Art: what makes one piece, work… or not?

From my Journal:
My mother warned me. “Never be an artist! It’s all or nothing. Artists are the most selfish people in the world!… but if you are an artist… there’s no help for you.”/

Working on this piece, having painted over my last effort on this same surface, has me thinking about failure. Not in general, but of how these failed efforts are a confirmation that I’m still learning. I had a surface to work with: a painting that hadn’t worked–covered it over with gesso. On the table, there were strips of canvas from paintings I’d trimmed after stretching. I coiled and looped them, stapled them to the board. I drew a figure on the left (it doesn’t show very well in this photo… something to remedy? or not?), then cut out another figure and stapled that over it. I found a rusted wire ladder on the street, and placed that over the figures. Then began painting. Didn’t like what I had—tore some of the canvas loose… and found that I liked the white which that had exposed. Slashed white paint on those exposed areas for greater emphasis, and on some of the canvas strips. I don’t know where this one is going, whether I can finish it and move on, or whether I will cover it in turn with gesso and begin again with something different.

WIP and pics 001

But then..what makes one piece a failure, and other a success? For me… for my own satisfaction? A complicated question. I’ve been drawing several hours a day for the last few weeks. At last—keeping to a satisfying discipline, and seeing improvement. Mostly, anatomical drawings, using drawings from old masters. The outline of the figure here is a child of that work. Almost hidden, covered over by the cut-out canvas. I think I’ve pushed past the need to prove myself… to myself… that I’m good enough to draw the human figure. It had been a lack of confidence in precisely this that had played a large part in derailing my pursuit of art 40 some years ago—something that has continued to puzzle me. What happened to me then—when I see from drawings that I had made, no evidence of lack of ability? A need for training, practice—and a few years of disciplined work, yes—but no lack of native ‘talent.’ Having come to this point, I
wanted to write out my thoughts—sound out for myself, what I’m doing, where I want to go. And maybe, understand better what had set me off on such a long, long detour from the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do, that in that, I might know better what my goals are now.

Goals. Yes–though on the one hand, I hold a deeply set conviction that what I mean by, goals, I will never see but through their unveiling one new work at a time, and yet—by admitting that I do have goals, that with each piece I make, I’m seeking out some future vision; that while it’s still play, it’s play not for the moment alone, but for the moment it makes possible for me in the next work, and the next, and the next.

That takes me back to my opening question. What makes one piece a failure, and another, a success—if not, that it further reveals… brings me closer, to that always invisible goal—or leaves it hidden. There’s what makes the failures so disturbing—makes the whole process both so exhilarating, and scary. A failure can be either—confirmation that one is pushing into new territory, learning, still learning… or it could be the end. That the goal… whatever that will-a-the-wisp that is the only light to follow… has gone out. And there’s nothing left.

It’s really like that. All or nothing. Maybe that—and doubts about my drawing skills—but I knew that for me… maybe not for everyone, but for me—that I knew it would be that way…that this was, would be, for me…  life or death. One of those fanatics people are so afraid of… but I don’t kill people…

I still don’t know what it’s about. What worth any of this has in the world beyond my obsession? I do know… that I’ve bitten the poison.

My mother warned me. “Never be an artist! It’s all or nothing. Artists are the most selfish people in the world!… but if you are an artist… there’s no help for you.”

Abstract Art

Source Debrilly Abstract Art

When I see a work described as abstract, I ask myself–isn’t every work of visual art, ‘abstract?’ Unless it be 100% conceptual–and then it’s abstract in a cognitive or verbal sense.

I think of Cezanne, who wanted a plates of apples and pears to be as monumental and important as a portrait of a Madonna. Of course, this goes back further than Cezanne–to Manet, to Whistler, Turner, Corot… culminating in Pollack, Mondrian, Kandinsky… but isn’t that  what we see and appreciate in the cave painting of Lascaux and Altamira?

Isn’t that thing we superficially identify as ‘abstract,’ the hook that every visual work of art hangs from? That silence that surround it–at last, the verbal mind tuned out, thought without words. That blessed silence of every genuine work of visual art?






Colors & Pigments: What is your base pallet?

What is your favorite color, someone asked–having in mind fabrics we were about to wrap ourselves in for a dress up show off and dance on the roof of the Ox…

An impossible question, I said. Every color is what it is only by the colors around it. Ask me, what combinations I’d like.

They didn’t believe me. Thought I was… I don’t know. But it’s true. We don’t know color as pure gradations on the spectrum of light, but in consort, in harmony with their surroundings. Place a tile of a particular chroma, change the surrounding colors, and–it’s as though transformed. Another color.

Add to that, that we don’t deal with color as primary light, but through the medium of pigments. I remember someone–probly on Facebook–showing his whatever… claimed that no one needs more than 5 tubes of pigment: blue yellow red black and white.

Sure. All other colors are variants of the primary colors. But pigments don’t give us color as pure light, but colors as rejections of parts of the spectrum. What appears as blue, is because the pigment absorbs reds and yellows and reflects, that is, casts off what we see–which is blue. And mixing pigments involves so many more variables.

Cut to the chase. When I want blue… there is no such thing as pure blue–but only the variants from chemical compounds–and they will all have different properties when we mix them with other pigments. Blue and yellow make green, so we know… but Ultramarine (PB-29… the standard way pigments are classified.. so you know what you’re really getting), makes a very different green than PB-28. Add to that, different pigments vary in opacity/transparency, in tinting strength.)

So what each artist chooses for their pallet will vary. Here is mine. What is yours?

PB – 15 Phthalo (or 15-2)
PB-28 Cobalt
PB-29 Ultramarine
PB-35 Cerulean
PY-35 Cadmium
PY-38 Quinacridone
PR-83 Alizarin Crimson
PR-101 Burnt Siena
PR-108 Cadmium Red
PO-20 Cadmium
PV-15 Ultra Marine
PV-19 Quinacridone
PG-7 Thalo/Hookers Green
G-17 Chromium Oxide
PBr-6 Iron Oxide
PBr-7 Burnt Umber

…and I’m only dealing with acrylics. With oils, you have to factor in the varying expansion/contraction rates on drying unless what you put on is all one layer. Else your paint might crack and flake and fall off your canvas.


#401 finished

#401 finished

Here it is. What do you think? Hope I didn’t do too much. 35×22″ Acrylic on canvas


#401 WIP 003

Laying the ground. Critical decisions to make. Leave ‘unfinished’, with minimal reworking, or continue to something closer to my original impulse? I don’t follow through on initial ideas, in painting any more than in my writing. The first brush stroke, the first word, and a dialog begins. I never know where the conversation will lead.

Staring at the Face of Our Collective Death Wish


When the level of fear, zenophobia and thinly disguised blood lust exceeds all reasonable accounts of the perceived threats, it’s not about those threats, it’s about something else.
It’s time we paid close attention to that ‘something else,’ cause it’s already broken ground, it’s head and tentacles dripping with poison. What’s been let loose by the funders of the tea party, of climate denial–by those who have used racial hatred to gain political office and war for profit–it’s all come together. What was set loose by the bloodbath of the First WW, the collective madness that grew between the wars has been raised up in a new and more terrifying form and all signs indicate that it won’t end until the collective madness has exhausted itself over mountains of bodies, human and other, and a planet no longer able to support life above the molecular level.
I grieve for those with children… and for those children. We have broken the seal. What we buried has risen to devour us.

Think Your Conscious Brain Directs Your Actions? Think Again


By Shelly Fan. READ HERE

I was thinking as I read this rather unremarkable piece, not of individuals, but of our collective actions. How whatever is governing national (and international) actions, it’s not those whose role it is to govern. What populist demagoguery and endless wars of exploitation have uncorked are forces that once again seem to have taken control. One may reasonably fear that we’ve reached a point where nothing will end this outbreak of the monsters of repression till it drowns in chaos and blood.