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The glimpse…as a teaser

October 4, 2018

Seeing a slice or a hint of something is often more intriguing than getting a full-blown view of it. I think that’s why I’m more drawn to abstract art than I am to representational work.  It’s open ended.

Even around 1430, Cennini was suggesting that the mystery in the unseen , the glimpse, was appealing:

“Mystery is the art of eliciting unseen things hidden in the shadow of natural ones… and serving to demonstrate as real the things that are not.”

The Craftsman’s Handbook by Cennino Cennini, about 1430

Love that idea! And I’m suggesting that glimpses, hinting at the unseen, offer a jump start into finding personal meaning in a work of art. It might be a shape reminder, a color that ignites a response, a bit of an image that allows you to fill in around it out of your own imagination.

Where I started with this train of thought was sitting in my front courtyard, behind the shade:

It felt a little bit like paradise because I couldn’t see all of the surrounding stuff. And that led me back to a painting series I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. I hadn’t been able to describe what I liked about painting these pieces. But now I think it’s about the suggestions of meaning on the surface of the painting, housed in marks, shapes, symbols, etc. To me they are teasing out interpretations from everyone looking at the paintings. It’s a collection of possibilities.

Below are a couple of paintings from the series:

Lost to interpretation
mixed media on canvas
36 x 36 x 1.5

mixed media on canvas
36 x 36 x 1.5


Boundaries—restricting or inviting?

September 7, 2018

Oil pastel sketch from my sketchbook

I had this notion that each of us born into a virtual box. The walls that surround us are made up of the beliefs, experiences, and culture shaped for us by our parents, relationships, things that happen to us, and what contains us. We think this is reality and we grow up in it and adapt to it. But within each of us is also a kernel of soul that every once in awhile peeks out and sees that the walls are really an illusion. Our job in life is to bring that soul to life and bravely extinguish the walls.

Sometimes we just burrow between boxes (ours and the next one over—maybe the box that belongs to the person we choose in a relationship?). Sometimes we just keep adding  insulation and cement to our current box, reinforcing the walls. So eventually we end up in a very small space.

But, here’s the cool part. As an artist you can step out of  what’s going on in the actual “life” box and create a different universe. Literally. And maybe it’s a bridge to dissolving the walls in your everyday box.  Just a thought.

Here are some little “universes” that I recently made:


Addendum 1, 2, and 3 (from the Cipher/De-Cipher series), mixed media on metal-faced cradled panel, ea. 6 x 6 x 1.6

Morphology and syntax …still available

August 20, 2018
Artist's sketch of notional moon

Small drawing from my sketchbook

I have been trying to think of a title for my show in October at Studio J. I wanted it to reflect something about the work obviously, but I’ll be showing paintings from two different themes/interests. So, brainstorming, I wrote down every possible title that I could think of—115 to be exact. Rim to Rim; On the Rim; To the Brim; Dialogue of One; Following Clues; My Mind’s Eye; Obscura…you get the idea. There’s quite a bit of whimsical desperation built into this process. I didn’t want something too self conscious or “artspeaky.”  I wanted it to be an honest description of what I’m thinking about, but still leaving the interpretation of the work open ended. My less-than-satisfactory solution is Pushing Boundaries. Maybe I should use Working Title instead.

The good part of this painful exercise was that I found two words that I really like: MORPHOLOGY and SYNTAX.  They are tied to linguistics, but I thought “How cool to introduce these as visual descriptors!” I’m saving them for another show…or a painting title. They want to cross the boundary from linguistics to art.

Morphology: the study of the internal structure of word…. The term morphology is Greek and is a makeup of morph- meaning ‘shape, form’, and -ology which means ‘the study of something’.

Syntax: a systematic orderly arrangement; a type of scheme or system; a group of independent but interrelated elements comprising a unified whole.

Here are paintings from the two themes in the show:

Mapping the strata IX, acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas, 48×36


Brave, sweet, pink, acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas, 36×36


Marginalia—a seque…

August 10, 2018

I didn’t know that “marginalia” was the name of a practice that I love—writing comments in the margins of books that I am reading. I thought it was just a great way to dialogue with the author. A few thoughts, a few questions, maybe even some challenges.

Andrea Eis, Getting what one wants, from the Marginalia series

So, imagine my amazement, when I discovered an article by artist Andrea Eis who created a whole body of work around marginalia. Her story is quite interesting, and it made me want to find out more about it and how it might relate to artmaking.

I found Edgar Allan Poe talking about it:

“In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general….All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice; — yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure…”

Okay, it definitely contributes to stimulating ideas. I don’t know if Poe used it to foster his own writing, but it made me think about how I go about painting. And I wondered how marginalia relates to conversations between the artist and the person looking at the art if, in fact, it can. Hmmm.

I ended up compromising in how I explored that idea and instead, went back to my sketchbook where I have my own dialogue with paintings in the works:

Images from the artist's sketchbook with notes on the progression of the painting

I take pictures with my phone and print them on my little Sprocket printer (tiny pictures with adhesive backs). I write all kinds of things around the pics—”reduce this, move that, get rid of this color…” I’m figuring out where I want to go with the painting and how to get there.  My question is: How can marginalia happen with artmaking? …and where? …and with whom?

Here’s the final painting (turned again):

acrylic painting by the artist

Mapping the strata VI, acrylic on canvas, 48×36


Aren’t we always collaborating?

August 3, 2018


small oil pastel drawing

Oil pastel from my sketchbook

I like the idea of collaboration. It softens that hard idea that we need to be isolated and unique in the work that we create. Kind of the long-suffering artist image.

Collaboration is usually thought of as a team effort, mostly in a business setting. But, for artists I interpret the concept much more loosely. It is timeless and can be a conscious or an unconscious act—a kind of creative brainstorming engaged in with another artist intentionally, an influence from another artist, or a more formal process that is defined by planning, scheduling, and execution, needing a host of players.

Focusing on unintentional collaboration, we, as artists, step into a flow created by those who precede us—not limited by them, but pulled in by resonance with what they have created. The flow also contains other information: stimuli, environment, relationships. Strictly limiting ourselves to the visual, however, we might respond to paintings , sculptures, drawings, etc. for reasons we are not able to articulate, yet are influenced by.

THAT’S the collaboration. Each of us is a building block in interpreting and expanding the world. We try to anchor it, depict it, hold it briefly by representing it in a concrete form.

“Exposed to scrutiny, the myth of the solitary genius artist rarely holds up and much more often falls away to reveal a web of collaboration, influence, and exchange.” Lewis Bush

A well-known example of a long collaborative process is the painting Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell. A gigantic painting reinstalled at the National Gallery of Art in 2016. The concept for the painting started in 1974 and it was hung as a painting at the gallery in 1978.

“The photographic album and the comments by Robert Motherwell and his studio assistants presented here make up a journal [Reconciliation Elegy, published by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1980] which records both their collaboration in the creation of the artist’s monumental painting Reconciliation Elegy, as well as how the painting itself was a collaboration between its intended placement—a commission for the National Gallery’s East Building—and the artist’s humanism. The story is simple and direct; but their common struggle to keep the great painting alive and personal is also complex and poignant.” E. A. Carmean, Jr.

picture of the installation of the large painting Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell, Reconciliation Elegy, acrylic on canvas, 120×364, 1978

Another fascinating technical collaboration is part of Evelyn Rosenberg’s process in creating art:

“Evelyn works with the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC), located at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico where, in 1986, with the support and cooperation of the Center, she developed the technique for creating the detonographs. The technique, which uses a sandwich of explosive material and metal sheets placed upon a clay mold, forms the basis for her art.” You can get her book to learn more.

Evelyn Rosenberg, Regenesis, 96×120, stainless steel, brass, and copper, 1998

And here’s a collaboration in which I participated: a painting done by a painting group I belonged to a couple of years ago, all of us jumping in with ideas and paint brushes (and other stuff):

collaborative painting done by artist's painting group

WAG 2, mixed media on canvas, 30×40

Not only were we surprised and delighted by the outcome, but it was a great fun to do.


Some things recovered

July 27, 2018
Small sketch from artist's sketchbook

A quick study in oil pastel from my sketchbook

…It could be an idea you’ve stashed in a sketchbook and forgotten about, or an article that you cut out of a magazine because it caught your eye, but you saved it so well (!) that it was lost. This week I found two forgotten things that caught my interest all over again. An article from 1991 about an incredible artist, Elmer Schooley (1916-2007), who painted these immense and intricate paintings, basically for himself.

Schooley’s paintings are so large and dense that they invite total immersion. He said, “My paintings are not a performance—they are a wrestling between myself and the emergence of the subject matter.” (To read a little more about him, go here.)

Elmer Schooley, My Golden Age, oil on canvas, 84×94

That’s an engagement between artist and process that I like a lot. It’s a brave act to find what works for you and make THOSE paintings.

The other artist I “recovered” is Jonathan Borofsky (b. 1942), who, again, created out of a passionate interest, but this time in his own “dreams, fears, and emotions which continually chronicle his daily existence.” This description is from Dean Sobel writing about a show of Borofsky’s drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1986. I got it from the program for the show (found the program again this week).

Jonathan Borofsky, Berlin Dream at 2,833,792, charcoal on paper, 58 1/4 x 73 1/4

More recently (2002) Borofsky has said, “Every artist’s work is their self-portrait. That’s true whether it’s Mondrian [putting] one box of red, next to a box of white next to a box of blue and balancing those boxes. It’s still a self-portrait of the inner working and the inner soul and the inner feelings of the artist. Some of those self-portraits are more abstract than others. Because I’m an ongoing work myself, my artwork becomes kind of a record, an ongoing portrait of my life.”

I wonder if Borofsky and Schooley were aware of each other. I think they would have had a great conversation.

Here’s a painting I’ve just finished (I think)—it led me through a lot of twists and turns, but I’m happy with where it finished.

Mapping the strata VIII, acrylic on canvas, 48×24


A short note about my long absence from my blog: A lot of changes have been happening, including spending the last year building my new studio. It’s done! …and I’m back to work.

Holding the tension

September 7, 2016
Little 3D boxes waiting to be finished in a 3D piece I started a long time ago

Little boxes waiting to be finished in a 3D piece

I don’t know where I came across this phrase: “holding the tension,” but when I saw it I was in the middle of trying to figure out a title for my solo show at a local gallery (Blue Lily Atelier) in October.

I was writing down everything that popped into my head: seeking stasis; fault lines and fractures; disrupted paradise; lurking on the edge; finding the edges; disturbances; shifting sensibility; reverberation; etc.

The work I’m showing is from a series called Fault Lines, and that’s what I ended up using for the title.  But holding the tension really sounded good. The series is a reflection of the uncertainty of all our taken-for-granted foundations, whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Fault lines typically refer to geological faults, but, for me, they easily extend to our life experiences, which is why holding the tension seemed so appropriate.

Fault Line pieces

Two of the paintings in the show (each 10.5 x 10.5, mixed media on paper)

As I was working on some new pieces for the show, I thought about how important it is for us, as artists, to keep renewing the creative tension that challenges us when working. For me, it’s important to push my boundaries a bit and stay on the edge of what’s comfortable by exploring new ideas, new materials, and new processes. Or maybe just pushing the familiar a bit further by trying a different color than I normally would choose, or using a different tool to apply paint, or turning a painting upside down just when I thought I had it right side up. Little changes sometimes make a big difference in my perception and motivation….

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