Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)
A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz. The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time. I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift. To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series. One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.
The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.
“My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia. One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.
The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’). Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March.
Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances. The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532. “The Morenada” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work. The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins. The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest). Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.
The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic. Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive. The whole effect was uncanny. The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years. This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!
Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new series – I said as much to my companions as I remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs. Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.”
Comments are welcome!
Q: Your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are very labor intensive. Do you typically have just one in progress at any given time?
A: For many years I always worked on one at a time because I have only one or two ideas – never more than that – about what I will make next. Also, I believe that “all art is the result of one’s having gone through an experience to the end.” (It’s on a note taped to the wall near my easel). So I would work on one painting at a time until all of the problems in it were resolved. Each piece that I undertake represents an investment of several months of my life and after nearly three decades as an artist, I know that once I start a piece I will not abandon it for any reason. When it is the best painting that I can make – when adding or subtracting anything would be a diminishment – I pronounce it “finished.” In the past I would start the next one only when the completed piece was out of my sight and at the frame shop.
But a few years ago I began working on two pastel paintings at a time. When I get stuck – or just need a break from looking at the same image day after day (I am in my studio 5 days a week) – I switch to the other one. This helps me work more efficiently. The two paintings interact with each other; they play off of each other and one suggests solutions that help me to resolve problem areas in the other. I’m not sure exactly how this happens – maybe putting a piece aside for awhile alerts my unconscious to begin working deeply on it – but having two in progress at the same time is my preferred way of working now.
A note about the painting on the left above, which was previously called, “Judas.” I happen to be reading “Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell and came across the word “judasing” used as a verb meaning, “doing some evil to a person who profoundly trusted you.” I’d never heard the word before, but it resonated with an event in my personal life. So the new title of my painting is “Judasing.” This is a good reminder that work and life are inextricably (and inexplicably) woven together and that titles can come from anywhere!
Comments are welcome!