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The Porpoise Driven Life

See what I did in the title? I made a pun! On the name of some completely naff self-help spiritual bollocks bestseller from the last decade. I'm actually in St Augustine Florida, the oldest city in the United States (if you discount the claim of Jamestown, Virginia--and all the Indian civilizations and settlements of the millenia preceding both of those). My wife Patty and I have come here for the last three years in a row, and it is full of delightful sightings that don't happen in our urban Chicago neighbourhood. To wit: porpoises curving out of the waters of the bay, glimpsed in groups and singly on our morning walk along the beach in front of our rented condo; osprey overhead, hovering in the air as they hunt for fishy prey, or calling loudly as they fly by with a fish wriggling in their talons:





On our very first stroll yesterday morning, we saw: a pelicanvention (copyright Patty McNair 2013), skimmers, gulls, osprey, sandpipers, and other birds that I don't even know …

The Essential Always Remains Invisible

A few days ago, I went to a memorial service at the Music Institute of Chicago, in Evanston, which is in a fine temple-style Christian Scientist building not far from the campus of Northwestern University:

I was there to commemorate Gertrude Grisham, the mother of a dear friend of my wife Patty who died recently (Gertrude, that is) at the age of 87. Gertrude was a remarkable woman who was born in Austria, came to the States in the 1950s, and then had a career of notable achievements, perhaps the chief one being her decades long post as diction coach for the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The deep affection and gratitude of the musicians who were helped by her was in full evidence on Wednesday night. The Orion Ensemble played two of Gertrude's favourite pieces of chamber music (by Mozart and Mahler), and no fewer than 60 singers from the Chorus took to the stage to sing Brahms and then Handel. There were moving speeches by family and friends, and Austrian wine to drink in the lobby afte…

D.H. Lawrence on Cezanne

I have a book called Poets on Painters which contains essays long and short by many well-known twentieth century writers about artists. Here is the English novelist D. H. Lawrence talking about some of Cezanne's paintings:

Cezanne wanted something that was neither optical nor mechanical nor intellectual. And to introduce into our world of vision something which is neither optical nor mechanical nor intellectual-psychological requires a real revolution. It was a revolution Cezanne began, but which nobody, apparently, has been able to carry on. He wanted to touch the world of substance once more with the intuitive touch, to be aware of it with the intuitive awareness, and to express it in intuitive terms. That is, he wished to displace our present mode of mental-visual consciousness, the consciousness of mental concepts, and substitute a mode of consciousness that was predominantly intuitive, the awareness of touch. In the past the primitives painted intuitively, but in the directi…

My Nelson Mandela Story

All right, I never actually met Nelson Mandela. But his death last week reminded me of something that happened ten years ago, when I was in Cuba. At the end of my third week in Havana, I decided to take a bus to visit the town of Trinidad de Cuba, about 150 miles east in the middle of the country. It’s a Unesco world heritage town because of the high number of well-preserved colonial era buildings, including an ornately decorated church in the centre. Well, on my first evening there, I ended up at a club watching some excellent musicians perform traditional Cuban son. I was sitting quite close to them, and sketching them while they played. This caught the eye of the trumpeter, and when the group finished their set he asked me if I would show him my drawings. When he discovered that I spoke reasonably good Spanish, he invited me to join him and his friends in the town square for an after-concert open air party. My feeling of good fortune and being highly flattered was not remotely dimin…

From the Studio, Part Whatever

At the end of 2010, I began working on a set of 18" x 24" panels, that I posted about here regularly during the first few months of working on them. Gradually, I posted less and less, as I got stuck with them and worked on them less and less. But every six months or so since then, I have taken some of these panels out and worked a little more on them, to the extent that the first coat is now buried beneath many layers of stuff.

Well, god help me, I pulled one of them out today, and worked on it for a day:


If I can recall correctly, the media that I've used over three years are: acrylic paint, acrylic gels and medium, airbrush pigment, gesso, modelling paste, ink, and oil pastel. If I used a texture, or I drew a shape, what I had in mind were things to do with coal, and mining, just the same as the short film I just completed. Some of the abstract marks still derive ultimately from remembered shapes of machinery, pipes, and so on.

For this latest foray, I took out lots o…

Against Spectacular Art

I see a lot of art these days. I see it online, via all the blogs and websites I have bookmarked. I see it in galleries and museums in Chicago, which I visit more regularly since I started writing articles about art for publications like Time Out and Hyperallergic. I see it in the corridors and studios of the building where I have my own studio. It gets tiring sometimes, certainly, but there’s one strain of art in particular that I’m growing very tired of—spectacular art.

By that, I mean objects and two-dimensional works that make a strong visual first impression, most often because they are made from unusual combinations of materials. Examples: portraits made from winding thousands of threads around the heads of pins embedded in a panel, so that the face gradually emerges from the accumulation of the unlikely material. Thousands of post-it notes apparently suspended in mid-air in a forest (created through digitally altered photos). Trompe l’oeuil face painting. Timelapse graffiti. Ins…

What I've Learned From Open Studios

Last weekend I took part in my third open studio in the building that I moved into in February. The building, an old factory next to the railway tracks on the northside of Chicago, has about thirty studios, used mostly by painters and sculptors, plus a few people (like me) who use different media. My new studio is the biggest I've had since I closed my London studio in 2002 and it's also the first time I've been working in close contact with or proximity to other artists since 2004. For the last two open studios, I showed older work, hoping to sell it to make space for newer work. Last weekend, I premiered a short film that I've been working on for most of this year.

After all this contact with the public and other artists this year, here are some things that I've learned:

Collectors with deep pockets, gallerists, and curators don't go to open studios. People who go to open studios want to spend as little as possible, maybe a couple of hundred dollars at the m…

Six of the Best, Part 33: Judith Mullen

The latest installment in an interview series for which I pose the same six questions to artists of various species. Judith Mullen is a mixed-media artist working in Chicago, in a bright studio building that I visited for the first time recently. Her spellbinding, densely-layered, multi-textured work will be on show in 2014 at Chicago's prestigious Linda Warren Projects.

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

JM: I consider myself a mixed media artist and within that I do work with a broad range of materials. I started out working mainly as a painter using traditional painting media and supports. As my interest broadened to three-dimensional work, I found myself experimenting with fabric, tree limbs, paper and more. Rather than having a prescribed list of materials needed to work on a piece, I found myself playing around with various media, which allows me to work in a more open, experimental way. I still find this way of working very satisfying.

PH: What piece are you c…

Carroll Street Open Studios

Here is more great work that I saw at the open studios in Carroll Street, Chicago, last weekend. Beautiful constructions and work on paper by Judith Mullen, intriguing objects by Joan Giroux, and a terrific ab-ex painting by an artist whose name I didn't uncover.

The Gods of Dreams

I recently saw an interesting show of work at a gallery not too far from my Chicago apartment. Morpho Gallery runs a regular 'emerging artists' competition, and they were exhibiting the winners of the last few competitions. The first piece that caught my eye was by Michael Klaus Schmidt:


The bold shapes and collage elements have references to cloisonne ceramic work, or collagraphs in the printmaking realm. They also remind me of 1970s poster design, which must be something to do with the curved shapes ending in heavily outlined forms. There's a lot of texture in the different areas, too, that stops them coming off as flat and dull. I believe the artist has collaborated with theatre people, and you can see the cross-over in the graphic impact of this work.

I liked this painting by another artist in the show, for its colours, and good organization of all these shapes. It's something that lots of artists seem to be doing at the moment, but this is doing it quite well:


An…

A Visit to the Studio of Connie Noyes

An artist’s studio, it has been said, is half science laboratory and half Aladdin’s cave.

I was reminded of this when I visited the studio of Chicago artist Connie Noyes recently, on the third floor of a grand brick factory building that once manufactured Ford Model Ts. As soon as the steel doors swung open, Noyes guided me on a pathway that led between old and new paintings concealed in bubble-wrap and leaning against walls, tables laden with the recycled and cast-off materials that she uses in her current work, and works in progress standing against other walls, reclining on other tables, or lying on the floor, amid pools of wet and dried resin that she pours in cascades over her materials.

We talked a lot about process. Whether in a series of works incorporating enlarged digital photos, pigment, resin, and hilariously gaudy frames, or in a piece that cocoons hundreds of peanut shells in a bright gold layer, Noyes spoke about finding her way by working with the materials. The size and…

A fashionable assemblage of elegant notables

Salonn.

2. a fashionable assemblage of elegant notables (as literary figures, artists, or statesmen)



Last Saturday evening, October 5th, Patty and I held a salon at our Chicago apartment. Patty is a writer and I am a visual artist, and since about 2003 we've hosted one party a year (sometimes more) at which we invite the many writers we know to read something from work in progress or published work, the artists to bring some work along and talk about it, and any musicians to play a song if they feel inclined. It's more of a party than a salonin the traditional sense--no Gertrude Stein holding forth about modern art in the corner, no competing for attention or ascendancy. Just an opportunity to eat, drink, and share some work to combat the isolation that usually goes along with the writer's and artist's lot.

This recent one was great for many reasons, chiefly that so many people contributed, and so many were there for the first time. In addition to the photos from the salo…

Previewing a new web series

Last week, I met Martin Garcia at my Chicago studio to talk over art related things (though we also talked about English football, which heathen US sports fans refer to as 'soccer').

Martin is an artist who also uses video, both for his own work and to record stuff for other artists and galleries around Chicago. Recently he formed a production company to work on a web series called Our Cultural Center, which will consist of a series of 2 minute films set in a fictional arts organization whose funding has just dried up. The series is called Our Cultural Center, and Martin has hired a group of real actors to work on each episode, which will feature art created by real artists from around Chicago, too.

The stated intention is to talk about art and the art world in a humorous way, and simultaneously to raise the profile of art in Chicago and the issues facing the art world. It's an ambitious project, and I hope it gets the viewers it deserves. The series is scheduled to begin…

Six of the Best, Part 32: Rick Beerhorst

Part 32 of the interview series in which I pose the same six questions to each artist. Rick Beerhorst is an artist who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, host city of Art Prize, the world's biggest and most well-rewarded prize for art of all shapes and sizes. Rick's collaborative venture Plan B won the prize for Best Use Of Urban Space in Art Prize 2012, and this year his painting has just been selected as one of the finalists in the 2-D art category. If you want to see Rick's work in situ, and/or vote for it, click here for details.


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

Rick Beerhorst: My primary medium is oil painting on wooden panels. For me it is a lot about building up layers. It is a slow process of building up and tearing down and building up again. After I have added a number of layers of paint and the image is beginning to have heft I go at it with sand paper and sometimes scrape with a razor blade to break down the surface layers and get back…

Expo Chicago 2013

I just filed my report about this year's Chicago art fair for Hyperallergic.com, and have a few photos left over from the ones that I submitted for the article. My overall impression in a nutshell: Expo Chicago looks like a streamlined version of one of the big art fairs in New York, Miami, or Basel, which means that it's not particularly a place to go and take the pulse of contemporary art, but rather a place to see what the contemporary gallery world think will sell to contemporary collectors. To my eye, that means lots of painting (mostly in very recognizable styles or by very recognizable artists, living and dead), some sculpture, and a very little video. That is not at all necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, I didn't come away filled with huge inspiration or with my mind blown.

Here are some of the works that I liked (click on an image to embiggen):

Judy Pfaff
Paul Nutt
Tameka Norris
Phillip Taaffe
Byron Kim
Wangechi Mutu
Wesley Kimler
Thomas Schutte/Ai Wei W…

Six of the Best, Part 31

Continuing the series in which I pose the same six questions to artists of different hue and strip. Today's interviewee is Lynn Tsan. a Chicago artist who has a distinctive way with grids, shapes, and colours. You can see more of her work here.


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

Lynn Tsan: For the past several years I have been creating digital drawings – hand drawn with a mouse using Adobe Illustrator. I create a graphical square then put another next to it and so on and so forth until the piece is finished. I call them “graphical collages.” I began creating these drawings because I was flat broke and had a computer but not enough money for art supplies. In fact, the first drawing was an attempt to create a black and white business card (color was too expensive to print) that was compelling and beautiful. Forty-five quarter-inch pictures later I had my business card. Sometime later, on a night I couldn’t sleep, I colored the piece and separated it into…

My Print on View in Global Print 2013

So this is worth doing a blog post for: one of my prints is currently on view at the museum in Douro, Portugal, as part of the Global Print exhibition. I was one of the 390 artists from all over the world who were invited to take part. It's invitation-only, meaning you don't apply to be part of it--you get asked, which is very flattering. I've just received a PDF of the catalogue, and there are many fantastic prints on show.

Even though I am British, I've been living in the USA for over ten years, and the print I submitted was made here, so I am one of the artists representing the USA this year. Here is the catalogue page with my print:

The photo is a detail of a very tall print on Japanese paper, that hangs down the wall like a scroll. I am also pleased to have been invited to take part in the Print Biennial in Douro in 2014, an even bigger and more prestigious affair, which I hope to attend.