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My best open studio

The best open studio for artists is the one where they sell a lot of work. I mean, really, what else would qualify? Maybe having Person Famous in the 1970s come through the door and respond very positively to a series of etchings (actually happened). (Although he also left without buying anything, so...)

But I would say that one of the best open studios (the second best one, perhaps) was the one where I premiered a six minute stop motion animation film. Here in fact is a clip from that film:

I worked on it for six months in 2013. It was the first thing I completed in my new studio in the Cornelia Arts Building. I felt the need to explore subject matter and imagery related to my childhood in an English mining town, but in a medium other than painting or printmaking. A medium where you could tell more of a story, a continuous narrative as opposed to a static moment.

I was pleased with the film, and invited people to come and see it for the first time in an open studio at the beginning …

My worst open studio

Most open studios are notable for nothing really happening. You sit there waiting for people to come into your studio, eat all your nibbles and guzzle the free drink, and then leave after a cursory glance at your work. Usually, the worst thing that happens is that you get stuck in a boring conversation with a dull person,

But there was one time a few years ago when I got into one of these conversations, and quite quickly the person I was talking to started to make homophobic remarks about another artist in the building. After a few minutes, I decided I'd had enough and asked him to leave. He seemed genuinely surprised that I had any objection to what he was saying, which in retrospect makes me even angrier if he thought he had a sympathetic ear.

He asked me why, and I told him I didn't like people talking that way, and I said: "This conversation ended 30 seconds ago." So he left.

So, nothing dramatic like Jackson Pollock getting drunk in a fancy New York apartment a…

Anna Atkins, Cyanotype Pioneer

While cyanotypes are on my mind, I decided to do a little more research on the history of the process, and came across some fascinating information.
You create a cyanotype by coating paper with a 50/50 mixture of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. You then place objects such as feathers and plants onto the paper, and expose them to sunlight for a little while. You wash the exposed paper under a tap or in a water tray, which reveals the white outlines of the objects against a striking Prussian Blue background.
The first person to formulate this method was British astronomer Sir John Herschel in the 1840s. He developed it as a quick way of seeing plans and diagrams -- this gave birth to the term 'blueprint'. But the first person to use the cyanotype process in a significant way was a woman named Anna Atkins (1799-1871). Most of what follows draws on some excellent sources (here and here) containing a detailed account of her experiments.

Atkins' father was i…

Blue Printmaking

Blogging has been light for me recently, thanks to the World Cup and to lots of teaching. Though ironically, one of the classes I am due to teach is about starting and running your own blog.

The most recent workshop was teaching the cyanotype process to some people at the Art Center Highland Park. I did this last Saturday, on a bright but very hot day:

The process requires exposing a light-sensitive paper to sunlight, and light conditions were perfect for this technique. Earlier or later in the year, it can take up to four minutes before the objects are registered on the cyanotype paper, but in late June it only takes 45 seconds:

The bad news was the humidity, which meant I was toppling over after 90 minutes of going in and out of the steam bath conditions.

In anticipation of this, I had brought along my UV lightbox, which we loaded up with different textured materials to create a series of beautiful cyanotypes:


For more information on this process, which dates back to the 1840s, cli…

Cut and Clag

When I was at high school in the north-east of England, our form teacher (the teacher who marked us as 'present' or 'absent' each morning) would joke about our art classes by calling them "cut and clag". Clag=north-east English slang for glueing, or collage. Well, I've just spent a week doing classes in "cut and clag" at the Interlochen Center for Creative Arts.

Here are some of the 3" x 5" collages that I ask people to make as a warm-up:

Here is a nice one done after I led people through a writing activity that led them to explore personal memories (grandmother's knitting, in this case):

And here's one created by tearing two different magazine pages into strips and then recombining them:

Good clagging!

Winslow Homer in Cullercoats

This story about a recent exhibition of Winslow Homer’s paintings and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum begins with some personal details. I was born and raised in the north-east of England, in an area of farms and coal mines lying between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a small coastal village called Cullercoats. England may be a small country, but in the British context the north-east is considered remote from ‘the center’ (i.e., London). This was even more true in the nineteenth century, when Cullercoats was a tiny dot on the map, just one of thousands of little bays on the coasts where close-knit communities of tough men and women made a dangerous living from the sea. How extraordinary it is, then, to discover that American artist Winslow Homer lived and worked in Cullercoats, England, for close to two years beginning in May 1881.

Biographers are unsure as to why Homer chose such an obscure place for this extended stay. Nevertheless, it fits into a pattern of nineteenth century artist…

Open Studio Report

Last week I wrote about an imminent open studio night in my studio building. I can report that it went well, with the highest sales for me in several years. In fact, two of the pieces I illustrated in that last post were among the ones that went to new homes.

I think part of why things went well (apart from the quality of the work, I hope) is the extra effort I made to make the studio presentable. This included framing a selection of prints:


And placing a bunch of beautiful white tulips in a central position:


The flowers have since died, alas. But my art lives on!

Open Studio Today

The building where I have my studio hosts three open studio nights per year. Most of the time I don't participate, for various reasons, but today I am.

This is because I've produced a group of oil paintings since I got back from Paris in February that I am reasonably satisfied with, and I want to see what responses I get. Like the short films and installations I've done in the last five years, they are based on memories of my childhood in an English coal mining town. But the content is more filtered through the subconscious:



I've also printed and framed some collagraphs that have a similar content and execution to the paintings (and that's also a difference this time, because often my prints and paintings look like they were made by completely different people):

So everything is nearly ready to go in my studio. I will post photos and reactions from the event next week.

Gertrude Stein Hated This Painting. And Yet...

A painting by Picasso from 1905 has just sold at auction for one hundred and fifteen million dollars -- what ArtNews calls "a rare nine figure purchase." The painting, from Picasso's so-called Rose period, is "Girl with Basket of Flowers":

I am in the camp that thinks the reasons why Picasso's Rose period work sells for more than his Cubist work are precisely the reasons why I don't like the paintings that much. That is, they are anachronistic pastiches of late nineteenth century Symbolist painting, their mythological content replaced instead with sentimental idealisations of family pastoral. However, there's no questioning the skill and sensitivity of Picasso's brushwork, particularly in the face of this girl.

The first owners of the painting were Gertrude and Leo Stein, the rich Americans who moved to Paris in the early 1900s and set themselves up as patrons to the avant garde (though their taste didn't extend to Picasso's Cubist work…

Dessins de Paris: 7

On the metro again, a woman sitting diagonally opposite from me. Time of day: evening rush hour. Crowded train. Her face wasn't this colour, I just chose this crayon because it matched the fact that there was something surprising about her face. She really did have such a long nose and jawbone, and her eyes were sunken and tired as if she had been awake for days. She didn't seem that old, but her skin had a sallow, waxy, deathly pallor. She looked like she was carrying a lot of anxiety and troubles. Her hair was long at the sides, and rolled back onto the top of her head in the style of women from the Edwardian era.

Blogs I Helped Get Started

Occasionally I teach classes to artists and writers about creating and maintaining a blog. I just checked in on a few blogs created by people who took one of these classes, to see how they are progressing. The answer is: very well! Here is an entry from Jessica Baldanzi's Commons Comics, dedicated to reviewing graphic novels. In the post I link to, Jessica talks about Fatherland, which seems to be a serious exploration in graphic form of a person's family roots in the former Yugoslavia. Jessica's writing is extremely clear and engaging.


On Common Pages, the writer talks about something close to my heart -- music -- in a blog post reviewing a book about the history of the Cleveland Orchestra.

And on The Barefoot Norwegian, Connie Geissel has a blog post with the title Almost Eaten by a Bear. Which gets full marks for grabbing your attention and forcing you to read it.

Nice work, everyone!

Collagraphs

One of the classes I am teaching at the moment is collagraph printmaking. As the name implies, you make a collage of materials on a flat substrate such as matboard, seal the back and the front, then ink and wipe it like an intaglio plate before printing. Here is one of the collagraphs I have made this year:

The texture along the top is created by ripping away the first layers of the matboard and exposing some of the rougher fibres below the smooth surface. The crane shape comes from cutting precise lines with an x-acto knife and then digging away inside the lines. The brown shape below the crane=a piece of thin textured fabric glued onto the matboard. The factory=pieces of the torn mat board cut into regular shapes and glued back down. Finally, the very darkest areas were created by brushing on carborundum mixed with PVA. When all of that was dry, I sealed the front and the back with acrylic gloss medium. Inking=prussian blue and sepia, wiped with tarlatan to create a middle tone of …

Dessins de Paris: 6

A waiter at La Closerie de Lilas, at the eastern end of the Boulevard de Montparnasse. The bistro is famous for its association with several generations of writers and artists, from Paul Fort in the 1890s, Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s, and Gide and Beckett in the post-WWII era. The waiter could have worked at any place in Paris, however, and that's what caught my eye and made me draw him. The crisp white shirt and apron, the black tie and waistcoat, and the high domed forehead made him seem like the distilled essence of Parisian waiter. If you cold walk into the Closerie in any of the eras I mentioned, there would be a fair chance of seeing a waiter who looked just like this.

He looks like he might be sleeping on the job in this drawing, but I think he was looking down as he was ringing up a bill at the register. And that reminds me of something: I don't recall many French waiters gazing at their smartphones, even if there was a lull in the traffic (unlike American or Englis…

Dessins de Paris: 5

At a restaurant in Montparnasse, just off the Boulevard de Montparnasse, where three of us went one evening for a faculty meal. A small place with fewer than ten tables, and a waiting list that meant we had to book more than a week in advance. The food was classic French cuisine with some Vietnamese touches. One of the waiters was the chap in this memory-drawing: tall, athletic build, with a beautiful rich burnt umber skin tone, and his head shaved into concentric circles ascending to a curling tuft right on the top of his skull. It's the sort of hairstyle that might look ridiculous on some people, but which mysteriously some people can carry off well. The waiter also smiled a lot, and seemed like a nice person. I can remember him more than the food I ate that night.

I Did Nazi This Coming

Metropolitan Opera, New York: Parsifal Act III
Despite being a lifelong lover of and listener to opera, I've never had the ear for Wagner's music. I love hearing everything from Gluck up to John Adams, but skirted around or jumped over Wagner whenever the temptation presented itself.

I used the provocative 'N' word in the title of this post because one of the things that has always made me wary of the Bard of Bayreuth is the stain laid on it by its National Socialist admirers. That's not the only reason.

Reasons why I never liked Wagner:
The enormous length of his operas, often five hours plus. And my objection was not to the length per se, but to what it said about his musical language. For example, if like me you are steeped in Mozart's operative language, with its brilliance and variety and liveliness, Wagner's music can seem turgid and static by comparison.
The ridiculous medieval stories. Given the chance to watch Mozart or Puccini or Richard Strauss…

Dessins de Paris: 4

I am sitting on the Paris Metro on one of the fold-down seats near the sliding doors. The train is travelling between the Grands Boulevards on the Right Bank, and Denfert-Rochereau on the Left Bank. At one of the stations, the doors open and a woman walks in wearing a coat of expensive looking dark blue cloth with a billowing white cold-repelling collar. She has a string of pearls around her neck, and her face glows with lots of immaculately applied make-up. She sees someone she knows, and her mouth and eyes open wide at the coincidence of meeting a friend or acquaintance at that time of day, in a Metro system that ferries more than four million people around and beneath Paris every day.

(Medium: pen, Neocolor water-soluble wax pastels.)

Dessins de Paris: 3

This woman was walking down the Rue Daguerre in Montparnasse. I noticed several things about her. First, she wore heavy blue eye make up and wore tight fitting black clothes that made me think of the down-at-heels lefties I used to see walking around London in the 1990s. The second, more obvious thing was that she was carrying a baby in a sling, and smoking from a vaper directly over the baby's head. And not just smoking, but allowing clouds of nicotine-infused smoke to billow over and around the baby's face. French people are among the last resolute holdouts to anti-smoking crusades in Europe, and seem to take pride in smoking defiantly wherever they can get away with it, even if there's a big non-smoking sign displayed right next to them. So I'm pretty used to seeing cigarettes all over Paris. But this really takes the biscuit, as we English say.

Dessins de Paris: 2

I saw this chap on the Paris Metro, travelling on line 13 between Gaite and Champs Elysees. He boarded the train at Bir Hakeim, the stop closest to the Eiffel Tower. He looked run down and ragged, possibly homeless, but certainly one of the people who hop on and off the metro to beg for money in different carriages. This man didn't do the most common thing you see, which is to give his well-rehearsed hard luck story in a loud voice while he passes along the carriage with an upturned hat in his hand. The man in this drawing was singing a song, I think it was an old chanson like you would hear from the 1950s. I didn't recognize all of the words, but it was something about walking through the rain and being in love, and his voice was exceptionally good, a strong baritone with a nice tone, perfectly in tune. His face was covered in patches of bad skin, like he had been sleeping rough in cold weather, or maybe they were burns. But the voice that came out of that horrible exterior …

Dessins de Paris: 1

During my annual trip to Paris in January, I try to do as much drawing as I can, using neocolor pastels and occasionally pen. On the last two trips (2017 and 2018) I did a lot more drawing from memory rather than observation. There are so many interesting facial types among the people you see in Paris, so I try to fix the most salient parts of their features in my mind, through a series of brief and intense gazes. Then when I get back to the apartment in Montparnasse, I get out the pastels and begin work.

This is a new series for my blog, in which I post one of the drawings and try to remember the moment in which I noticed the person.

This first one was someone I saw on the Metro, Line 9, when Patty and I went over to the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, near the Palais de Tokyo on the right bank. It was bitterly cold, and this older gentleman entered the metro car having clearly just experienced a blast of the arctic air that was pummeling the city. Despite his wooly ha…

Following the Thread

I've been to so many art museums in my life and seen so many paintings, sculptures, and other highly wrought handmade objects of beauty. Yet I've never been too taken by tapestries, for some reason, usually choosing to walk past them and into another gallery where I can find more paintings to look at. But during my visit a few weeks ago to the Musee de Cluny (the medieval museum, basically) in Paris, I saw some things that made me stop in admiration.

There were rooms full of these gorgeous images, 10 feet by 15 feet or larger, created in tapestry in the 1400s or 1500s. The museum's collection is quite small and actually has hardly any paintings, so this forced me to spend more time on woven stuff than I normally would. I'm glad I did, because the artistry of the mainly anonymous craftsmen who made these pieces is astonishing. Look at the perfectly proportioned figures and animals, the rich colours, and the teeming imagination that fills every inch of them.

The prize o…

Retour a Paris

I'm back in Paris, teaching for the fourth consecutive year. During my most recent free weekend, I visited the Rodin Museum for the first time in more then twenty years. My visit coincided with the best weather so far -- bright and sunny and mild. The view of the Invalides from the gardens of the former Hotel Biron is spectacular:

 This summed up the experience of the museum, actually: the building being as deserving of admiration as the work displayed inside it. The rooms on the ground floor were full of these mouth watering combinations of belle epoque decoration and Rodin's writhing, muscular statuary:

Typically for me, the documentary material also caught my eye. Here is on the of the photos of Rodin using rooms in the hotel as a temporary studio, where he would entertain admirers, hangers on, and potential new clients (Rodin is seated at front-left):

The gardens surrounding the museum consist of sandy pathways leading through orderly bushes and topiary, interspersed with…