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Pearls from artists* # 141

Painting, subject, reference photo

Painting, subject, reference photo

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

It would be very interesting to record photographically not the stages of a painting, but its metamorphoses.  One would see perhaps by what course a mind finds its way towards the crystallization of its dream.  But what is really very curious is to see that the picture does not change basically, that the initial vision remains almost intact in spite of appearances.  I see often a light and dark, when I have put them in my picture, I do everything I can to ‘break them up,’ in adding a color that creates a counter effect.  I perceive, when this work is photographed, that which I have introduced to correct my first vision has disappeared, and that after all the photographic image corresponds to my first vision, before the occurrence of the transformation brought about by my will.

The picture is not thought out and determined beforehand, rather while it is being made it follows the mobility of thought.  Finished, it changes further, according to the condition of him who looks at it.  A picture lives its life like a living creature, undergoing the changes that daily life imposes on us.  That is natural, since a picture lives only through him who looks at it.

Christian Zervos:  Conversation with Picasso in The Creative Process, edited by Brewster Ghiselin

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Another interesting series of yours that has impressed me is your recent “Black Paintings.” The pieces in this series are darker than the ones in “Domestic Threats.” You create an effective mix between the dark background and the few bright tones, which establish such a synergy rather than a contrast, and all the dark creates a prelude to light. It seems to reveal such a struggle, a deep tension, and intense emotions. Any comments on your choice of palette and how it has changed over time?

West 29th Street studio

West 29th Street studio

A:  That is a great question!  

You are correct that my palette has darkened. It’s partly from having lived in New York for so long. This is a generally dark city. We famously dress in black and the city in winter is mainly greys and browns.  

Also, the “Black Paintings” are definitely post-9/11 work. My husband, Bryan, was tragically killed onboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Losing Bryan was the biggest shock I ever have had to endure, made even harder because it came just 87 days after we had married. We had been together for 14 ½ years and in September 2001 were happier than we had ever been. He was killed so horribly and so senselessly. Post 9/11 was an extremely difficult, dark, and lonely time.  

In the summer of 2002 I resumed making art, continuing to make “Domestic Threats” paintings. That series ran its course and ended in 2007. Around then I was feeling happier and had come to better terms with losing Bryan (it’s something I will never get over but dealing with loss does get easier with time). When I created the first “Black Paintings” I consciously viewed the background as literally, the very dark place that I was emerging from, exactly like the figures emerging in these paintings. The figures themselves are wildly colorful and full of life, so to speak, but that black background is always there.       

Comments are welcome!     

Q: What’s the point of all of this? Shouldn’t we be discussing how to end poverty or promote world peace? What can art do?

Lightning Field, Quemado, NM

Lightning Field, Quemado, NM

A:   I happen to recently have read an inspiring book by Anne Bogart, the theater director.  It’s called, “and then you act:  making art in an unpredictable world” and she talks about such issues.  I’ll quote her wise words below:
 
“Rather than the experience of life as a shard, art can unite and connect the strands of the universe.  When you are in touch with art, borders vanish and the world opens up.  Art can expand the definition of what it means to be human.  So if we agree to hold ourselves to higher standards and make more rigorous demands on ourselves, then we can say in our work, ‘We have asked ourselves these questions and we are trying to answer them, and that effort earns us the right to ask you, the audience, to face these issues, too.’  Art demands action from the midst of the living and makes a space where growth can happen.
 
One day, particularly discouraged about the global environment, I asked my friend the playwright Charles L. Mee, Jr., ‘How are we supposed to function in these difficult times?  How can we contribute anything useful in this climate?’  ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘You have a choice of two possible directions.  Either you convince yourself that these are terrible times and things will never get better and so you decide to give up, or, you choose to believe that there will be a better time in the future.  If that is the case, your job in these  dark political and social times is to gather together everything you value and become a transport bridge.  Pack up what you cherish and carry it on your back to the future.'”

“…  In the United States, we are the targets of mass distraction.  We are the objects of constant flattery and manufactured desire.  I believe that the only possible resistance to a culture of banality is quality.  To me, the world often feels unjust, vicious, and even unbearable.  And yet, I know that my development as a person is directly proportional to my capacity for discomfort.  I see pain, destructive behavior and blindness of the political sphere.  I watch wars declared, social injustices that inhabit the streets of my hometown, and a planet in danger of pollution and genocide.  I have to do something.  My chosen field of action is the theater.”

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 63

Untitled, chromogenic print, 24" x 24," edition of 5

Untitled, chromogenic print, 24″ x 24,” edition of 5

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

The artist’s job is to get in touch with the dark places of the soul and then shed light there.  Sharing the process with others is the point.  Within the context of our post-Cold War, post-9/11 climate, shedding light in newly fecund dark places is a valuable activity.  The dark places of the soul that haunt our dreams are understandably matched by a tendency to shut out the issues with the busy work of the daylight hours.  But without looking into those dark places, as Carl Jung suggested, we will lose touch with our essential humanity.

Anne Bogart, and then, you act:  making art in an unpredictable world

Comments are welcome!

Q: You recently spent several weeks in Sri Lanka. After experiencing so many new sights and sounds, is it difficult to get back to work in your studio?

Cave temple at Natha Devale, Sri Lanka

Cave temple at Natha Devale, Sri Lanka

A:  It definitely requires some readjustment and a period –  maybe a day or two – during which I feel removed from the painting on my easel and need time to become reacquainted with it.  It’s a time to refocus, stay put, and reflect.  For weeks I’ve led an action-packed life, exploring a fascinating country on the other side of the world.  Over time, all of the experiences I’ve had will stay with me, or not, and in some ways begin to influence my work. 

It’s funny.  I often think of my studio as a cave.  It’s a rather dark place and sometimes I have to force myself to go.  In Sri Lanka I saw many ancient Buddhist cave temples, wild and vibrant, with colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings, chock full of statues of Buddha and other deities.  My travels have given me a new appreciation of the riches to be found in caves of all sorts, including (especially) my own studio!    

Comments are welcome!         

Pearls from artists* # 56

Utah

Utah

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

Balancing intuition against sensory information, and sensitivity to one’s self against pragmatic knowledge of the world, is not a stance unique to artists.  The specialness of artists is the degree to which these precarious balances are crucial backups for their real endeavor.  Their essential effort is to catapult themselves wholly, without holding back one bit, into a course of action without having any idea where they will end up.  They are like riders who gallop into the night, eagerly leaning on their horse’s neck, peering into a blinding rain.  And they have to do it over and over again.  When they find that they have ridden and ridden – maybe for years, full tilt – in what is for them a mistaken direction, they must unearth within themselves some readiness to turn direction and to gallop off again.  They may spend a little time scraping off the mud, resting the horse, having a hot bath, laughing and sitting in candlelight with friends.  But in the back of their minds they never forget that the dark, driving run is theirs to make again.  They need their balances in order to support their risks.  The more they develop an understanding of all their experience – the more it is at their command – the more they carry with them into the whistling wind.

Anne Truitt in Daybook:  The Journal of an Artist

Q: Have you ever worked outside?

Reproductions of "Cardinal Rule" (top) and "Blue Ego," originals are soft pastel on sandpaper, 30" x 38"

Reproductions of “Cardinal Rule” (top) and “Blue Ego,” originals are soft pastel on sandpaper, 30″ x 38″

A:  As a pastel artist I’ve never worked outside – with so many pastels, it’s just not practical – but early on in the “Domestic Threats” series, I created two outdoor setups.  Works in the series derived from elaborate scenes that I arranged and then photographed.  

I used to take long walks along the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA, and there was a tree stump that was fascinating.  It was mostly twisted roots, knotty branches, dark hidden spaces, etc. (top painting in photo).  One morning I took several hand puppets and stuffed animals (my subject matter at the time) and carefully arranged them on the tree.  Around me people were busy exercising their dogs.  Soon I attracted quite a bit of attention – a tall blonde woman playing with puppets on a tree stump!  Dogs came over to sniff.  Their owners came over, too, and I was pressed into explaining, again and again, that I was an artist, that I was photographing this scene so I could paint it, etc.  The interruptions were very annoying.

The second time I tried an outdoor setup was again along the Potomac River, but this time I selected a secluded strip of beach where I was undisturbed.  I had forgotten to consider the light and inadvertently chose a cloudy day.  I remember being disappointed that the light was flat and lacking shadows.  The painting (bottom in photo) turned out to be one of my least favorites. 

I resolved from then on to focus on interiors.  Alfred Hitchcock famously used rear projection so that he could work in a studio rather than on location.  One reason, he said, was that in a studio he had total control.  I know what he meant.  When I set up an interior scene and position the lights to make interesting shadows, indeed, I have control over the whole look.  No aspect is left to chance.   The accidents – improvements! – happen later when I work on the painting.  

Comments are welcome!    

Pearls from artists* # 22

Alexandria living room

Alexandria living room

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

So inclination you see is not lacking, and yet in all probability I shall have to try right here to clamber in the dark and all alone over the crest of the year, so to speak, for disciplinary reasons.  I shall not deserve it otherwise, that is:  I have long wanted to be here all alone, strictly alone, to go into my cocoon, to pull myself together, in short, to live by my heart and nothing else.  Now since day before yesterday I have really been here all alone inside the old walls – outside, the sea, outside, the Karst, outside, the rain, perhaps tomorrow the storm – now must appear what is within by way of counterweight to such great and fundamental things.  So, if something quite unexpected does not come, it may be the right thing to say, to hold out, to hold still with a kind of curiosity toward oneself, don’t you think?  That is how things stand, and if I stir now everything will shift again; and then hearts are labeled, like certain medicines:  shake before taking; I have been continually shaken in these last years, but never taken, that is why it is better that I should quietly arrive at clarity and precipitation…    

Jane Bannard Greene and M.D. Herter Norton, translators, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke 1910 – 1926

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 15

Somewhere in Guatemala

Somewhere in Guatemala

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

The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish, and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: “You need an idea.” It’s not enough for me to walk into a studio and start dancing, hoping that something good will come of my aimless cavorting on the floor. Creativity doesn’t generally work that way for me. (The rare times when it has stand out like April blizzards). You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.

… I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” This happens to anyone who is willing to stand in front of an audience and talk about his or her work. The short answer is: everywhere. It’s like asking, “Where do you find the air you breathe?” Ideas are all around you.

I hesitate to wax eloquent about the omnipresence of ideas and how everything we need to make something out of nothing – tell a story, design a building, hum a melody – already resides within us in our experience, memories, taste, judgment, critical demeanor, humanity, purpose, and humor. I hesitate because it is so blindingly obvious. If I’m going to be a cheerleader for the creative urge, let it be for something other than the oft-repeated notion that ideas are everywhere.

What people are really asking, I suppose, is not, “Where do you get your ideas?” but “How do you get them?”

To answer that, you first have to appreciate what an idea is.

Ideas take many forms. There are good ideas and bad ideas. Big ideas and little ideas.

A good idea is one that turns you on rather than shuts you off. It keeps generating more ides and they improve one another. A bad idea closes doors instead of opening them. It’s confining and restrictive. The line between good and bad ideas is very thin. A bad idea in the hands of the right person can easily be tweaked into a good idea.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life: A Practical Guide

Comments are welcome.