Friday, August 7, 2009

The Electricity of Opposites and the Cleavage Principal

Continuing on my theme of the artist as a battery, charged with visual and emotional energy; I offer the concept of attraction of opposites. It’s a basic electrical principal, t’is what magnets do. But what’s that got to do with painting?

Part of the excitement for and artist is trying to interpret the world around him. An artist sees things in a different way because he brings a magic link between the eye and the hand into the act of being. Once you start the journey of drawing to understand the world, life can never be the same. It’s as if you carried around a high voltage wire that would start to spark and jump when you saw something interesting.

An artist cannot settle for what’s in front of him, there has to be more than what he is seeing. What’s missing from the scene that would give it energy, cast it in a different light, reveal that which is hidden? In my own work, I am always looking for situations that contain some form of opposition; the thing and its opposite, good and evil, calm and discord. It’s a way of putting electricity into the visual image on the canvas. For example, this painting below just about ran away from me because I was not satisfied with just painting dramatic looking clouds. It had to have more. I accidentally made a stroke around the church at the top of the hill that made it look like it was exploding. As soon as I did that I found the spark of opposition I was looking for. Granted, it’s a downright silly painting, but it has the opposite poles of good and evil.

The Ghosts of Borham Hill have a set-to with God

Another example of this is a the painting called "The Flowered Hat". I wanted something other than a pretty painting of a woman wearing a hat, so I gave it a slightly electric air and a look of distrust; i.e., flowers with a hint of malice.

The Flowered Hat

I am not espousing a shock approach to art, but I am positing the search for something that will energize both the artist and the work of art. The starting point may be that nothing exists without its opposite in some form. The space between them is where the sparks fly.

I stumbled upon this when I considered garden sculpture; the beauty of nature’s creations enhanced by the traditional pagan sculptures of nymphs and satyrs, spawned from Greek mythology where revenge and death were commonplace. Consider Beauty and the Beast with its lushly decaying gardens so beautifully wrought by Jean Cocteau.

I came across this oppositional interplay the other day while waiting for a train. I could see from the platform two people walking about 20 feet apart toward the station, the lead figure was a man in a state of disarray, his collars up, his tie askew and his hair rumpled like he had just gotten out of bed, the person behind him was a woman, beautifully made up, well dressed and self assured. What struck me was how beauty and dishevelment were walking in lock-step with each other, two opposites traveling in unity, totally unaware of each other.

The Cleavage Principal

Yes, yes, I know what your thinking, and I may have peaked your interest, but it does serve to illustrate a principal.

I had a professor of sculpture one time speak on this topic. His thesis was that when two parts are just butted up against each other there is always some flaw that spoils the line where they join, but if one puts a small space between them the eye gets slightly tantalized by the gap and any minor flaws are nullified by the space. Obviously, this principal is not lost on the particular vintner as illustrated to the left.

Another place where this gap is useful is the spark plug, where the gap produces an electric arc for the purposes of igniting gasoline. This blog encourages the artist and that electric spark of vision and creativity. The moment can be electric, the space between two people can contain a world of meaning if given the sensitive touch of the artist. It is the realm of the unspoken thought, the playground of possibility or the anguished of a distance never to be crossed. It can be the gap that electrifies the painting and your audience. What keeps the work alive for the patron may be that space where his thoughts about the work of art can live and keeps him in thrall because the artist has given him a mystery to solve. Let your work have the space it needs; it is not empty, for it is filled with your excitement and the mystery of what can reside there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Importance of Breathing

Now I come to a post I have been trying to create for some time, but my photographic and artistic attentions were not quite up to the task, so I will try and make do with what is before me.

I have previously mentioned the effect drawing has on me and perhaps other artists as well – the seismographic hand memory induced by the excitement of drawing. When I look at people on the street the hand memory goes off and its as if I were painting or drawing them very fast and my eye looks for the essence of the situation. Its a wonderful feeling, so rich in emotion that I hate to parse through it, but it may benefit those few who may read this blog.

As my fellow commuters rush past me I can feel the air they have stirred up, or let us say, the psychological air. They leave behind a contrail of emotions that I try to sample, and add to the picture I am creating in my head. I have but a second to glance at the person and my eye inevitably goes to their mouth. I want to see how they are taking in air; taking in the present moment. Many do not seem to be breathing at all, or holding it all in. Involuntarily, I start to feel the breath catching in my own lungs and its as if I were breathing for them. Few are actually looking at something in front of them but at something in the past – or yet to come. They make gestures which are connected to scenario I cannot see, walking through spaces that are mapped in their memories. I try to hold on to these feelings and sensations as long as possible, but it all happens so fast. The longing to sense these moments and hold on to them is what gives energy to the act of painting and drawing. Hundreds of these moments will be lost in a day, and unfortunately, I am not a camera, I cannot download all this wonder, but I like to think a hint of it rubs off in my work.

If you carry the vibrations from the act of creating into the world outside the studio, amazing things can happen, paintings go off in your head, the smallest human movements can become something of great beauty. The casual gesture can lead to an arc of human understanding. Let your eyes be open to those things that will pass you by in an instant and may they take your breath away.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Waiting for George While Recharging Your Battery

OK, it’s actually Georges to be fair about it. You know the guy; he was that fella that painted people by candlelight. That’s right, Georges de la Tour. Well, I am waiting to run into him on one of my walks to work. To be more precise, I am waiting to see his hands. I am waiting to walk down the street and someone will suddenly make this gesture.

or this

It would be a tall order though, because Georges’ hands are masterpieces of Gothic architecture and creatures unto themselves. Even when they are tossing dice they are some of the most beautiful creations I have ever seen. They can speak of supplication and resignation or casual deceit. They have been formed with a beautiful delicacy and communicate without words.

When I let Georges hands find their way into my artistic noggin, I have widened the scope of possible wonders; faces and hands that can surprise and delight and make me feel the world around me in a much more intimate way. But I guess thats what being an artist is all about.

Part of what artists do is bring energy and emotion to their vision as reflectors of the world. You, the artist, are an aesthetic battery, building up a static charge that can be released on your works. The inspirational vision that Georges and other artists express are part and parcel of the electrolytic paste that make up your battery. I urge you to feed yourself full of art, images, emotions and sensations to help that battery keep its charge. The excitement you feel when your battery is full will be felt by those who view your art. The electric jolt comes out through your hand and registers in graphite, paint, or whatever method you chose to express the current flowing through you. Since you run off of that electric charge, you can sense the electricity in others, in their situations, in the spaces between them. Let the air surrounding them crackle with the spark of their being.

Be not content to see people as objects in a composition, see if you can express their electrical potential. We exist, in part, through the electrical impulses within us. Let those impulse flow into your battery and into your art.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Electric Hand Steps Out

Since my job requires a daily commute into New York, I have plenty of opportunity to observe my fellow commuters as they make their way to Work. I approach this daily grind with the attitude that, at any moment, I may see something which is absolutely astounding. The groundwork for this all came from another of my fathers' maxims, “ Every day is delicious”. So the world can be astounding and delicious if you let yourself be open to the possibility and fill your head with art. This all sounds very syrupy, new-agey kind of stuff, but if you look at it this way it may help…

At any moment I may come around a corner and see this..

Perhaps a young summer intern at one of the banks still in business.

or this...


A potential Bernard Madoff looking crusty, timeworn with a hint of subterranean deadliness.

or perhaps this...

Works as a Barrista at Starbucks while going to college at night. His mother is not happy with his hair and he is not sure what he's going to do with his life.

The art that fills your head can sneak into your life unannounced and its a wonderful experience to have it suddenly pop up in front of you. So gobble as much art as you can fill your head with and you will be well rewarded.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Part of the Process

Here is a section of a drawing called The Mad Hatter that was done from a photograph. Part of the process is trying to figure out what about the image attracted me in the first place. I was most certainly attracted to the intensity of the image and I wished to carry that through in the drawing. I felt, on looking at the photo, that a lot of energy was centered around the mouth and that his mouth was stuffed with the emotion, so I wanted to something other than teeth. I left a suggestion of teeth and let most of the lines on the face radiate out from that direction. I liked the explosive feel of the image and tried to bring this out more fully in the hat. (see the entire image on my flicker web page (Garden Sculptor).

I think most people underestimate the information that can be read from a drawing. It is usually the artists first blush with the subject matter, and the way the he uses the line can be a telltale sign of how he feels about it. It can also indicate how comfortable he is with his abilities. I see a lot of artists who cannot draw well enough to carry out their thoughts and feelings effectively, so it is a primary step that should not be given short shrift in ones artistic development. The act of drawing can be a very intimate encounter with ones feelings, failings or successes; so sometimes its avoided in the rush to get something on a canvas. The payoff, if you stick with it, is something that is extraordinary, and will color the way you interact with the world for the rest of your life.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Since I have been hanging out in flickr, I have admired some of the blogs by other artists and it’s a good way to know them better. I thought this might be a good forum to share my thoughts and feelings about creating art. I hope you enjoy these posts.

First and foremost for me, creating a drawing or painting is not about making an image. It is a way of exploring some of the wonderful emotions that pass through my brain as I look at people, places and things. The art is the act of touching the emotion, exploring its nuances, feeling it in my body, walking around with it like a delicate suit of clothes.

Learning to draw was a struggle like it is for all art students; it wasn't until I got older and more comfortable in my own skin that I could discovered what drawing actually meant to me. I realized that it was an act of touching something I could not touch; I could feel like I was touching the person as I drew, and not just the skin, but the electricity under it. My hand would move as I reacted to the person I was drawing, and it acted as a seismograph of what I was feeling. The pencil strokes registering the delicate electrical vibrations that I felt dancing below the surface

When I wasn't drawing I found that occasionally I would see a person and could feel a sort of hand memory like I was drawing them very fast; the seismograph would go off in my head and I would walk around with a big smile on my face. It’s an amazing feeling!

So now I have my sketchbook and my seismograph and I am set for the day.

I would welcome posts from fellow artists about what drawing does for them, what goes through your noggin as you draw?

Best regards to all