 and these charges became public. During the trial, the courageous testimony by Artemisia and her father brought to the forefront the plight of violence against women. In many of her paintings she chose to portray woman as heroines, woman with power and beauty. Each "in-your-face" large narrative contained technical skill, boldness, and passion. Room after room of these majestic oils drew me into their settings with drama unfolding before me.

Danae, by Artemisia Gentileschi (photo: Nemo Stepanovitch)

Then I found myself standing before a spectacular smaller work entitled: Danaë, from 1612. Danae was the princess of Argos and mother to be of Perseus. Zeus impregnated her in the guise of a shower of gold, depicted by the coins in the painting. I was mesmerized by how this painting represented that arousing moment. I stared at the soft surface of delicate skin tones, shadowing,  bold coloring depicting the magic of the folds in the bedding and the maid's clothing. The representation of the gifts from the heavens in select places and the boldness of the pose of the nude, shown in complete ecstasy while trying to be composed, created many ambiguities.

From left: Susan Shulman, William Evertson, Ria Vanden Eynde, Matthew Rose

We spent an evening of fine food, wine and art-talk with American artist and writer Matthew Rose at his Paris residence. His art encompasses collage, printmaking and sculpture. Our art collective of Seeking Kali would never have occurred if not for the exhibition “A Book About Death”, which was curated and conceived by Matthew. “A Book About Death” took place at the Emily Harvey Gallery in New York City on September 10, 2009. The project paid homage to the late artist Ray Johnson's mail art project of the same name. 486 artists participated in the exhibit by providing editions of 500 postcards on the theme of death.  The cards were displayed in hundreds of boxes lining the floors of the Foundations gallery space on Broadway. Visitors were allowed to compile their own unbound Book About Death to take home with them. LACMA, MoMA NY, MoMA Wales and Mube, each have complete sets, as do many galleries around the world. After the first exhibit was over, new ABAD exhibits moved to international venues. The show has continued to be shown at various galleries and museums, all exhibiting the original installation and others by adding additional artists.

Ria, William and I were part of this original show that transformed our lives forever, and we continue to participate in all the new ones. Matthew’s show was paramount in the sense that many long-time mail artists met for the first time and bonded from this event. William and I had individually both met Matthew at the New York show, but at the time did not know each other even though we were in the same room, at the same time. The magic was brewing before we were aware. I had noticed Ria Vanden Eynde’s cards and thought what an amazing artist, never imagining I would one day meet this Belgian artist and begin an experiment in long distance collaborative art with her and William.

So, here we were in Paris. This was only the second time meeting with Matthew in close to three years and only the second time that Ria, William and I were actually in the same city. The first time was in New York City, September 2011, an anniversary to the ABAD shows. In this eclectic apartment in Paris, we were surrounded by Matthew’s outstanding collections of collage and assemblage works. The art was displayed wall-to-wall in every room. I felt we were part of an installation. Matthew’s narratives were flying off the walls, staring at us from every angle. We leafed through his books of collage works in his inner sanctum. The nostalgic and surreal imagery was intriguing and exciting, inviting stories to unfold off each folio. Matthew showed us some rare personal correspondence from Ray Johnson. For a few hours we were immersed in the world of Matthew Rose.  He is currently showing at jaggedart in London.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Guest Post by artist William Evertson

William Evertson is one of the three artists who make up the Seeking Kali collective, featured previously on this blog. Recently, the three artists met up in Belgium and France, and they kindly agreed to write up their visit for me. In Part 1, William Evertson describes what he saw in Leuven and Brussels. Tomowwo, in part 2, Susan Shulman writes about the Parisian part of the trip.

From left: Susan Shulman, William Evertson, Ria Vnden Eynde.

The Seeking Kali artist collective consists of me, Ria Vanden Eynde, and Susan Shulman. We live in three different countries and collaborate via social media and web tools. We rarely see each other in person, but we recently returned from Europe from our second ever get together, during which we combined some art business with cramming as many art exhibitions and museums into two weeks as possible.

One of the first exhibits to catch our eye was Belgian artist Christoph Fink’s “Atlas of Movements” at the M – Museum Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. We met up with Christoph as he was documenting his installation on its final day. Fink draws upon an obsessive attention to the details of travel experiences as the inspiration for his work. In fact much of the exhibit consists of elaborately annotated notebooks detailing the facts of each trip the artist makes, either on foot, by bicycle, car, train or plane. In addition, Fink makes a variety of physical representations of his travels, sometimes consisting of elaborate translations in wire combining landscape features with the artist’s actual path.  The wire pieces, while having a wonderful calligraphic freedom, also function as a reference to his notebooks by means of tiny numbered tags affixed to the construction. 

"The Montreal Walks," Christophe Fink

Also on exhibit were his latest ceramic disc pieces. These white porcelain discus-shaped objects are printed with symbols, lines and numbers. By cross-referencing the numbers with the notebooks we learn that he is interested in detailing very subjective details from everything he experiences, such as clouds, smells, feelings. 

Christoph’s installation is part of various exhibits themed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator’s birth. Like Mercator, he seeks to build sculptural atlases combining and detailing the increasing complexity of our description and knowledge of the physical world with his subjective experience of it.

Cy Twombly’s photographic works at BOZAR in Brussels was a reminder why he has always been an intriguing yet an elusive artist. These works, which derive from Polaroid photos, are manipulated on a color copier then presented as dryprints sized about twice that of the standard Polaroid. Twombly selected slightly more than 100 of these works prior to his death this past July. 

Brushes, by Cy Twombly

Although the artist worked with Polaroids his entire career, they were not publicly exhibited until the 1990s and have remained an obscure part of his oeuvre until now. The often fuzzy and abstract feel of the images derive both the close up nature of the subject matter and the artist’s decision to eschew the autofocus feature. The subject matter varies: still-life images of flowers and brushes, snap shots of his studio and museums interiors, details from his paintings to views of ancient temples and atmospheric landscapes. The gestural nature that defines much of Twombly’s better know works seems absent here as the artist works through small series of two or three shots of the same subject that focus attention on composition. Later in our trip while visiting the Musée d'Orsay and found several of Claude Monet’s versions of the façade of the Rouen Cathedral side by side I began to realize how much of Twombly’s seeming compositional abandon in his paintings was indeed informed by the years of framing and composing of the photographic works.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Finishing a piece

I made a final decision on that acrylic painting with dried acrylic shapes. The final arrangement was different, though. First, I spent time moving the shapes around on the painting until the right pattern just presented itself. The blue circle was a placeholder for the shapes, while I temporarily removed each one to apply the PVA glue:

After applying the PVA glue, I carefully placed the dried acrylic shapes back on the picture, put some wax paper over them, and pressed firmly. The following picture shows me gluing one of the larger shapes:

Et voila: the final painting (24" x 30"):

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Six of the Best, Part 15

Part 15 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity  (Part 1Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12, Part 13, Part 14) . Today's artist is Lisa Beck, who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Double Burst, 2012, enamel on mirror mounted on painted masonite, each panel 12x12 inches, 12x 24 overall

Double-Double, 2010, acrylic on mirror 96 x 144 inches

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Lisa Beck: That's a seemingly simple question, but I'm not sure how to answer the "chiefly" part, because I make many different kinds of things with many different kinds of materials. Seeing as I consider myself a painter, I guess the simple answer is paint (oil, acrylic, enamel, ink, gouache). I paint on wood panels, canvases, mylar, walls, and lately, glass mirror. I also make sculptures/ installations, using glass-like acrylic balls, galvanized steel cable, hardware, panels, paintings, stainless steel spheres.

I like to use materials with strong enough personalities so that they can guide me as much as I guide them.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Lisa Beck: Lately, mostly painting on mirror, broken mirrors that I put back together after painting each piece. I received the great gift of a 4 ft x 8 ft piece of mirror that broke, so I'm having fun with that. I recently exhibited a 20-year old piece that consists of small painted panels that are joined together with steel cable, connecting the panels hanging on the walls, with others that hang in a sort of tassel from the ceiling. It has inspired me to revive this series and make some more works in this vein.

To Here Knows When, 1992, oil, mylar, acrylic on panels, steel cable, hardware, dimensions variable 

Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Lisa Beck: Working with mirror, it's wonderful how diluted paint pools and dries on it in crazy ways. I often need to leave it overnight to dry before I can see what it's really going to look like.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Lisa Beck: Music, gardening, stargazing, cooking. 

(foreground)These I , 2011, stainless steel globes, steel posts, approx 85 x 48 x 28 inches
(background)These V, 2011  stainless steel globes, steel posts, approx 67 x 36 x 24 inches

Philip Hartigan: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Lisa Beck: A parrot drawn on construction paper with crayon, cut out and mounted on cardboard so I could perch it on my shoulder. As I recall, a lot of tape was involved.

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Lisa Beck: Because it's the best way I can address and honor the amazing accident of existing.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Artist-Writer-Artist: Mira Schor

Artist Mira Schor has been working with text and image for several decades now, and Hyperallergic has a good interview with her to coincide with her latest show:

Six Questions for Mira Schor About Text and Image:

Mira Schor's "The Self, The Work, The World" (2012) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

"Painter, author and critic Mira Schor’s current show at Marvelli Gallery delves into the world of language. The works on linen and paper chart a world where the individual appears in a form of stasis, holding a book or laptop, looking at things — windows, paintings, screens — and generating rectangles (and the occasional oval) which seem to speak, label, think and even dream ..."

Saturday, May 12, 2012


When I have to give my quick description of my work to someone new, I say: " I make art based on personal narrative, mainly of being the son of a soldier in an English mining town."

Sometimes that work is directly narrative, but sometimes the images take me in a more abstract direction. Today I went back to some works on paper that I did at the end of last year, and tried matching them with some poured acrylic shapes that I also made at the same time:

Of the three, I think I like the first arrangement best. But I'll wait until I return to the studio, after sleeping on it, before I glue the dried acrylic shape down on the paper.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Six of the Best, Part 14

Part 14 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity  (Part 1Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12, Part 13) . Today's artist is Dan Schreck, who lives in Chicago.

"Snail Mail Security Fifteen", 20" x 30"

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Dan Schreck
Collage has been a mainstay for the past 2-3 years. I enjoy the limitations of the medium and always feel a challenge to rethink how I approach materials and tools.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Dan SchreckI am currently working on Snail Mail Security. This is an ongoing collage series using found paper, the interiors of business envelopes. These collages are then photographed and printed as crisp, high resolution digital prints.

"Snail Mail Security Four", 20" x 30"

Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Dan SchreckMagnification is an important aspect of the SMS series. Everything is bigger. Scratches, dirt, imperfections... all these things are bigger. One of the surprises of the series is the number of comments I get about how amazing the paper fibers look in the final images. I've worked with fiber in the past and absolutely love it so I have been thrilled that this aspect of the series has been so impactful.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Dan SchreckPhysical exercise has been doing me wonders creatively. There's something about getting the blood flowing and heart pumping that helps me quiet my mind. When that happens I make some of the best creative connections.

"Snail Mail Security Two", 20" x 30"

Philip Hartigan: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Dan Schreck: I drew a fabulous picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger when I was a youngster. It was off a poster from the movie "Terminator."

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Dan Schreck: I tried not being an artist for a while. The funny thing was I still ended up making things anyways. It is in my nature to make things and to participate in the tremendously visual culture that we live in today.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lena Levin is Right

After my last blog post, expressing resignation at a bad first day back in the studio after a long absence, an online friend, artist Lena Levin, reminded me that good days often follow bad days.

During my last studio day, I set aside the rubbish I'd been hacking at and tried out my new animation set-up:

The toy soldier is a figure I've used frequently before. I bought a high resolution webcam, which can take still shots, and is now plugged directly into my Netbook, so that I can do stop-motion animation more easily. (Previously, I took all the shots on a camera, transferred them to the laptop, processed the hundreds of stills so that they weren't all a billion megabytes, etc.) In that photo above, I was experimenting with a dolly/tracking shot by taping the webcam to the roof of a toy London bus.

In all, a more promising creative day ...

Frieze Fatigue

From Hyperallergic:

A 360 view of one of the Frieze's many indoor open spaces (all photos by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)
"I love to look at art. Ever since I moved to New York, I have made a conscious effort to gradually build-up my art viewing stamina. When I first moved here, a quick trip to Chelsea would leave me overwhelmed and tired, my feet would hurt, my back would ache and my eyes would burn. Today, I am proud to report that when I have the time, I can happily go to Chelsea at 10am, stay till 6pm and have enough juice left over to go to a few openings and have a few drinks — I consider this a major accomplishment..."

Read more

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Back to the Studio

So I haven't been to my studio in a month, and have probably spent only three full days there in the last six weeks, what with finishing off the public art project, and ending the semester of teaching at Columbia College. After such a long absence, I got down to work straight away, and after several hours, the result was this:

That's right: absolutely nothing of any worth at all.

I try not to get too despondent about the bad days any more. It's good to be back in the studio again, and to get the bad stuff out of the way so that something better can arrive.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Six of the Best, Part 13

Part 9 of an interview series in which I invite artists to respond to six questions about art, process, and creativity  (Part 1Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11, Part 12) . Today's artist is painter and printmaker Thomas Bennett, who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

"Guarded Sin," 2012, oil over monotype on paper, 16" x 20"

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Thomas Bennett: I'm a painter and I work in two main media: oil on various supports and the monotype. Oil paint has been my main medium since my father introduced it to me as a child. I use multiple supports and grounds, from canvas to plastic to composite board to paper. The other medium I am strongly connected to is the monotype, the unique one-off print. It's painting and printmaking in one. I use oil based inks and oil paint on plexiglass, then pull a one-of-a-kind print after transferring it to paper through an etching press. I discovered the exciting spontaneity of the monotype in art school, and have been in love with it since. What I've been exploring recently is the reintroduction of oil paint back into a finished monotype print on printmaking paper. These can be considered reworked monotypes or oil paintings or mixed media, for that matter.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Thomas Bennett: I just finished an oil over monotype on paper entitled “Unfollow.” I'm also working on a  larger oil on canvas piece, in its first stages.

"Unfollow," 2012, oil on monotype on paper, 18" x 12"

Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Thomas Bennett: I've been exploring the interaction of the abstract with the representational - and the existential space that results - for the last few years. In the piece I finished last night I found myself straddling that place between discovery and misplacement of that ab/rep relationship. The representational form may have shown its muscle too much, but these pieces are all an exercise and discovery.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

Thomas Bennett: My process is fed by virtually all sorts of things I experience in everyday life. What's important most of all for me is getting into the studio and working: whether it's playing with photography, experimenting with various media, drawing or doing small studies in various plastic mediums. The action results in discoveries that lead to ideas.

Limbs, 2012, oil on canvas,  31" x  46"

Philip Hartigan: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

Thomas Bennett: The first thing I remember making was probably a drawing of a face when I was 3. My father told me later he looked at the eyes I had rendered with irises and pupils and he said to himself: "This kids' going to be an artist."

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

Thomas Bennett: Making art was all I ever wanted to do. I cannot remember not needing to draw and to make marks. I can't tell you why. I can only say it was and is like breathing.

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Journal + Sketchbook: Postscript

After the last class on Thursday, one of the students from the Journal and Sketchbook class gave me a small graphic novel that he had made. It was created for another class, but in theory it was definitely something that would have been permitted as a final project for the J+S class. And it was so good I thought I would post images of it here (click on any image to display a larger version):

Friday, May 4, 2012

Last Journal + Sketchbook Class of 2012

Yesterday was the last Journal and Sketchbook class of the semester, taught by me and Patty at Columbia College Chicago. Remember that this is primarily a writing class, and that most of the students have not taken any art classes since high school, if that. As part of the final presentations for this class, on the visual art side, we had:
  • A stuffed cat.
  • An acrylic painting with 3-d elements consisting of a play-doh goblet and a styrofoam heart.
  • A collage painting on a pizza box that the creator said she "roasted over a fire that I set in the bathtub of my house."

Then there were the:
  • Giant papier mache sculpture/painting.
  • The collage with 90 separately cut pieces of paper lego.
  • The acrylic painting by someone who said she hates acrylic painting (but which turned out pretty good).
  • The portraits consisting of maps.

And there were the discoveries that this led to in the writing: the moments of personal memoir involving bad decisions; the terrible murder that took place outside someone's window in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighbourhood; the creative non-fiction telling of a moment of cruelty from childhood; the hilarious children's story that sounded like something from Damon Runyon.

It was a great class, and a great bunch of students, and I'm going to miss going into this classroom every Thursday and finding out what they had to show and to tell.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meditation Number 100

It finally happened.

After two years and three months, the series of short talks on art that I called Meditations on Art has finally arrived at the original target of 100.

In addition to being a discussion of a painting by Shinique Smith, this one is also a short review of what I've learned after doing 100 videos, or three hours' worth of playing time, or 30,000 words of writing, and currently 97,000 views on YouTube.

One of the things I learned: the more you do it, the more people respond. After the first 50, the YouTube channel had only received a couple of thousand views. Now it seems to be getting 1,000 each week.

I also learned, as I said in the above talk, that far more of them than I realised are about white, male artists -- not intrinsically a bad thing, perhaps, but it certainly wasn't part of my original plan, which was to display, if only to myself, that I have a broad taste in art.

The story of where I got the title for the series from is here.

And now that I've got to 100, am I going to stop? Not at all. I intend to continue, without a set limit this time, and talk almost exclusively about living artists.

It seems like I have some catching up to do.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My 900th Blog Post ...

... was actually three days ago. I didn't remark on it, as I've been so busy that I lost track of the numbers recently. And with the blogging I've been doing for Hyperallergic, it might take a bit longer for me to get to 1000. But it will definitely happen this year, and in under three years since I started this blog seriously.

Meanwhile, here is something that happened today. Someone who lives on the east coast of the USA sent me the following image:

It's his version of the giant luminary which has been at the centre of my two public art projects since 2010 (pictures here and here).

This chap constructed his copy from east American cedar, which he says he grows on his property, and burlap for the panels. It looks like there's a light inside it, too.

As they say here in the USA: "Nice jaaab!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Interview with Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson is another artist whose work I found via social media. She is Canadian, and her work in drawing, installation, and animations caught my eye because of its authority and integrity, both in its purpose and in its execution. She is currently preparing for a busy summer of multiple exhibitions, so I'm gratified that she took the time to answers some questions about her work and process.

Geometric Sunshine (partial view) Beyond/In Western New York, 2007
acrylic on wall, dimensions variable, University at Buffalo Art Gallery at the 
Center for the Arts. Photo credit: Biff Henrich/Keystone.

Philip Hartigan: Your work looks like a collision between the organic world, chemistry diagrams, and classic abstract art. How does it appear to you?

Kate Wilson: Actually, your assessment is very close. I never know where to begin. It is a matter of placing pen to paper and seeing where the line takes me. Perhaps subconsciously I’m incorporating visuals or text that inspire: my current reading material, chemistry diagrams, botanical and architectural drawings, musical/ sound discoveries, celestial and natural phenomena.
Philip Hartigan: Have you always developed your work with installation in mind?

Kate WilsonIn 2005 I exhibited a multiple series of small drawings on paper at the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris. During the opening of Canadian Club a museum director from Denmark suggested and encouraged me to scale up my drawings to room size proportions. The dramatic proportional shift in scale was something I contemplated doing for quite some time but the added impetus inspired me to seriously consider the reality of scaling up my work.
Collages in Motion and Artificial Dreams, ink on paper, study for a large-scale wall drawing, 27 x 35 cm, 2010. Collection: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Philip HartiganHow important to your process is drawing?

Kate Wilson: Drawing is central to my process. It is a visual language, a lexicon, spontaneous, meditative, immediate, direct and based in imagination and memory. I am interested in the profile of line and I use line interchangeably as object and contour. I often refer to my preliminary drawings as small, contained architectures that serve to make the familiar visible and readable in an intentionally new way.
Philip HartiganHow did your animations come about?

Kate Wilson: My animated films are an extension of my large-scale wall drawings. I intend to project my films on a large scale and create immersive animated visual environments.
  1. Curious Lights, ink on paper, 27 x 35 cm, 2011
Geometric Mechanics, ink on paper, 27 x 35 cm, 2012 

Philip HartiganWhat's the single most interesting thing about the creative process for you?

Kate Wilson: The moment of discovery, connecting lines, lines leading to lines, and accidental breakthroughs. The moment of discovery occurs when I lose myself in detail while simultaneously bringing out hidden architectural and botanical environments. I am especially interested in drawing as a continuing process of research – the construction of verbal and visual information systems.
Philip HartiganWhat's your next project?

Kate Wilson: I am preparing for Ecotopia a group exhibition at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, in Ontario, Canada. The curator commissioned a large-scale site-specific wall drawing. Also, I’m working on a second animated film titled A Primer of Small Stars. The film will include an excerpt of one of my sound compositions. I’m already thinking ahead and planning my next animated film based on a new series of geometric drawings

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