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Showing posts from 2018

End of Year Round-Up

As I look back on 2018, the notable points in the artist calendar were: Taught 115 art-related classes, which expanded on 2017, which was the previous record holder for most teaching in one year. Made art sales that reached four figures, for the first time in a LONG time. Ended my writing gig at Hyperallergic, the celebrated New York-based art blog (or let's just say I began a long hiatus). Returned to painting in oils on canvas in a satisfying way. For the first time since 2010, I didn't exhibit my work in any venue other than my own studio. Instead, I concentrated on making work, and getting further along the road of assmelbing a new body of work in various media that I can start to put into the world in the coming year. Here's to 2019!

The Remarkable Life of Milein Cosman

Earlier this month, London-based artist Milein Cosman died at the age of 96. She lived one of those lives that it's hard to imagine being duplicated: fleeing Nazi Germany as a child, learning to be an artist in post-war London, finding her way into the artistic set of the time, marrying musicologist and broadcaster Hans Keller, and having the great good fortune to spend time at rehearsals drawing some of the greatest musicians and composers of the mid-twentieth century, such as Stravinsky, Rostropovich, and Britten. Speaking as someone whose typical daily listening is (to cite yesterday's playlist alone) Beethoven's late string quartets and Schumann's Dichterliebe, I think my ideal day job would be to sit with a graphite stick and a sketchpad in the rehearsal room of, say, the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Pen and ink drawing of cellist Rostropovich She was also a skilful printmaker, and from the 1960s on was a member of the Camden Printmakers group. Lithograph o

Two Chicago Exhibitions

In the last week, I saw two terrific exhibitions of work in and around Chicago. The first was at a small but beautiful gallery space in Evanston. The work on display consisted of prints by Socorro Mucino and Janet Webber, who took one of my printmaking classes at the Lillstreet Art Center nearly two years ago. The title of the show, Paper Dolls, suggested a pun on the fact that these were works on paper depicting either a child's play-doll, or women as objects of desire (as in "hey, doll!"). Janet Webber, paperlitho transfer and monoprint Janet Webber's pieces were altered images of mannequins, ball gowns, and beauty queens, presented in rows or in combination with overprinted images and text. Very often the faces were obscured, and the image itself subjected to deterioration in the printmaking process, perhaps as a way of interfering with how these images of banal and old-fashioned female beauty would normally be seen by the male gaze. Socorro Mucino'

New Painting: II

With me standing next to it for scale: oil on canvas, 50" x 72". This is the largest canvas I've started since the late 1990s. It's been a long time coming ...

New Painting: I

14" x 11" This year I've been painting with oils on canvas, for the first time in 18 years. I'm using a high grade canvas, and fairly expensive water-soluble oil paints. It makes a huge difference using the most expensive materials that you can afford. The texture of the canvas, the tooth, the way it resits and holds the paint, is like working with something organic, like skin. The images in the painting are derived from the same source as everything in the last five years: half-remembered moments from family stories of my grandfather, a coal miner who was once trapped underground during a roof collapse. The apparently abstract marks are in fact derived from similar sets of shapes that I recall from art history. In this case, from a painting by Pierre Bonnard.

Mixed Media Collage at Interlochen College of Creative Arts

I just got back to Chicago from teaching a two-day workshop at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts. That's the adult programs part of the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy, the high school for gifted kids. I always start this class by handing out small pieces of matboard and asking people to create five small collages, with only five minutes for each one. Some great results: For the rest of the class, we work on building up larger pieces: And finally, before everyone goes their separate ways, we have a small show-and-tell: If you live withint driving distance of Traverse City, look out for this class on their website in 2019.

Man Falling: Per Kirkeby

I recently watched a documentary about the Danish painter Per Kirkeby, Man Falling . It's available on Amazon's Prime Video streaming service (for members). It documents his attempts to continue painting after he suffered a fall down a flight of stairs and landed on his head, that left him partially paralysed and with occluded vision. The film is a moving testament to the difficulties endured both by the patient in these cases, and the people around him. It's also one of the best films I've seen about the process of painting itself. Because even though Kirkeby talks about the fact that he can't really see the left side of anything he's working on, nevertheless with the guidance of assistants he adds marks on those areas of the canvas or paper, too. And the mark-making is just as intricate and beautiful, seemingly, as the work he produced when he was able-bodied. This suggest to me that for artists who have been working for a long time, particularly

The Wonder of Titian's Late Paintings

Before I post any photos of my own work, here is what I have been inspired by lately: Titian's late masterpiece The Death of Actaeon . It was painted sometime in the 1560s, when Titian was an old man. It was one of the paintings that was in his studio at the time of his death. There are a few such paintings, which he may have been working on right up until his last days. Technically, these painting are distinguished by their lack of finish, meaning that compared to his earlier paintings they look rougher, the edges less sharp, the different areas of the picture merging and blending into one another. Another thing about them: Titian's initial "lay in" (blocking in the main shapes and some light-shadow contrasts) was done with a brush, but much of the build-up of the pigment was done using rags, dipped into the paint and then dabbed and smeared onto the canvas. The Google Arts and Culture site has some extreme high-definition images of the painting, and when you z

Artists at Sea: Manet in Normandy

After writing a 1,000 word piece about  Winslow Homer's  eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys. Edouard Manet, The Escape of Rochefort , oil on canvas, 1881 Who Edouard Manet (1832-1883), French painter. Coastal association The Normandy coast north of Paris. First coastal visit In 1848, when he was sixteen years old, his father made the first of several failed attempts to get young Edouard into the navy, packing him off on a merchant vessel sailing to Rio di Janeiro. Manet: “I learned a lot on my voyage to Brazil. I spent countless nights watching the play of light and shadow in the ship’s wake. During the day, I stood on the upper deck gazing at the horizon. That’s how I learned to construct a sky." Reasons for visiting Similar to many other of his near contemporaries, Manet first began regularly visiting towns such as Boulogne and Trouville for family vacations

Summer Progression

It's nearly the official end of summer here in the United States (Labor Day, September 3rd), and I've been looking back over the photos I've taken in my studio in the last three months. Here is a small oil painting (24" x 18") that I started at the beginning of June: A month later, after getting rid of that brown mountain and adding brambly-looking bushes, it looked like this: A few weeks later, the main areas of the painting were in place, and I was just working up the different areas with more paint, smeared or dabbed on the canvas with cotton rags: The next photo has lots more dark passages to increase the sens of depth and to make the lighter areas stand out: In the final session I lightened that pink cast in the sky, and added a few final highlights in silvery-white paint: The wonderful thing about oil paint is that you can make substantial changes to a picture in a way that doesn't stand out by the time you say you're fi

Artists at Sea: John Marin and Maine

After writing a 1,000 word piece about  Winslow Homer's  eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys. John Marin, Headland, Cape Spit, Maine , 1933, watercolour and chalk Who John Marin (1870-1953), American painter. Coastal association Maine, in northern New England: first at Phippsburg, then Stonington, and finally bought a home in Cape Split. First coastal visit The coast of Maine in 1914. Reasons for visiting Like his near contemporary Marsden Hartley, he loved Maine because it was so remote from the art world that he felt he could make the subject matter his own. Marin also hated New York City in particular, and felt very much drawn to the tradition of artists finding 'truth in nature.' He also wrote: "Seems to me the true artist must perforce go from time to time to the elemental big forms To sort of retrue himself up to recharge the battery. For thes

Wagner in Etchings

In March I revealed two things that most people tend to keep to themselves for fear of being cast out of polite society: a) I only listen to opera; b) I belatedly began liking some of Wagner's operas. After five months of listening to virtually nothing but Wagner, and even seeing some of the music starting to seep into my studio work, I suddenly remember a series of etchings by English artist Christopher Le Brun that I saw more than 20 years ago. Le Brun was a passionate lover of Wagner's music, and in 1994 he made a set of eight photogravure etchings titled Wagner . The names of the individual works -- Fafner, Siegfried, Brunnhilde -- indicate that his inspiration was the Ring cycle. Christopher Le Brun, The Valkyrie , etching and aquatint, 1994 Back in 1998, I didn't like Wagner's music and hardly knew anything about it, so I looked at these works purely from an aesthetic standpoint. As I consider them now having listened to more of Wagner's music, wh

Artists at Sea: Turner and the English Channel

After writing a 1,000 word piece about  Winslow Homer's  eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys. J.M.W. Turner, Margate , c. 1822, watercolour Who J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), English painter. Coastal association Where to start? Water and oceans were his chief inspiration, comprising the central or supporting subject of many of the 20,000+ paintings and drawings he created over a long life. But mostly he painted the waters around the English coast, either directly in his sketchbook, or in his studio-produced oil paintings. First coastal visit 1786, Margate, on the north-east coast of Kent, when he was 11 years old. Reasons for visiting Many reasons, both personal and artistic, that interlock in complex ways. His earliest visits were because his parents packed him off from London to spend the summer with an uncle. During his apprenticeship as an artist, he was influenced

Artists at Sea: Monet in Normandy

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys. Claude Monet, Regates a Saint-Adresse , 1867 Who Claude Monet, French Impressionist painter Coastal association Normandy, France. Reasons for visiting Monet spent his childhood in Le Havre, Normandy. Dates visited Almost his entire life from 1840 to 1926. First visit 1845, aged 5, when his family moved to Le Havre. As an adult, after working and gaining some success in Paris, he spent the summer of 1867 painting in Sainte-Adresse, near Le Havre. Effect on Work His earliest plein air paintings were made near Le Havre when Monet was 16, under the guidance of Eugene Boudin. Ten years later, Monet's time at Sainte Adresse moved his work away from 'salon' style subjects of bourgeois life to a deeper consideration of how to use pure colour to capture the light on

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 be

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 ap

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. Atki

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 ba

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

Looking Out to Sea , watercolour 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 int

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.