Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crow's Shadow Monothon

First Cold Light

Before the story and the images, please note: you can now subscribe to posts. You'll get an email notice with each posting. Look to the left to see the little orange icon.

It's finally warming up in the Great Northwest. Nice and soggy like it's supposed to be. The cold snap last week had you wondering! We also had a surprise cold, cold day back in October. I remember it was a sunny day here in the Portland area. It was a Saturday and after our weekly plein air class, I was to head east to the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton for the annual Monothon (monotype marathon), a benefit to support the Crow's Shadow Institute for the Arts. Their mission is "to provide educational, social and economic opportunities for Native Americans through artistic development."

Cold Last Night

I tried out my new 10 degree sleeping bag that night. It was a beautiful drive, all light moving away from the Columbia River Gorge in radiations of gold and pink and deepening blue and then black. What would Don Quijote have thought seeing hundreds of sleek, giant windmills rising behind the great walls of the Gorge, slowly turning in the gloaming?

I arrived at 10:30 PM. No lights were on so I slept in the back of the truck. The day before, the temperature had dropped to 30 degrees, the day after, it was 28. The night I slept in the truck it was 19 degrees and I froze. In the morning, frisky dear bounded through the field on their skinny legs.

Desert Utterances

Over the course of the next day, I made six monotypes that I'm proud of. They are on sale with many others by other artists to benefit the Crow's Shadow Institute. They're only asking $200 each. Each image measures 10 by 18 inches and is printed on a half sheet (15 x 22 inches) of Rives BFK paper. A similar monotype would sell from any of my galleries for well more than twice that. What I'm trying to say is that's a really good price and it benefits a great cause.
You might want to by one!


Wow, now they're offering them at 20% off! that's $160!

If you want to talk with them about that, click on: contact.
Remember, they may not know the titles I give you here, so you may have to describe them.

Out East

Summer Mountains

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mind Revealing Mind

"Reveal art; conceal the artist."
---Gustave Flaubert

What is self expression? Some painters have faith or confidence not so much in themselves or their skill, which they certainly possess and exercise, but in the process of making itself, in the mystery of light or color, in their paint, in the path.

There may be more, but for now we can name these four basic approaches to visual imagery making:
  • Painting in direct response to visual perception “out there.”
  • Painting in response to mental objects.
  • Painting responding to or corresponding to ideas, or primal intuitions.
  • Painting as painting: forms found in the activity of manipulating material, such as paint, paper, wood, wax, pigment, canvas, clay, stone or any material. Invoking and developing chance; the element of discovery and surprise.
So, where is mind? Is there any part of this that is not mind? How does meaning arise in relation to a thing observed, or a sound heard, or a touch, or a shape or color? What makes a form significant?

I want to bring in Ananda Coomaraswamy here, from his book Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art:

For all the arts, without exception, are representations of a model ; which does not mean that they are such as to tell us what the model looks like, which would be impossible seeing that the forms of traditional art are typically imitative of invisible things, which have no looks, but that they are such adequate analogies as to be able to remind us, i.e., put us in mind again, of their archetypes. Works of art are reminders; in other words, supports of contemplation.

The following works seem to be from somewhere on the dimensionless edge between outer and inner, being and becoming. In the making of them, or the coaxing them into being, what was observed and where is it? Is anything observed or observable? What, and where, is that which observes?

Jennifer Hoover: Love Letter. Watercolor on paper.

From a series of manuscript leaves illustrating the phases of evolution and dissolution of the Cosmic Form. Rajastan, c. 19th century. Ink and color on paper.

Andrea Schwartz-Feit. Part of the Mind Series. Encaustic on panel.

Gregor Jamroski. untitled, Polaroid photograph.

Mark Rothko. Mauve and Orange. 1961. Oil on canvas.

Chris Kelly. Pink Moon, Encaustic on linen on panel.

Credits: The Rajastan piece and the Rothko were borrowed from the book Yoga Art, by Ajit Mookerjee, with an contribution by Philip Rawson. Boston. New York Graphic Society, 1975

Jennifer Hoover, Gregor Jamroski, Andrea Schwartz-Feit and Chris Kelly are friends of mine. Andrea's work can be seen at Butters Gallery, Portland, Oregon. Chris' and Jennifer's work is represented by Augen Gallery, also in Portland. Click on Jennifer's name to read a review of the show Grace, which took place at the Art Gym in 2001. Andrea talks to you on YouTube on the link on Mind Series under her painting, above.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Styrofoam Hawk

The little table lifted up from under her hands and went flying right into the other painter working next to her. A dust devil had come up the slope and ploughed into the folding table where she was trying to simply mix paints to match more or less the colors she saw out there in the deep, falling space - an impossible grey green, or is it mauve? – and place it simply on her panel. And then it was all in the air.

I saw none of this. I heard the commotion but was staring over the other side to the eastward unattainable space where pale-as-death alkali deserts float in a periwinkle haze.

I watched as her Styrofoam sandwich box lifted itself into the air, following the lines I’d seen traced by Northern Harrier after Northern Harrier, up one side of the steep mountain and out over the other slope as though 9,960 feet of altitude meant nothing at all. The Styrofoam box was likewise a member of natural aviator species rising with perfect ease, flapping gently the two sides of the box, always cupped-side-up, circling and soaring above the hard world.

It’s almost impossible to paint the transparent blue distance with accuracy and feeling. “Wouldn’t it be easier from a photo?” someone suggested. Accuracy, maybe, but not truth or feeling. So, what would be real? Once, the legend goes, Pablo Picasso was riding on a train and the man sitting next to him, realizing the world’s most famous artist was within earshot, began arguing with him about realism v. abstraction. Picasso asked for an example of realism. The man pulled from his billfold a photo. “This is real! This is my wife!” After a while Picasso returned the photo, saying, “She’s rather small. And flat.”

For generations now, those of us in the industrial world are conditioned to flattened images presented on paper or billboards or screens. We are tempted to take that which is represented in these media as real or realistic. Even most of our viewing of two-dimensional and three-dimensional art is through reproduction. We are used to viewing art, not where the artwork is, but wherever we are, in magazines or books or calendars or posters or coffee mugs. Even time-based art is experienced through the filter of electronic media, radio or television. These are all filters that interfere with experience. Or better, the experience is of a reproduction, in a place other than where the original lives, not the original.

If you are a painter, here is an experiment: try painting an original painting from a photo of a favorite spot. Then, when satisfied with your effort, take the trouble to go to that spot, and paint it from observation. Load your paints into your car or bicycle or train or bus, or carry your gear on your own legs. Experience the journey, the weather, the time it takes, the boredom, the anticipation, the hunger pangs, the lunch en route, the sheer pleasure of being alive and able, the pains and inconveniences, the mosquitoes, the cold, the heat. Get there. Look. Look some more. Feel the breeze. What’s the sun going to do? What is the color in that corner of the water? What pigments would convey it? What brushstroke?

Check in on your time, your materials, your ego, your gumption.

Begin. Absorb yourself in the work of attention and perception and action. Mixing color. Placing. Scraping. Changing. The birds sing. The rain starts, then stops. Your palette becomes unworkable; these colors are not what I see out there. Maybe that won’t matter. You chase colors. You chase the shadows as they move. A breeze moves the trees and you see something in the shadow, which is now alive and spacious because it is moving. A squirrel leaps the branches. An osprey wheels the invisible gyres of space. A fish jumps and the silver rings repeat until they connect the two shores and the wind-made texture on the water scrapes over them and it’s all quite impossible to capture.

“You cannot control. Only catch,” said Tsung Tsai[1]

You paint anyway. It’s never perfect, but something of the wind and the temperature and the space in that shadow find their way into the painting on the panel. When you look at it, it feels like you were there, no matter the outcome.

Eventually the Styrofoam bird landed in the rocks and in that instant was litter. With life (wind) spreading its wings it was beautiful, white against the deep blue. Now, it was a line of dead white in a wide world of active color.

To paint the world around with élan one has to be in life. Full engagement. Like the sign says for the raffle, “Must be present to win.”

These oil paintings were done recently en plein air.

[1]Chan monk in George Crane’s wonderful book Bones of the Master.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drawing my think

It is the natural instinct of a child to work from within outwards; "First I think, and then I draw my think." What wasted efforts we make to teach the child to stop thinking, and only to observe!
-- Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

I'd like to continue these thoughts on the way that art communicates through signs. Marks are signs. Any drawing is made by a translation from visual experience, or inner experience, and a mark made to represent it. Herbert Read writes that our Paleolithic ancestors did this as a way of signifying connections they felt between remote events. The first images, then, were made as part of ritual, a way to influence remote events through the felt connections. The hunt will go well and game will be had; rain will come and the crops will produce. In this way, the image co-arises with rite and precedes language. This was specifically the birth of written language in Shang dynasty China through oracle bone inscriptions.

We live in very different times, and we are flooded with images. With what rites have these contemporary images anything to do? Mostly shopping and terror. We are made to believe in facts. But facts have no heart beat. Facts are not truth. We are persuaded to believe promises. How are promises kept?

Here's another piece from Coomaraswamy:
...there was a time when Europe and Asia could and actually did understand each other very well. Asia has remained herself; but subsequent to the extroversion of the European consciousness and its preoccupation with surfaces, it has become more and more difficult for European minds to think in terms of unity, and therefore difficult to understand the Asiatic point of view.
This is a subtle criticism of European (and by extension American) viewpoint that we take for granted, can't even see. What does he mean by European extroversion and a preoccupation with surfaces? Railroading spatial perspective and glisteningly "real" objects? Extroversion = imperialism? David Hockney makes a similar point in his movie A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China. (See John Berger's Ways of Seeing for more on what was painted in Renaissance and Baroque Europe and what it all meant.)

Commaraswamy continues:
It is just possible that the mathematical development of modern science, and certain corresponding tendencies in modern European art [he was writing in the 1930s] on the one hand, and the penetration of Asiatic thought and art into the Western environment on the other, may represent the possibility of a renewed rapprochement. The peace and happiness of the world depend on this possibility.
Matisse and others looked back, as though across the ocean of 400 years of European art, to the art of Mediaeval times, to Persia and Mogul India, to Africa and the South Pacific, to Japan and China. To unity. Matisse speaks of this in a couple of his essays, notably his L'exactitude n'est pas la vérité.

More next time on the issues of abstraction and meaning.

Here's a couple of my pieces (both 21" x 21", mixed media on paper) that will be on view from October into November at Marylhurst University for the annual alumni show:
Summer River

This and a few other mixed media pieces came in response to a small reproduction of a watercolor in Art in America. The news brief had to do with the piece, in the collection of I-forget-which-museum, having been disproved as an O'Keefe original, as had been claimed. The monetary value was effected, but not at all its artistic or spiritual value.

Deer Park

I study calligraphy with Lei Danxin (aka: Terry Louie). We copied this poem, Deer Park, by Wang Wei (701-761) countless times. Below, a translation by Gary Snyder. Follow the link for an example of the calligraphy of Honami Kôetsu (1558-1637). He often worked with images by Tarawaya Sôtatsu (died 1643) and other artists of the Rimpa movement in Momoyama period Japan. Kôetsu’s calligraphy was my inspiration for this piece.

Empty mountains:
 no one to be seen.

Yet - hear -
 human sounds and echoes.

Returning sunlight
 enters the dark woods;

Again shining
 on the green moss

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The wonderful thing about Nature is that Nature is natural. The naturalness of Nature inspires in us our own naturalness."
--Sogyal Rinpoche

Going to the Mountains is going to another time. That's why we go. We went to the Mountains, Kirk Weller and I.

My photos were taken with a 1972 Minolta SR-T101.

From the campsite, end of day. Looking East.

First thing next morning, looking NNW.

Kirk's image, within ten minutes of mine (taken with a Nikkon DSLR). His deeper saturation of the morning light (returning light) just barely moves toward distortion, which begins to shift the meaning from "out there" to "in here."

A monotype from this summer, based on similar experience.

Just as the cinematography for a dream sequence in a movie is usually distorted to signify an interior experience, away from the light and shadow shared by the others in the story, any abstraction of an image is felt from an interior place like daydream.

Another monotype from earlier this summer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

These two paintings will be shown at Augen Gallery in portland in October 2009 as part of their exhibit of artists in the gallery who teach at Pacific Northwest College of Art, this year celebrating 100 years as an art school.

Map of Where You Go June-Sept 09

On any map, the focal points are where you are and where you want to get to.

Breakfast out for many friends and families. Most of the plates cleared, Saraah, age 7? 8?, asked me my name. She wrote my name and hers on her paper and handed it to me. "Thank you! What a nice drawing!" "It’s not a drawing, it’s a map!" she admonished. "Oh! A map of where?" Indignant now: "Of where you go!"

Instantly enlightened, I questioned no more.

Pavilion in Summer Mountains June-Aug 09

Ink play. We’ve all done that, way back to the Tang dynasty, and my hero, Sôtatsu (one of many heroes) did crazy things with it. What you make of it tells the tale. Oh, and then there are the Gothic brocades which seem to cover every centimeter of creation: the people, the floor, the space. Mind everywhere. Attention to detail; God's mind everywhere. We went to the Summer Mountains, bright and hot and strong and all of life and all of her mosquitoes welcomed us. We could build a little place on the lake, go there, sing and paint.