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Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)  

Source material for “The Champ”
Source material for “The Champ” (my first “Bolivianos” pastel painting) and “Avenger”

A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz.  The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time.  I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift.  To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series.  One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.

The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.

My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.

The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’).  Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March. 

Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances.  The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532.  “The Morenada” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest).  Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.

The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic.  Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive.  The whole effect was uncanny.  The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years.  This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!

Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new series – I said as much to my companions as I  remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs.  Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What inspires you to start your next painting? (Question from Nancy Nikkal)

Source material for “The Champ”
Source material for “The Champ” and “Avenger”

A: For my current series, “Bolivianos,” I am using as source/reference material c-prints composed at a La Paz museum in 2017. I began the series by picking my favorite from this group of photos (“The Champ” and later, “Avenger”) before continuing with others selected for prosaic reasons such as I like some aspect of the photo, to push my technical skills by figuring out how to render some item in pastel, to challenge myself to make a pastel painting that is more exciting than the photo, etc. I like to think I have mostly succeeded.

At this time I am running low on images and have not yet imagined what comes next. Do I travel to La Paz again in 2021 to capture new photos? This series was a surprise gift so I am reluctant to deliberately chase after it knowing that ‘lightning never strikes twice.’ Will travel even be possible this year with Covid-19? These are questions I am wrestling with now.

Comments are welcome!

Q: I understand your comments to mean that being at the studio challenges you to be your best. How (why) do you think that works? (Question from Nancy Nikkal)

"Avenger," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Avenger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A: I am always trying to push my pastel techniques further, seeking to figure out new ways to render my subject matter, expanding my technical vocabulary. It would be monotonous to keep working the same old way.  Wasn’t it John Baldessari who said, “No more boring art?”  He was talking about art that’s boring to look at.  Well, as someone who CREATES art I don’t want to be bored during the making so I keep challenging myself.  I love learning, in general, and I especially love learning new things about soft pastel.

Very often I start a project because I have no idea how to depict some particular subject using pastel.  For example, one of the reasons I undertook “Avenger” was to challenge myself to render all of that hair!  Eventually I managed to figure it out and I learned a few new techniques in the process.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 406

With “Avenger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38” image, 70” x 50” framed

With “Avenger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38” image, 70” x 50” framed

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

If we really are due for a shift in consciousness, it is incumbent upon each of us to “be the change,” in Gandhi’s famous phrase.  Nothing is written in the stars.

Art is a testament to this way of thinking, because every great work of art is made, not for an abstract audience, but for the lone percipient with whom it seeks to connect.  The symbols that compose artistic works are not static objects but dynamic events.  As such, they can only emerge within a field of awareness, that is, within the context of a life being lived.  It is therefore by approaching the work of art as though it were intended specifically for you – as though the artist had fashioned it with you in mind every step of the way – that you can turn the aesthetic experience into an engine of change in your own life and in the lives of those around you.

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 403

"Avenger," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Avenger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

There is that doctor who opens you up, does exactly the right thing, closes you up – and you die.  He failed to take the chance that might have saved you.  Art is a crucial, dangerous operation we perform on ourselves.  Unless we take a chance, we die in art.

Morty Feldman quoted in Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of “Avenger,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

Start

Start

Finished and signed lower right

Finished and signed lower right

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  “Avenger,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38” awaits finishing touches.

Comments are welcome!

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