Q: Have you always signed your work on the front? (Question from Anna Rybat)
A: Yes, I have no other choice. I frame all of my pastel paintings under plexiglas soon after they’re completed. Were I to sign on the reverse, as do many painters, my signature would be hidden. Moreover, I sign using pastel pencils so the letters would get smudged.
As I compose and work to complete a pastel painting, I reserve a specific location for my signature. I sign discreetly so as not to interfere with the depicted imagery. In most cases you have to look closely to see my name.
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Pearls from artists* # 428
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
In its spectacle and ritual the Carnival procession in Oururo bears an intriguing resemblance to the description given by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega of the great Inca festival of Inti Raymi, dedicated to the Sun. Even if Oururo’s festival did not develop directly from that of the Inca, the 16th-century text offers a perspective from the Andean tradition:
“The curacas (high dignitaries) came to their ceremony in their finest array, with garments and head-dresses richly ornamented with gold and silver.
Others, who claimed to descend from a lion, appeared, like Hercules himself, wearing the skin of this animal, including its head.
Others, still, came dressed as one imagines angels with the great wings of the bird called condor, which they considered to be their original ancestor. This bird is black and white in color, so large that the span of its wing can attain 14 or 15 feet, and so strong that many a Spaniard met death in contest with it.
Others wore masks that gave them the most horrible faces imaginable, and these were he Yuncas (people from the tropics), who came to the feast with the heads and gestures of madmen or idiots. To complete the picture, they carried appropriate instruments such as out-of-tune flutes and drums, with which they accompanied the antics.
Other curacas in the region came as well decorated or made up to symbolize their armorial bearings. Each nation presented its weapons: bows and arrows, lances, darts, slings, maces and hatchets, both short and long, depending upon whether they used them with one hand or two.
They also carried paintings, representing feats they had accomplished in the service of the Sun and of the Inca, and a whole retinue of musicians played on the timpani and trumpets they had brought with them. In other words, it may be said that each nation came to the feast with everything that could serve to enhance its renown and distinction, and if possible, its precedence over the others.”
El Carnaval de Oruro by Manuel Vargas in Mascaras de los Andes Bolivianos, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil
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Q: Your work is unlike anyone else’s. There is such power and boldness in your pastels. What processes are you using to create such poignant and robustly colored work?
A: For thirty-three years I have worked exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper. Pastel, which is pigment and a binder to hold it together, is as close to unadulterated color as an artist can get. It allows for very saturated color, especially using the self-invented techniques I have developed and mastered. I believe my “science of color” is unique, completely unlike how any other artist works. I spend three to four months on each painting, applying pastel and blending the layers together to mix new colors on the paper.
The acid-free sandpaper support allows the buildup of 25 to 30 layers of pastel as I slowly and meticulously work for hundreds of hours to complete a painting. The paper is extremely forgiving. I can change my mind, correct, refine, etc. as much as I want until a painting is the best I can create at that moment in time.
My techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color. Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto the sandpaper. In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I make new colors directly on the paper. Regardless of size, each pastel painting takes about four months and hundreds of hours to complete.
I have been devoted to soft pastel from the beginning. In my blog and in numerous interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits. For me no other fine art medium comes close.
My subject matter is singular. I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys. On trips to these countries and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings. How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process. Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.
Comments are welcome!
Pearls from artists* # 338
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Beauty without symbolic depth results in ornament. Symbol without beauty results in psychoanalysis. Only when the two meet can we speak of art. The artistic works that combine the two elements most compellingly are what are called the classics. In his magisterial book The Analogical Imagination, the theologian David Tracy defines the classic as a work exhibiting a permanent “excess of meaning.” We speak of classics as “timeless,” he says, not because they belong to time, but because they are perpetually timely; their relevance never wanes, and each generation, each percipient, must interpret them anew. According to Tracy, we know we are dealing with a classic when a work makes us realize that our general outlook on life is not as complete as we thought it was, that “something else might be the case.” In the light that the classic emanates, things suddenly seem less clear-cut than they used to seem – we find ourselves in the presence of something greater than we are, something potentially infinite. Classics take us to the apex of the numinous, the point of what Werner Herzog calls “ecstatic truth.”
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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