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Pearls from artists* # 320

"Offering," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Offering,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

As soon as I use words and actions to convey an emotion, I engage with the world, pitting my feelings against fate in hopes of a desired outcome.  If I am angry, my anger is directed at someone or something.  If I am in love, my love is for another.  Feelings are purposive in ordinary reality, our emotional states tangled in the processes of life.  This is what we mean when we refer to ourselves as subjects.  But if, instead of acting on a feeling, I make it the basis of a song or a film or a dance, something strange happens.  My purposive feeling leaves the closed circle of my personal existence, almost as though I had taken it out of historical time altogether.  Transposed into the work of art, it becomes nonpurposive, undirected.  It disassociates from its original focus, and from my self as subject, acquires a kind of autonomy.  Artistic creation allows for the subjective aspect of our lives normally locked inside our skulls to exist outside us, which is to say that in art, the subjective becomes objective.   

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 319

"She Embraced It and Grew Stronger," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” 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.

Ultimately, whether we judge an artistic work to be enjoyable or not may be immaterial when we consider the effect it has on us.  A film might affect us in profound ways even though we found it difficult to watch or failed to grasp the point, if any, that the filmmakers were trying to get across.  Most people have experienced artistic works that, although their own egos may have found them lacking in certain respects, continued to work on them long afterward, subtly altering them whether they wished it or not.  The crucial factor isn’t whether we have been amused or delighted by a work but whether we have let the forces within it penetrate the closed perimeter of our lives and expand our horizons.  True sensibility, real good taste, involves the ability to recognize when such forces are present, and to distinguish between superficial reactions and the deeper affects these forces elicit.       

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 318

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

“Conundrum,” 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.

We tend to see our “personal tastes” as positive personality traits, whereas they could just as well indicate limitations that we might overcome given the right opportunity, the appropriate context, and a little courage.  Each person’s unique take on reality will no doubt favor certain aesthetic experiences over others, but it may be that the world is filled with potential aesthetic experiences that our “tastes” prevent us from having for no good reason.   

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 315

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

*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 work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity.  In this nature of its origin lies the judgment of it:  there is no other.  Therefore, my dear sir, I know of no advice for you save this:  to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create.  Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it.  Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist.  Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside.  For the creator must be a world unto himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.    

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translated by M.D. Herter Norton

Comments are welcome!

Q: Why did you first decide to depict Mexican folk art in your work?

"Myth Meets Dream," soft pastel on sandpaper, 47" x 38"

“Myth Meets Dream,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38″

A:  As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent me two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse.  The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure.  See the two Mexican figures in “Myth Meets Dream” above.

I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. Soon I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub.  Two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there, as had master photographer Manual Alvarez Bravo.  There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style, not an actual building) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find.  At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975, having made a road trip to Ensenada with my cousin and best friend from college. 

The following autumn my then-boyfriend, Bryan, and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.  (In my reading I had become fascinated with this unique festival).  We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City.  My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!  

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: How much of your work is autobiographical?

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

A:  I suppose all of it is, in the sense that often I can look at a particular pastel painting and remember what was happening in my life when I made it.  As I get older, however, it’s becoming more difficult to remember the circumstances surrounding my earliest work.  Certainly, the cultures of an ever-expanding number of countries – Bolivia last year – are influencing my imagery for the better.

Comments are welcome!  

Pearls from artists* # 310

"Danzante," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58" image, 50" x 70" framed

“Danzante,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″ image, 50″ x 70″ framed

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

As Immanuel Kant explained, aesthetic rapture is a peculiar kind of subjective phenomenon, since it presents itself as anything but subjective.  It asks to be shared with others in hopes that they too might experience this thing that has had such a profound effect upon us.  Naturally, the desire to share our astonishment is bound to be frustrated as we meet people who respond to our beloved work with indifference or even revulsion.  We then remember that the affective power of works of art varies from person to person, and even from moment to moment within the same person’s life, a fact we usually put down to personal taste, though little consideration is given to what that term might mean.  People have their own inclinations, and given that the aesthetic is held, not just by Kant but also by common wisdom, to be a private affair, its variability across the broad spectrum of human personalities can only seem inevitable.   

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue working on “Acolytes,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58.”

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 304

"Palaver,"soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“Palaver,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

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

… my job as a fiction writer is to write fiction, not to review it.  Art isn’t explanation.  Art is what an artist does, not what an artist explains.  (Or so it seems to me,  which is why I have  a problem with the kind of modern museum art that involves reading what the artist says about a work in order to find out why one should look at it or “how to experience” it).     

Ursula K. Le Guin in No Time to Spare:  Thinking About What Matters

Comments are welcome!

Q: What is more important to you, the subject of the painting or the way it is executed?

"Sam and Bobo,"soft pastel on sandpaper, 36" x 31", 1989

“Sam and Bobo,”soft pastel on sandpaper, 36″ x 31”, 1989

A:  In a sense my subject matter – folk art, masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, toys – chose me.  With it I have complete freedom to experiment with color, pattern, design, and other formal properties.  In other words, although I am a representational artist, I can do whatever I want since the depicted objects need not look like real things.  Execution is everything now.

This was not always the case.  I started out in the 1980s as a traditional photorealist, except I worked in pastel on sandpaper.  (For example, see the detail in Sam’s sweater above).  As I slowly learned and mastered my craft, depicting three-dimensional people and objects hyper-realistically in two dimensions on a piece of sandpaper was thrilling… until one day it wasn’t.  

My personal brand of photorealism became too easy, too limiting, too repetitive, and SO boring to execute!  In 1989 I had at last extricated myself from a dull career as a Naval officer working in Virginia at the Pentagon.  Then after much planning, in 1997 I was a full-time professional artist working in New York.  

Certainly I was not going to throw away this opportunity by making boring photorealist art.  I wanted to do so much more as an artist:  to experiment with techniques, with composition, to see what I could make pastel do, to let my imagination play a larger role in the paintings I made. I was ready to devote the time and do whatever it took to push my art further.

After spending the early creative years perfecting my technical skills, I built on what I had learned.  I began breaking rules – slowly at first – in order to push myself onward.  And I continue to do so, never knowing what’s next.  Hopefully, in 2018 my art is richer for it.

Comments are welcome!