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Q: If you knew that you would never sell another pastel painting, would you still make them?

Preliminary sketch and photo

Preliminary sketch and photo

A:  This is an interesting question to ponder in August when the art world is on vacation.

Certainly I would continue (reread my blog post of July 25th), but I wouldn’t bother to make them if one unrelated thing were true:  that I knew beforehand what they would look like.  Then the process just wouldn’t be very interesting.

Each pastel painting is an exploration, a journey with a point of departure.  My reference photo and preliminary sketch serve as guides, but creating a painting is like making a voyage with only the roughest of maps.  As I work, new possibilities open up that take the painting  – and me – to places that could not have been imagined.      

Comments are welcome!         

Q: Would you talk about your use of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art as a convenient way to study formal properties such as color, shape, pattern, composition, etc. in your pastel paintings?

Models, reference photograph, and pastel painting in progress

Models, reference photograph, and pastel painting in progress

A:  For me an interesting visual property of these objects is that they readily present themselves as a vehicle for exploring formal artistic properties, like color, pattern, shape, etc. especially compared to my earlier subject matter:  hyper-realistic portraits and still-lifes.  Intent as I was on creating verisimilitude in the earlier work, there was little room for experimentation.  

Many Mexican and Guatemalan folk art objects are wildly painted and being a lover of color, their brilliant colors and patterns are  what initially attracted me.  As a painter I am free to use their actual appearance as my starting point.  I photograph them out-of-focus and through colored gels in order to change their appearance and make them strange, enacting my own particular version of “rendering the familiar strange.”  Admittedly these objects are not so familiar to begin with. 

When I make a pastel painting I look at my reference photograph and I also look at the objects, positioning them within eye-shot of my easel.  There is no need whatsoever to be faithful to their actual appearance so my imagination takes over.  As I experiment with thousands of soft pastels, with shape, with pattern, with composition, and all the rest, I have one goal in mind – to create the best pastel-on-sandpaper painting I am capable of making. 

Comments are welcome!         

Q: How do you know when a series has ended?

 

"A Promise, Meant to be Broken," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“A Promise, Meant to be Broken,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  I suppose it’s when there is nothing left to say within a particular body of work.  The urgency to add something I haven’t tried vanishes.  Usually I can’t even think of anything I haven’t tried. 

I knew with certainty that the “Domestic Threats” series was finished while “A Promise Meant to be Broken” was still on my easel.  It’s no accident that I included a self-portrait.  This painting was my way of saying good-bye to an important body of work – literally turning my back on it – and summing up where the work had taken me. 

For artists each series is a creative journey with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  At a certain point it’s over.  Then you build on what you’ve accomplished and move on to create something new.  The connection between new work and old may not always be obvious, but one thing is certain:  all the previous work laid the groundwork for what you make today.    

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 135

 

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.

[Meredith Monk on beginning a new piece and whether it gets easier over time].

I always say that the fear is overwhelming at the beginning.  It’s like jumping off a cliff.  You have absolutely no idea what is going on.  It is like being a detective.  You try to follow every clue that comes up.  Some of them are McGuffins, but I think that is what the process is.  It starts out with fear, and I think that’s a good thing.  If you know what you are doing already, what is the point in doing it?  It is always like hanging out and tolerating pain and the fear of the unknown.  Then usually what happens is that a little something will come up.  If I am sitting at the piano – and I remember sitting at the piano and almost shaking at the beginning of this piece – one little phrase will come up.  And then you get a little interested in that one little phrase.  Or I say to myself, “Step by step.”  Another thing I say to myself, “Remember playfulness, Meredith?”

What happens at a certain point is that the thing itself starts coming in and you realize that you are more interested than you are afraid.  You are in this thing, whatever it is, and fear is useless at a certain point.  But at the beginning, it is not bad.  It is saying that you are risking.  I think that taking the chance on risking is something that keeps you young.  I’ll tell you, what you are saying about my skills – I don’t find it easier.  It is just as hard as it ever was.  I don’t think, “Now I have these skills.”  I don’t think in those terms at all.

… When you are making something new, you aren’t going to be able to use the same technique that you used on something else.  Maybe other people think it is easier as they go along.  I think part of the challenge is not to rely on things that you know, and to keep on listening.  It is really a process of listening to what something needs.  What’s right for it.   

Conversations with Meredith Monk by Bonnie Marranca

Comments are welcome!  

 

Q: You have written about how you came to your current subject matter, but what led you away from photorealism to work that while not exactly abstract, leans more in that direction?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Once I had achieved a high degree of technical facility with soft pastel, there was not much more to be gained from copying reality.  Cameras do an excellent job of that so what would be the point? 

Ultimately, all art lies in following an experience through to the end.  Art is in the choices one makes.  A visual artist’s private decisions about what to include and what to leave out become her unique inimitable style.  Years ago I made a conscious decision to abandon photorealism.  Since then I have been on a journey to work more from imagination and direct experience and less from physical reality. 

It’s funny.  I have always worked from photographs.  Because I have a strong work ethic and substantial technical skill, I often feel like a slacker if I do not put in all the details that I see in the reference photo.  That’s why the journey has been so slow, I think, as I convince myself it’s really ok to omit more and more details.  

Comments are welcome!       

Pearls from artists* # 116

Preliminary sketch

Preliminary sketch

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

What is the point of all the discipline, hard work, and training?  What does the training and preparation have to do with rehearsing a play and with performance?  The training and the discipline and the sweating and the study and the memorizing are not the end point, but rather the entry.  The preparation is what gives one the permission to take up space and make wild, surprising, and untamed choices.  In the quest for artistic freedom and agency it is impossible to walk into a rehearsal room uninhibited, unburdened.  We are generally chained down by habits and assumptions and by fear of the new.  Permission is what we earn by the sweat, training, preparatory work and dedication.

Anne Bogart in What’s the Story:  Essays in art, theater, and storytelling

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 101

 

Teleidoscope

Teleidoscope

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

Everything you do in life informs your work.  You walk around thinking about it all the time, dreaming about it.  It’s just there.  At a certain point it simply doesn’t go away.

Joanne Akalitis quoted in Anne Bogart’s Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 91

Mexico City

Mexico City

* 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’m struggling a lot financially, struggling a lot to keep my group going, struggling to keep going in every way, but I feel like I try so hard because every time that I’m able to go to a college or to be with young people they need to know that there is this “anything is possible” idea.  They need to at least see that.  I intend to continue nevertheless.  Somehow that seems very important right now.  It isn’t that you go to school just to find out everything you need to get a job or something.  We never thought of what we did as a job.  We thought of it as our work, our life.  Then there was a certain point, I think, in the eighties where people thought of their identity as this and then what you did was a job.  There was a separation between the two things.    

I pray that now there will be some loosening and we’ll feel this sense of, just as you said so beautifully, space and breath.  No one’s breathing.  That’s why I feel that doing art is so important.  It makes you dig in your heels even more.  It’s a life-and-death kind of thing.  What is the other alternative?  The other alternative is that you’re living in a culture that’s basically trying to distract you from the moment.  It’s trying to distract you from your life.  It’s trying to distract you from who you are, and it’s trying to numb you, and it’s trying to make you buy things.  Now, I don’t really think that that’s what life is about.  I’m excited because now I have this real sense that there’s this counterculture, you could say, or counter-impulse.  it’s not for-and-against, but there is a kind of dialectic where there’s a kind of resistance you can actually hit against, or at least address in one way or the other.    

Meredith Monk quoted in Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews, by Anne Bogart

Comments are welcome!

  

Pearls from artists* # 88

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

* 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 men like Ayers, it occurs to me, this temple is civilization.  The masses, slaves, peasants, and foot soldiers exist in the cracks of its flagstones, ignorant even of their ignorance.  Not so the great statesmen, scientists, artists, and most of all, the composers of the age, any age, who are civilization’s architects, masons, and priests.  Ayers sees our role is to make civilization ever more resplendent.  My employer’s profoundest, or only, wish is to create a minaret that inheritors of Progress a thousand years from now will point to and say, “Look, there is Vyvyan Ayers!”

How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false.  Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings.  One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and blizzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.

David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas

Comments are welcome!