Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 308

"The Ancestors,” 70” x 50” framed, in Barbara's studio

“The Ancestors,” 70” x 50” framed, in Barbara’s studio

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

Art is mysterious because its purpose is unknown and its effect always exceeds the ends we put it to.  If it is true, for instance, that nearly all human societies see the possession of artistic objects as a sign of prestige and power, it may simply be because art’s primary quality makes it a suitable sign for those who want to legitimize their authority.  And while it may be the case that art ennobles us by bringing beauty into our lives, or that it conveys complex cultural ideas simply and effectively, or that it preserves the beliefs of one age for the next – again, these functions could very well follow from art’s original, mysterious, irreducible shining.  Just as it is the gleam of gold that makes it precious in our eye and not its preciousness that makes it gleam, so the primary quality of art could precede all of its uses and appropriations.  In other words art may be something before it becomes all the things we claim it to be.           

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 194

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

* 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 did sculpture because what interested me in painting was to bring some order to my brain.  It was a change of means.  I took to clay as a break from painting; at the time I’d done absolutely everything I could in painting.  Which means it was still about organizing.  It was to put my sensations in order and look for a method that really suited me.  When I’d found it in sculpture, I used it for painting.  To come into possession of my own brain:  that was always the goal, a sort of hierarchy of all my sensations, so that I could reach a conclusion.

One day, visiting Carriere at his house, I told him that.  He replied:  “But, my friend, that’s why you work.  If you ever managed it, you’d probably stop working.  It’s your reason for working.”

In painting – in any oeuvre – the goal is to reconcile the irreconcilable.  There are all kinds of qualities in us, contradictory qualities. You have to construct something viable with that, something stable.  That’s why you work your whole life long and want to keep on working until the last moment… as long as you haven’t admitted defeat or lost your curiosity, as long as you haven’t settled into a routine.    

Chatting with Henri Matisse:  The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you have any essential words that you live by?

Studio wall

Studio wall

A:  I certainly do!  When I left the active duty Navy in 1989, my co-workers threw a farewell party.  One of the parting gifts I received was a small plaque from Tina Greene, a young enlisted woman whom I had supervised.  The words on the plaque deeply resonated with me, since I was about to make a significant, risky, and scary career change.  It was the perfect gift for someone facing the uncertainty of an art career. 

Many years later Tina’s plaque is still a proud possession of mine.  It is hanging on the wall behind my easel, to be read every day as I work.  It says:

“Excellence can be attained if you…

Care more than others think is wise…

Risk more than others think is safe…

Dream more than others think is practical…

Expect more than others think is possible.”

Comments are welcome!

Q: Can you speak about what draws you to the Mexican and Guatemalan figures that you collect?

Shop in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo:  Donna Tang

Shop in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo: Donna Tang

A:  I search the markets and bazaars of Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere for folk art objects – masks, carved wooden animals, papier mache figures, children’s toys – to bring back to New York to paint and photograph. Color is very important – the brighter and the more eye-catching the patterns are on these objects the better – plus they must be unique and have lots of personality. I try not to buy anything mass-produced or obviously made for the tourist trade. The objects must have been used or otherwise look like they’ve had a life (i.e., been part of religious festivities) to draw my attention. How and where each one comes into my possession is an important part of my creative process.

Finding, buying, and getting them back to the U.S. is always circuitous, but that, too, is part of the process, an adventure, and often a good story. Here’s an example. In 2009 I was in a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, called Panajachel. After returning from a boat ride across the lake, my friends and I were walking back to our hotel when we discovered a wonderful mask store. I spent some time looking around, made my selections, and was ready to buy five exquisitely-made standing wooden figures, when I learned that Tomas, the store owner, did not accept credit cards. I was heart-broken and thought, “Oh, no, I’ll have to leave them behind.” However, thanks to my good friend, Donna, whose Spanish is much more fluent than mine, the three of us brain-stormed until finally, Tomas had an idea. I could pay for the figures at the hotel up the block and in a few days when the hotel was paid by the credit card company, the hotel would pay Tomas. Fabulous! Tomas, Donna, and I walked to the hotel, where the transaction was made and the first hurdle was overcome. Working out the packing and shipping arrangements took another hour or two, but during that time Tomas and I became friends and exchanged telephone numbers (the store didn’t even have a telephone so he gave me the phone number of the post office next door, saying that when I called, he could easily run next door!). Most surprisingly, the package was waiting for me in New York when I returned home from Guatemala.

Comments are welcome!