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Pearls from artists* # 338

Pastels

Pastels

*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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Q: What significance do the folk art figures that you collect during your travels have for you?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I am drawn to each figure because it possesses a powerful presence that resonates with me.  I am not sure exactly how or why, but I know each piece I collect has lessons to teach. 

Who made this thing?  How?  Why?  Where?  When?  I feel connected to each object’s creator and curiosity leads me to become a detective and an archaeologist to find out more about them and to figure out how to best use them in my work. 

The best way I can describe it:  after nearly three decades of seeking out, collecting, and using these folk art figures as symbols in my work, the entire process has become a rich personal journey towards gaining greater knowledge and wisdom.

Comments are welcome!      

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

 

A:  I am in the early stages – only 3 or 4 layers of pastel applied so far – on a large pastel painting with the working title, “He and She.”  The figures are two favorites –  a four-foot tall male and female couple, made of carved wood and silver and gold-leaf.  I found them years ago at Galerie Eugenio in Mexico City. 

These are the largest heads I have ever painted.  As I work on this piece I remember one of my teachers saying, “Never paint a head larger than life-size.”  Well, here’s to breaking rules.     

For reference I am looking at a digital photograph shot with my Canon T3i.  My usual practice is to make a c-print from a negative made with my Mamiya 6, but the photo clipped to my easel above is from a high resolution JPEG.  Typically I set up a scene at home on a black cloth and photograph it, but my reference photo was taken in my studio without rearranging anything.  In  this painting I am breaking a few rules, while my creative process is perhaps evolving towards  greater simplicity.         

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Pearls from artists* # 129

 

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

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

A painter friend of mine once told me that he thought of sound as an usher for the here and now.  When he was a small child, Adam suffered an illness that left him profoundly deaf for several months.  His memories of that time are vivid and not, he insists, at all negative.  Indeed, they opened a world in which the images he saw could be woven together with much greater freedom and originality than he’d ever known.  The experience was powerful enough that it helped steer him toward his lifelong immersion in the visual arts.  “Sound imposes a narrative on you,” he said, “and it’s always someone else’s narrative.  My experience of silence was like being awake inside a dream I could direct.”

George Prochnik in In Pursuit of Silence:  Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise 

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Pearls from artists* # 62

"The Sovereign," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“The Sovereign,” 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.

Yes, I’m formalistically obsessed.  I see in a picture what I see in nature – everything has its place and is integrated.  Like a tree or a human body, the image is put together for a greater whole.  If you chop off something, you immediately destroy the organism.  Form is crucial to what I do, and I believe that the form, in a way, creates the content.  If you don’t have the form, you don’t get the content.  If you get the maximum formal relationships in a precise, organic, metaphoric methodology, then you have a better chance of bringing out the content to its full degree.  Of course, a picture doesn’t stand alone by its form.  You can have forms that relate but offer no meaning.  Ultimately, a picture is judged by its meaning, and I think that’s what a lot of people lose sight of.     

Interview with Roger Ballen in Lines, Marks, and Drawings:  Through the Lens of Roger Ballen, Craig Allen Subler and Christine Mullen Kreamer

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Pearls from artists* # 61

White Sands, NM

White Sands, NM

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

I can only shudder when I think of life without our handiwork.  The sheer paucity of living only for the sake of survival and empty diversion would be that of an empty vessel.  My own life as an artist helps me to fill that vessel, and on occasion I am able to share that with another.  Is there meaning in my struggle, my endless solitude?  Yes, I believe there is, for at the very least I have found greater meaning for myself in that search.  And as those artists who have come before me have perhaps more clearly expressed, our ability to ponder the questions that denote our humanness are worthy of a life of solitude.  That is where I find my solace and my courage.  In the final analysis, it is the art that I make that allows me to pause and briefly see.  Only now do I begin to understand and accept both the burden and joy of my life.  

Dianne Albin quoted in Eric Maisel’s The Van Gogh Blues

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Pearls from artists* # 48

"Big Deal," with double portrait of the author

“Big Deal,” with double portrait of the author

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

Until the invention of photography, the painted (or sculptural) portrait was the only means of recording and presenting the likeness of a person.  Photography took over this role from painting and at the same time raised our standards for judging how much an informative likeness should include.

This is not to say that photographs are in all ways superior to painted portraits.  They are more informative, more psychologically revealing, and in general more accurate.  But they are less tensely unified.  Unity in a work of art is achieved as a result of the limitations of the medium.  Every element has to be transformed in order to have its proper place within these limitations.  In photography the transformation is to a considerable extent mechanical.  In a painting each transformation is largely the result of a conscious decision by the artist.  Thus the unity of a painting is permeated by a far higher degree of intention.  The total effect of a painting (as distinct from its truthfulness) is less arbitrary than that of a photograph; its construction is more intensely socialized because it is dependent on a greater number of human decisions.  A photographic portrait may be more revealing and accurate about the likeness and character of the sitter; but it is likely to be less persuasive, less (in the very strict sense of the word) conclusive.  For example, if the portraitist’s intention is to flatter or idealize, he will be able to do so far more convincingly in a painting than with a photograph. 

Geoff Dyer, editor, Selected Essays:  John Berger

Comments are welcome!

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