Artsy Thoughts


I found a rather timely little message in my fortune cookie this week:

Perhaps I find it so timely because I am not letting a little matter such as a size limitation get in my way: the current drawing in progress needed to be big, so it is big.  I will deal with the problem of framing a 4 x 6 foot drawing later…

Plus there is my upcoming project, the beginning of which is simultaneously in progress with the big drawing (well past the planning and sketching into the gathering and preparing materials stage).  This new project revolves around creating artwork with subject matter illicit enough that it gave me a momentary pause over whether or not I could post the completed artworks on my website (I will - with a little disclaimer, of course). 

I have had this new project on the backburner for nearly four years and then along came an exhibition opportunity that gloriously lifted my own self-imposed limitations, leaving me to wonder why I had set the idea aside in the first place.  Perhaps it is one of those curious things having to do with timing and waiting for the perfect moment for all of the separate parts to fall into place; regardless I could not be more energized about the new endeavor.  I know that I am being cryptic, but this little embryo of inspiration has moved out of the freezer and matured into the toddler stage, and yet it is still too delicate to discuss outside the studio.

And, speaking of limitations – in this case the limitations of media - I am still beading paper.  This paper is black Stonehenge - a gorgeous printmaking paper which has a surface that is ideal for pastel and colored pencil (for this drawing I have used graphite and silver colored pencil).  I reinforced the back of the paper with archival black linen tape (usually sold with the bookbinding materials) so the paper is tear-proof (hopefully) and I am currently beading away….here are some close up shots:

Cover Songs

More than just creating another cover song, the process of actually deconstructing, synthesizing, and reconstructing another’s work is not simply a venture into regurgitating the past. Rather, it gives the artist the opportunity to internalize the canon, and to reflect over of the masters of his or her own media, discovering the imperfections and contradictions, and the enduring spirit of the artist’s work.

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Surface and Perfection

I love the suggestion of surface on two-dimensional art; I love to see marks in drawings, I love visual and physical texture in painting, I love to see evidence of the movement of the artist’s hand across a work of art.  The first time I saw a Leonardo da Vinci drawing in person was at Windsor Castle in 1988: I marveled at his mark-making - layers and layers of lines that were the direct result of the movement of his hands. This drawing was from one of the sketchbooks, consisting of hatched lines exquisitely delineated because they were executed with pen and ink - the crisp brown ink lines slightly rising from the yellowed surface of the paper.  It is peculiar that I don't quite remember what the drawing was of (it was definitely a figure), but the lines are so vivid in my mind.  Those lines were more edifying than the demonstrations from my freshman drawing classes: until that point I had only seen his work in art history texts where his sketches were reproduced as color plates (printed via offset-lithography with all those little half-tone dots that are not too unlike a jpeg as far as clarity).  Seeing the actual marks made by his hand was so illuminating because they were not softened and simplified into a perfect and pristine surface with the gloss of the textbook paper refining the image, rather they were the tangible and textured evidence of his movement and, more importantly, the evidence of his process of synthesizing and thinking about what he was seeing. It is not that I mind a perfectly smooth or polished surface in a drawing or painting (so very lovely and seductive indeed) but as far as seeing how the artist thinks and moves, those marks made by brushes, pens and pencils are very telling; honest and revealing, a glimpse into the mind of the artist at the time of creation, not to mention a physical document of the artist’s movement.  There is energy captured in a mark, sometimes there is even struggle and hesitation. I have realized that this is probably why I am so fond of certain abstract expressionists, such as the late work of Kandinsky and both de Koonings (Elaine and Willem).  And, likewise why I am so fond of Andrew Wyeth – although on the other side of the style spectrum, he is another artist whose paintings when seen in person are so much more captivating than the image that is reproduced in books or texts: you can really study the linear movements on his surface – the pure energy and economy and skill of control that is contained within a hyper-realistic accuracy. 

Twenty years ago, I was striving for perfection on a surface – no flaws – even and pristine layers of smooth graphite.  At some point in the past 10 years, I found myself interacting with pencil and paper in a more instinctive way, and this transformation is not because I am working faster: quite the contrary, I have somehow slowed down, as it takes much longer to complete a drawing than it used to take.  But now that I do not concentrate on surface perfection, there are flaws on the surface, dents and impressions on the paper: some of these imperfections I can smooth out upon completion with a light coat of matte medium, but others are there for good.  This imperfection is not the same as craftsmanship, which is something that I have always been compelled to strive for – messiness distracts from the work itself, so presentation remains paramount with clean edges and the white of the paper neat.  Rather, this imperfection is the true physical impression that remains on the surface of an actively worked drawing.

I have found that it is liberating to approach the creation of art not as means to get to a final product, but rather to consider art a product resulting from the compulsion to make.  So, when I am drawing in the studio, I am not consciously aware of how the surface will appear.  The process of drawing is about the sensory contact of pencil on paper, and realizing that paper (as much as canvas or a sculptural medium) is a physical thing that can be torn, bent, cut, held, damaged, transformed and reassembled. More often than not, I am finding that I simply get lost in the back and forth action of drawing, erasing, drawing, erasing and gradually building up value. Now I am starting to have the desire to push the physical properties of the medium, too, such that more and more in my own drawings I want to do stitching, sewing, beading, and manipulation of the paper.

the planning ahead part: testing different beads, pencils, and acrylic mediums on black Stonehenge paper in preparation for the current large-scale drawing

This does not negate planning or consideration about what I am about to draw before I actually start working on a large sheet of paper; I am working in realism, so the structure of my drawings is planned and sketched ahead of time or during or after in some separate part of my brain, allowing the actual process of making to become looser, occasionally meticulous, yet not precious.

Maybe this instinctive letting go of surface perfection is my way of bucking what I fear is a trend towards visual homogenization: seeing so much digitally reproduced artwork on a flat screen monitor.  Maybe it is that smooth suggests to me Plexiglas and enamel and other surfaces of mass production.  I want earthy and tangible, I want a touchable, physical surface and the feel of the artist’s hand.

On that last thought of earthy and tangible, here is a link to the too-good-not-to-share posthumous video commentary of Lucian Freud’s painting ‘Standing by the Rags’ from the Guardian’s art critic Adrian Searle: “Freud didn’t so much have a career as a life”.  

In the next week or two: Thomas Kinkade, Goya, and detail photos of the drawing in progress.


The web mistress (as she calls herself) who is otherwise known as Jo Bradney, fellow artist and the lady responsible for the way this website appears, has created a webpage for my site that will allow for zooming into the detail on my drawings.  I am immensely pleased that this is going to be up and running soon; I have a serious - and I mean serious - dislike of the clarity of these little jpegs online. Overall, I am rather ambivalent about jpegs: they are unquestionably easier than slides – easier to arrange, edit, label, and store, not to mention the fact that digital is so much cheaper (it once cost a small fortune to make duplicate copies of slides).  I truly have no desire to go back to slides.  But, I am vexed by having to depend on jpegs for entering shows or to go along with proposals for exhibitions – they just don’t look quite right nor do they accurately reflect my artwork. Unlike slides, which, under normal viewing, were projected in their fully detailed glory onto a screen, digital images are confined to itty bitty little monitors, making my drawings appear as little book illustrations rather than the large-scale objects that they are.  Or, much worse, jpegs are displayed via LCD projectors onto screens so there is this overall pixelated quality to the image. I suppose that at the very least I should be happy enough that I am not trying to reproduce the depth and light of encaustic or the texture of impasto paintings digitally.

I am reminded of an interview I once heard with Neil Young around 20 years ago: he was complaining about the tinny sound of CDs as a result of the way the music is stored in a digital recording. Essentially, the pure sound of the musical information is simplified and broken down into digital bits, 0s and 1s. He compared it to an analog photograph versus a digital photograph – an analog photograph has all of the pure subtle transitions of light and value whereas the digital photograph abridges visual information into small squares of data.  The sound is on digital is not pure (and, if you have ever listened to an analog recording on a high quality vinyl record, played via a good pair of speakers, off a good turntable through a good amp, then you know what I mean – it makes an mp3 recording of music seem like you are listening through a tin can).

Which brings me to my true vexation with jpegs: since the level of resolution used for most applications or shows is so low, the information does not accurately portray the artwork, almost regardless of media, whether realist, abstract, or three-dimensional (although I suspect that jpegs might be fine for photographers or those working with digital media).  The concept is often clearly translated through a jpeg (the image is the image) and the values and colors may be correct, but the magic that is a true work of art is not reflected: the details, the marks, the movement, the surface, the scale, the light, and that enchanting thing that is transmitted from a work of art that has been touched by the artist.  A good slide, which normally had to be projected onto a screen (not on a little monitor), often came a whole lot closer to representing the essence of the artwork. 

It is interesting that for such a progressively more visual culture we are getting less and less of the intangible and magical power from the presence of an actual work of art, and more of a cursory impression of the idea and concept behind the artwork.  [Sigh] and then again, there is the not-to-be-ignored, fantastic ease of getting your work out there on the internet in this world of digital imagery at your fingertips.

So, can you guess what I will be doing over the next few weeks? Organizing my jpegs for applications that I am sending off in the mail. It does not escape me that nearly every show I have had was as a result of word-of-mouth or a curator seeing my work in person – rarely off these little reproductions.  But alas, there are some things I want to apply for that are only taking jpegs, so it is time to suck it up and send these jpegs off, because this is how things are done these days. 





Linda Pochesci "Out the Front Door", Jamie Greenfield "Moth Music", Valery Sutherland "Where the Buttercups Grew"
Linda Pochesci "Out the Front Door", Jamie Greenfield "Moth Music", Valery Sutherland "Where the Buttercups Grew"

Metaphor, featuring the artworks of Susanna Baker, Jamie Greenfield, Linda Pochesci, Merrill Steiger, and Valery Sutherland opened this past weekend at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange.  The reception for the artists is scheduled for this Sunday, September 19th, from 1 – 4 PM and will include an informal artist talk starting at 1 PM.

Susanna Baker's "Star Cluster"(wax, monotype on wood)

As the curator, I have to point out that the artwork for this show was not chosen around the title Metaphor: rather, I went through the files and pulled out work that interested me, intuitively organizing the artists’ portfolios into stacks that I felt worked as a grouping.   (The artists for this exhibit were curated from the artist files of the Pierro Gallery - to which I actively encourage all artists to submit materials; the guidelines are here).

During the process of organizing, I realized that there is a connection between the works of this group of artists: in one manner or another, they all deal directly with metaphor.  One could argue that most art deals with metaphor on some level (even for non-representational artists, such as abstract expressionists, the painting in itself becomes the metaphor for the action of painting).  However, these artists have a more straightforward use of metaphor in their work.  More subtle than analogies, these are visual metaphors that play out in correlations between juxtaposed imagery or contrast space, scale and color, so the artists are creating their own visual symbolism, evoking emotion, or suggesting narrative.

Merrill Steiger, "Arachnophopia", acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

In addition to metaphor, nature is also notably featured within the works of these artists - references to weather, daylight, insects, geological formations, natural textures and patterns, the macrocosm as well as the microcosm:  elements that come together, conveying suggestions to the passage of time, hints towards the essence of spirituality, contemplation of environment, and allusions to the enigmatic personal experience of the artists themselves.

As with literary metaphors, there is an elusiveness that brings the viewer into the work to ask what is happening?, what does this mean?, and demanding the viewer to assume more responsibility for interpreting meaning, because these artists have not created clear-cut narratives and explicitly elucidated stories or concepts.  These artworks show an array of symbols and private iconography - the meanings for which the viewer is not necessarily privy - but intuitively, and with contemplation, the viewer can generate their own version of meaning through the visual imagery that each artist has presented.

Installation view of Valery Sutherland's "The Old Ones"; six sculptures, acrylic on layered plywood