Abstract Expressionism - Again

2017 09 07 - 15:37

What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good? Though broadly interested in using abstraction as a way to convey individual emotions, the painters who worked in an AbEx mode actually spanned a wide range of techniques, styles, and intentions. In short, like all art-historical groupings, AbEx is both broad and somewhat limiting in how it brings together a diverse range of artists. Each artist had a signature style, from Pollock’s spontaneous, chaotic drip technique to Rothko’s atmospheric squares.

The fact I don't like abstract expressionism is not news to anyone who bothers to listen to me rattle on about art. I find it - in large part - unattractive, noisey, and unfinished. I won't go on about the other reasons I don't like it, because they're too nit-picky for public consumption. I do, though, not mind the paintings of Franz Kline; but I think that's got a lot to do with them being fairly monochromatic - all black and white. They are not a mess of colour as Willem de Kooning's works were, nor the pantone book on acid works of Mark Rothko (although some of them do put one in mind of looking out of a window that's frosted over in condensation, so you only get a vague idea of the world on the other side of the glass. Geezuz, took me over 30 years, but I finally found a point to Rothko), nor the bird shit of Pollock. But, these people did do one thing for which they do deserve a lot of credit: They opened a door. That door had nothing to do with what they did, but with the fact that it allowed people another layer of freedom when it came to painting. It took off yet another layer of fetters.

But, as with all abstract art forms, to my mind, the whys of it can be summed up in that it "can elicit an emotional response from viewers that requires a physical, often prolonged, encounter with them". That's what the point of a lot of abstract art is - to make you feel something. The colours, the shapes, the patterns, the mess, the size, whatever it is, is designed to get a reaction from you. Jackson Pollock got it out of me, by the very fact that he made something I hate to look at; a lot less vehement than the self-loathing that poor bastard experienced for much of his life before he drank himself up a tree trunk.

I love abstract art, but something a lot less frenzied than much of the world of the abstract expressionist. I like a less violently jarring and frenetic use of colour. I like recognisable shapes, even if they aren't shapes out of reality. I like patterns. I like shading and gradient. I like the kind of abstraction that comes out of surrealist creative techniques. I like surrealism itself.

And to anyone who says "I could do that" or "my kid could do that" - if that's so, then by all means go home and do it. But, otherwise, keep it to yourself if that's your only criticism. If you're saying that because you hate the work, then just say you hate the work. If you are saying it because you - like myself - think that Pollock looks like bird shit, then just say Pollock looks like bird shit. If you don't grok what you're looking at, then say that - maybe someone can give some perspective. But if you think you can do better, I won't challenge that. I'll help you select the paint and the canvas to use. I'll tell you the cheapest places to shop. I'll give you names if you need some works to be inspired by.

I find that most criticism of art comes from a lack of understanding. Hell, I've been an arty kind of person most of my life - in one way or another - am familiar with most major schools and genres, have taken art history courses, have been to galleries, looked at books, read articles, listened to artists - and I still very frequently look at something and think, "I don't get it." I don't blame or fault anyone for not getting it. It's a legitimate visceral initial reaction to anything, especially abstract works. So, if you don't get it, look at it for a while. Don't try to figure out what the artist was trying to convey, just have a reaction to it. Enjoy the colour, the brushwork, the pattern, whatever it is. If you don't get the artist's point, at least you've given yourself one.

Also, remember that not everything can appeal to everyone all the time. There are seven billion people on this planet, each with a different perspective. Just as not all of them are going to like your cooking, your taste in music, or even you, they sure aren't all going to like the same kind of art; and even if they do, they might not all be liking it for the same reasons.

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Coloured Pencils

2017 08 10 - 12:15

I'm going to detail some of the minutia of my obsession with coloured pencils; because I know you're all just as excited about that as I am. I know it. I can tell.

Moving on...

Some of you may be aware of my incessant need to own every set of quality pencil crayons there is. I'm doing all right so far, as you can see; but there are a few missing. There are also a couple of things not yet on the list, because I can't find reliable lightfastness ratings for them. Apparently the CPSA has done extensive testing and has charts, but I haven't yet bothered with a membership with them in order to access those charts.

These ones are on the way. They have arrived, and are sitting in the pile o' pencils happily with their friends.

These ones are next on the list.

These ones will probably never happen because, yeah, price. And believe me when I tell you that that's the cheapest you'll see them for.

These are currently impossible to get in Canada - I have yet to find a source, so I'd have to order them from the US, which would put them at nearly $400 CAD, so also probably never coming to live with me.

These ones are also not yet available in Canada, but I'm sure will be at some point. However, I'd currently have to order them from the UK open stock, as a number of the set are not acceptably lightfast, so I'd only buy the ones that are. And, after doing a colour comparison to the Derwent Artist line I already have, I see that there are only six colours in the Procolour line that are not in the Artist line - so I'll just get those. They are also now availlable in Canada through Above Ground Art Supplies in Toronto. You can order off their website in sets or open stock.

There are open stock pencils in the cases, from a few different sources.

What you can see:

Derwent Drawing Pencils 24
Faber-Castell Polychromos 120
Koh-I-Noor Polycolor 72
Gallery Soft Pastels (not pencils)
Lyra Rembrandt 72
Derwent Inktense Pencils 72
Derwent Inktense Blocks 72
Derwent Coloursoft Pencils 120
Prismacolor Premier 150

What you can't see:

A handful of Caran D'Ache Luminance pencils
Derwent Studio pencils
Derwent Artist pencils
Derwent Metallics
Derwent Graphitint
Derwent Tinted Charcoal

I'm leaving my drawing and painting pens out of it.

My stash
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Picture Imperfect

2017 08 04 - 23:33

Photographic series or bodies of work are being explicated, explained, contextualized, rationalized, and elevated with text or verbal rationals. You’re thinking: so what? That’s no big deal. Let me start with a short history and then let’s take a look at current practice.

While a lot of art exists in context to other things - like the visuals of photography in context to any narrative attahced - I can see the concern that photography might be - to some - losing quality as it begins to depend too much on other mediums, and becomes less able to stand on its own; or, rather, the creators are taking poorer pictures, putting less effort into the craft of photography, and spreading their efforts too thinly over other other things to pad out the photography they present. I think the author of this article sees some photographers as being lazy.

A few years ago I was heavily into what I referred to abstract photography - some aspects of which others refer to as macro photography, a term I never cared for. I was very much into taking pictures of shapes, patterns, stains on pavements, cracks in things, curvature. I remember posting a photograph somewhere, a close-up of the curve of the necks of three vases of gradient hues of orange, yellow, and a pink. It was meant, as much abstract art is, to be appreciated on its own - for its shape, the curves working together - but someone asked me what it was a photograph of, and I told them it didn't matter. They disagreed. It really didn't matter, because my telling anyone what it was, would get in the way of appreciating just the visual of what was being shown to them.

It reminds me of an Ansel Adams show I went to several years back at the AGO. Rows of framed and matted photographs, a simple title, a date, that's all. Because those images could stand on their own without the audience being told what they were looking at.

Labels, as Daoists will tell you, are traps. Naming things damages the audience's relationship with what they see, because the audience then frames their perspective in terms of what someone else sees, rather than discovering their own interpretation. Some art requires labels, names, description, as part of the art; but not all art does. And, in fact, not all art should be trussed with labels.

I don't think the art of photography is in any real danger. There will always be trends that are favourable and those that are not; but the purist act of photography is never going to die off. There will always be those who will show you images and hope you will find an interpretation of your own, without them having to lead you by the hand to figure the puzzle out.

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You've got it

2017 07 22 - 02:11

Here's the thing about art.

Everybody's got it in them. Everyone. All of you. It's got absolutely not one thing to do with the finished product, but with the desire to make something. It's got nothing to do with talent either. It's never been my aim to do anything but make sure people understand that they, too, can make something. Everyone should exercise the creative muscle if they want to.

So when people come to me and tell me they can't make art - because they aren't 'artists', because they have no talent - I tell them it's bullshit. You can do it if you want to. Sometimes a non-artist wants to show me something they've made, but they hesitate because they think I'm going to judge it poorly maybe? I make sure, no matter what it is they've made, to find something good to say about it, because you shouldn't step heavily on people ever, much less when they're doing something new. It doesn't matter if the end product is good or not; it matters that they've tried. Good end product is a learned skill in a lot of cases anyhow; and not even Picasso painted a masterpiece every time he picked up a brush. Artists make a lot more duds than people realise.

As for talent, well - if talent can be defined as "a natural aptitude or skill" - then perhaps some are born with it turned on and some are still on a dimmer switch. They just haven't found the medium, or they aren't watching with the right eyes, yet. It's a matter of finding the right key for the lock. I didn't discover any creative gift with visual arts until I was in my 20s. Prior to that it was words, and I could sing, but somehow the idea of visual arts just never caught my eye - pardon the pun. I just never 'thought' about it. For some, their creative gift comes with visual arts; and for others it's cooking, or carpentry, or math.

I don't much care for people who think art is the exclusive domain of the artist. Art is part of the human condition - like music, or eating, or anything else that comes naturally to us, like taking a breath. Everyone can do it. Everyone should do it if they want to. If, in the end, the only thing you ever get from it is happiness, then that's all that matters.

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Coloured Pencils

2017 07 19 - 12:13

I have acquired an obscene stockpile of coloured pencils over the last five months - but, that's ma thang creatively these days, and now I have enough coloured pencils to last me years. I have:

* Prismacolor Premier
* Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor (oil based coloured pencil)
* Derwent Inktense (which are more a solidified water-soluble ink)
* Derwent Coloursoft
* Derwent Artist
* Derwent Studio
* Derwent Drawing
* Derwent Metallic
* Derwent Graphitint (water-soluble tinted graphite)
* Derwent Tinted Charcoal (water-soluble tinted charcoal)
* Koh-I-Noor Polycolor (oil based coloured pencil)
* Caran D'Ache Luminance (but only a handful)
* Faber-Castell Polychromos (oil based coloured pencil)

This doesn't include the pastels, tinted graphite and charcoal cakes, Conte sticks, soft pastels, PITT pens, sketching pencils, water soluble crayons, or coloured ink blocks that I've got. What I do not have, is an artist grade set of watercolour pencils; though I do have my eye on the Caran D'Ache Supracolor IIs linked below. You can see why it's only my eye I've got on them.

While the Faber-Castells are definitely the most expensive full set I've acquired so far, Caran D'Ache products are pricier. They're the top o' the line. I think Holbeins might be pricier, but they're hard to get in Canada. I'd have to order them from the U.S. most likely; but I won't even entertain the idea until I can find a reliable lightfastness chart for them. Pricey or no, I don't spend a king's ransom on a product that doesn't have reliable lightfastness. That's why, out of all the sets above, I've removed and given away any item that doesn't have a high enough rating. The Derwent Artists and Studio were bought singly and shipped from the UK, so I could avoid being stuck with more products that were not lightfast than I absolutely had to be. Still cheaper than buying full sets, even with the 20 pounds for shipping.

If you want some good information about coloured pencils, you can visit Coloured Pencil Topics, which is very in-depth, but awful to navigate. It's set up poorly, and laid out poorly, but is a really good resource. (2017 07 24) I've also found Colored Pencil Info, but haven't had time to look through it all yet. They seem to have info on a wide variety of pencils, including the lower-end brands.)

What's going to be a curious and lengthy project, is the colour swatch charts I'm going to have to make one of these days - because none of these brands is going to do a colour the same way any of the others do, which is why I got them all. Everyone's green is different, y'see.

Addendum:

I rolled my change and ordered the 72 set KOH-I-NOOR Mondeluz Aquarelles. I had a lot of change.

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Pretty Enough

2017 07 07 - 20:59

Someone once said to me that my art was pretty enough for something you were going to hang above a couch (which, I think, is the goal of many artists - to be bought and hung above someone's couch). It came out as a criticism, and not in a constructive way. At the time I let the comment slide, because I've never told someone to go fuck themselves to their face; but that was precisely what ran through my mind - especially since they very quickly followed it with comments about how artists are "elevated". Are they, now? That's the sort of attitude that makes non-artists hate the art world; that over-lofty ego.

I never took this person's comment about my art to heart though, nor took it seriously; but it did solidify something I already knew: Not all good art has to bear a message, or have any other impact than to be pleasing to the eye. We can't all be Picasso, or Kandinsky, or Pollock. There's not a damned thing wrong with not being a groundbreaker. If you are one, good for you. I applaud you and your skills.

I do not like "artiste" ego. Never have. I think it's part of my long-time distaste for posturing of any kind. I know we're all guilty of it to an extent; but some folks whip that horse 'til it froths at the mouth. I enjoy people who enjoy their work, and enjoy making that work.

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Ink Drawings

2017 03 05 - 23:37

Although many of the pieces created in this manner started as coloured pencil drawings years ago, I wanted to recreate them using materials that would better stand the test of time, as the pencils originally used were not lightfast and the paper was less than stellar. I am using technical vellum or a partly translucent bond paper to draw on, using India and other archival inks to create the images. Using various objects to draw against and around, and freehand lines, and without a specific plan, I begin to put lines on the paper, doing so until it feels right to stop. And the image is there. Sometimes it takes a while to see what is there, but sometimes what's there emerges instantly.

It is a never-ending source of amazement to me, how such simple lines can convey so much movement and emotion, and how they can also convey such complex things.

cat dragonfly

Cat / Dragonfly

dancer

Dancer 1

dancer

Dancer 2

equus

Equus

onion eater

Onion Eater

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On display

2016 12 01 - 14:52

I was not nervous on Saturday, in regards to performing the waza satisfactorily. I knew I would; or, rather, I wasn’t nervous that I wouldn’t. What did bother me was the idea of public performance. It is deeply uncomfortable for me. I do not like to be stared at; and that test is six and a half minutes of being stared at by six people whose sole purpose in life is to judge your every move.

Dislike of public performance is why I don’t sing in public, despite the fact that I know damned well that I’m beyond capable of singing well enough to do so. I don’t like being the centre of attention in that way. I did do an open mic one time a couple of years back, but I blew it I was so shaken.

I think, perhaps, that this is why I have no problem with people staring at, and judging, my art – which is pretty much the opposite of what most artists seem to feel. Look at my art, and hate it if you want, because at least you aren’t looking at me. I can detach myself from how people feel about my art; for that reason, and also because I know that out of six or seven billion opinions, negative ones are going to happen, and it’s all right if they do. It’s not possible for everyone to like everything, and you either get on board with that idea from the get-go, or get off the train.

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Art Show Music

2016 11 14 - 21:36

Music is a powerful mood changer - it can make or break any situation. I used to work in a store that, oddly, played no music at all - which made the place feel cavernous and cold. If you want people to buy things, you need to play music that puts them in a good mood; or, at least a comfortable one. It's why I pick the sort of music I do for events, for example.

I had a minor difference of opinion about the music used for my last art show. I chose friendly, warm music that kindled the idea of a casual party. I chose that music because that's precisely the mood I was after - it was not just my first solo show, it was also my birthday. Just because it was an art event, did not mean I wanted gallery-styled installation-art discordant white noise, or something jarring, or something self-indulgent, and so forth. That sort of thing doesn't make people comfortable, and it doesn't make people want to buy things.

What's the focus of the event - buying the art, or experiencing the art. If it's experiencing it, you can go for something less chummy. The people coming, the mood you're trying to kindle, the focus of the event, and even the space the event is at, need to be considered when choosing the music for the event you're hosting - unless there's some very specific reason why you need Art Show Music, I would avoid it utterly at every turn.

But, I have another event coming up for which I am creating a playlist of generic background jazz - not because I have a crushing need to listen to hours of coffee shop cocktail jazz, but because I need music that fills space, makes people comfortable, but doesn't distract them, or give me a migraine.

As an aside:

Silence used to be golden in the Henry Moore sculpture room at the AGO, which has been destroyed utterly by opening the other wall up to the cafe. I don't love Henry Moore's work, but that work, in that dead silent room, was an exceptional thing. Now, gone. But, so is the Jackson Pollock painting that used to be in the hallway leading to that room, for which I feel only a massive sense of relief. I hate Pollock.

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Why do/don't you buy art?

2016 11 13 - 21:34

What stops me is money; what I think stops others is also money, but from the perspective that non-artists see the end result of a process, not all the work that goes into it, so they do not understand why something would cost as much money as it might - so it's money, but also value.

There is not a lot of value placed on the work of an artist - neither in the sense of the product produced or the process used to produce it. Also, this culture has a streak of pragmatism running through it at times, and it stops folks from purchasing something pricey that has no - to them - practical value.

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