* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
To summarize, art is expression. Expression is nonutilitarian and has no purpose beyond itself. Early on this led me to define works of art as things whose only function is to be perceived. Since the appearance of such things in everyday life breaks the drift of habit for which we have been hard-wired by evolution, art always occurs as an interruption. In the course of time, humans have produced innumerable works of art, subordinating them to innumerable ends according to the needs of the hour, yet all art exhibits a primal quality that exceeds those appropriations. Because the inherent multivalence of art threatens the desire to reduce things to clear significations, human societies have a tendency to overlook it, with the result that a great many aesthetic objects are called art when they are perhaps something else. To clarify this distinction I called art designed to serve instrumental reason “artifice.” In its worst forms, artifice amounts to aesthetic manipulation of a kind that is indisputably hostile to the ideals of openness, plurality, freedom of thought, and rational disclosure that we were told were the cornerstones of modernity. Art, on the other hand, is innately emancipatory, being itself the affirmation or sign of freedom.
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
Comments are welcome!
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your process? What happens before you even begin a pastel painting?
A: My process is extremely slow and labor-intensive.
First, there is foreign travel – often to Mexico, Guatemala or someplace in Asia – to find the cultural objects – masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys – that are my subject matter. I search the local markets, bazaars, and mask shops for these folk art objects. I look for things that are old, that look like they have a history, and were probably used in religious festivals of some kind. Typically, they are colorful, one-of-a- kind objects that have lots of inherent personality. How they enter my life and how I get them back to my New York studio is an important part of my art-making practice.
My working methods have changed dramatically over the nearly thirty years that I have been an artist. My current process is a much simplified version of how I used to work. As I pared down my imagery in the current series, “Black Paintings,” my creative process quite naturally pared down, too.
One constant is that I have always worked in series with each pastel painting leading quite naturally to the next. Another is that I always set up a scene, plan exactly how to light and photograph it, and work with a 20″ x 24″ photograph as the primary reference material.
In the setups I look for eye-catching compositions and interesting colors, patterns, and shadows. Sometimes I make up a story about the interaction that is occurring between the “actors,” as I call them.
In the “Domestic Threats” series I photographed the scene with a 4″ x 5″ Toyo Omega view camera. In my “Gods and Monsters” series I shot rolls of 220 film using a Mamiya 6. I still like to use an old analog camera for fine art work, although I have been rethinking this practice.
Nowadays the first step is to decide which photo I want to make into a painting (currently I have a backlog of photographs to choose from) and to order a 19 1/2″ x 19 1/2″ image (my Mamiya 6 shoots square images) printed on 20″ x 24″ paper. They recently closed, but I used to have the prints made at Manhattan Photo on West 20th Street in New York. Now I go to Duggal. Typically I have in mind the next two or three paintings that I want to create.
Once I have the reference photograph in hand, I make a preliminary tonal charcoal sketch on a piece of white drawing paper. The sketch helps me think about how to proceed and points out potential problem areas ahead.
Only then am I ready to start actually making the painting.
Comments are welcome!