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Pearls from artists* # 355

"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.

True art provides us with truth in a manner analogous to science.  Its prophetic dimension – its knack for showing us the side of things that our interests blind us to – make it a source of knowledge, even though it is knowledge of a kind that instrumental reason has little time for.  The psychologists who revolutionized our understanding of human psychology in the earliest twentieth century drew on two principal sources to build their concepts:  the dream life of their patients and the great art of the past.  Without this recognition of the primacy of imagination, Freud and Jung could never have drawn their maps of the psyche.  Those who work for a better world would do well to follow their example and find the guiding patterns of life in the prophetic artistic works of the past and present.  Only art can act as a counter-weight to that uniquely modern mentality that, wherever it becomes the only game in town, seeks to persuade us that the proper goal of human beings is to contain, dissect, and control everything – that even the most persistent mysteries are just problems to be solved.

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 348

“The Orator” in “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at Westbeth Gallery, NYC

“The Orator” in “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at Westbeth Gallery, NYC

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

The percipient apprehends the primal quality of art as beauty and symbol, in an experience that invariably involves a sense of radical mystery.  Art dissolves the fog of Consensus in which we normally operate to reveal the unseen in the situation.  It places us in exactly the same position as the first people who stared up at the stars in wonder.  The work of art is perpetually new; it demands reinterpretation with each era, each generation, each percipient.  Great works of art are like inexhaustible springs originating from a place beyond our “little world of man.”  They reconnect us with a reality too vast for the rational mind to comprehend.  Therefore, art can be described as the human activity through which our all-too-human mentality is overcome and in light of which all finite judgments are shown to be inefficient.  It is at once a sinking to the source and a leap toward the infinite.   

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: In the “Bolivianos” series you are exclusively depict masks. What drew you to them?

Source material for “The Champ”

Source material for “The Champ”

A:  For me a mask is so much more than a mask.  It is a living thing with its own mind, its own soul, and with a unique history.  With this series I feel as though I am creating portraits of living beings.  

These images are a return to my early days because I began as a photo-realist portrait painter.  So I am reconnecting with a first love, except with a welcome twist.  This time I do not have to satisfy a portrait client’s request to make my subject look younger or more handsome.  I am free to respond only to what the work needs. 

Comments are welcome!     

Pearls from artists* # 188

"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.

HM:  In order to create a work of art, you need an artist, an object, the work, and the audience.  Indeed, where there’s no audience, there’s no artist.  Renoir used to say, “No painters in Hamlet.” meaning that on a desert island you wouldn’t paint.

( I confess I am a little surprised.  For my part, I find it difficult to believe that the true artist cannot work without hope.  It seems to me that art is first and foremost an internal necessity, a need to escape from life.  It is true that this is closer to the mystics’ point of view and that the artist, if he does not work directly for his contemporaries, at least looks forward to some future resonance.  Nonetheless, I ask the same question again.)  

PC:  Even a true painter wouldn’t paint on a desert island?

HM:  No…  Painting is a means of communication, a language.  An artist is an exhibitionist.  Take away his spectators and the exhibitionist slinks off with his hands in his pockets.

The audience is the material in which you work.  You don’t see the face of the audience.  It’s huge, an immense mass.  The public is – listen, it’s the man you encounter one fine day, who says, “Monsieur Matisse, I can’t tell you how much I love your picture, the one you exhibited at the salon,” and this man is a clerk who could never spend a red cent on painting.  The public is not the buyer; the public is the sensitive material on which you hope to leave an imprint.

PC:  Through the picture, the audience returns to the source of emotion.

HM:  Yes, and the artist is the actor, the fellow with the wheedling voice who won’t rest until he’s told you his life story.     

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 166

Barbara's studio

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.

An interesting discussion at Leblond’s about geniuses and outstanding men.  Dimier thinks that great passions are the source of all genius!  I think that it is imagination alone or, what amounts to the same thing, a delicacy of the senses that makes some men see where others are blind, or rather, makes them see in a different way.  I said that even great passions joined to imagination usually lead to a disordered mind.  Dufresne made a very true remark.  He said that fundamentally, what made a man outstanding was his absolutely personal way of seeing things.  He extended this to include great captains, etc. and, in fact, great minds of every kind.  Hence, no rules whatsoever for the greatest minds; rules are only for people who merely have talent, which can be acquired.  The proof is that genius cannot be transmitted.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix edited by Hubert Wellington

Comments are welcome! 

Q: How do you decide how much realism and how much imagination to put into a pastel painting?

Models, reference photograph, and pastel painting in progress

Models, reference photograph, and pastel painting in progress

A:  I wouldn’t say “decide” is the right word because creating a painting is not strictly the result of conscious decisions.  I think of my reference photograph, my preliminary sketch, and the actual folk art objects I depict as starting points.  Over the months that it takes to make a pastel painting, the resulting interpretive development pushes the painting far beyond this source material.  When all goes well, the original material disappears and characters that belong to the painting and nowhere else emerge.  

It is a mysterious process that I am still struggling to understand.  This is the best way I can describe what it feels like from the inside, as the maker.  

Comments are welcome!  

Pearls from artists* # 144

Barbara's studio

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 and design are rule-based.  This flies in the face of everything that most people have been taught before, namely, that art and design are about freedom.  I remember reading a wonderful analogy about this concept many years ago in an out-of-print, early twentieth-century book on design.  The author asked us to imagine a flying kite – the quintessential emblem of unrestricted, spontaneity, soaring in the wind.  Keeping taught the line between you and the kite, however, is the source of that freedom.  Here’s another way of putting it:  “Creativity arises out of the tension between the rules and imagination.”

Leslie Hirst in The Art of Critical Making:  Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice, Rosanne Somerson and Mara L. Hermano, editors

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Reconnecting with an important source of inspiration, you recently traveled to the Gulf Coast of Mexico to study Olmec art and culture. Would you share some of your photographs?

Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa

Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa

Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa

Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa

Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa

Parque Museo La Venta, Villahermosa

La Venta

La Venta

La Venta

La Venta

La Venta

La Venta

Comments are welcome!

Q: Why do you need to use a photograph as a reference source to make a pastel painting?

One of Barbara's reference photos

One of Barbara’s reference photos

A:  When I was about 4 or 5 years old I discovered that I had a natural ability to draw anything that I could see.  It’s the way my brain is wired and it is a gift!  One of my earliest memories as an artist is of copying the Sunday comics.  Always it has been much more difficult to draw what I CANNOT see, i.e., to recall how things look solely from memory or to invent them outright.

The evolution of my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings has been the opposite of what one might expect.  I started out making extremely photo-realistic portraits.  I remember feeling highly unflattered when after months of hard work, someone would look at my completed painting and say, “It looks just like a photograph!”  I know this was meant as a compliment, but to me it meant that I had failed as an artist.   Art is so much more than copying physical appearances.

So I resolved to move away from photo-realism.  It has been slow going and part of me still feels like a slacker if I don’t put in all the details.  But after nearly three decades I have arrived at my present way of working, which although still highly representational, contains much that is made up, simplified, and/or stylized.  As I have always done, I continue to work from life and from photographs, but at a certain point I put everything aside and work solely from memory.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Your new work explores relationships to figures through the medium of soft pastel. What prompted this departure from photography?

A corner of the studio

A corner of the studio

A:  Actually it was the other way around.  As I’ve mentioned, I was a maker of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings long before I became a photographer (1986 vs. 2002).  However, the photos in the “Gods and Monsters” series were meant to be photographs in their own right, i.e., they were not made to be reference material for paintings.  in an interesting turn of events, in 2007 I started a new series, “Black Paintings,” which uses the “Gods and Monsters” photographs as source material.  Collectors who have been following my work for years tell me the new series is the strongest yet.  For now I’m enjoying where this work is leading.  The last three paintings are the most minimal yet and I’ve begun thinking of them as the “Big Heads.”  There is usually a single figure (“Stalemate” has two) that is much larger than life size.  “Epiphany” (above, left) is an example.  All of them are quite dramatic when seen in person, especially with their black wooden frames and mats.     

Comments are welcome! 

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