Saturday, January 26, 2019

Choosing Exhibitions for Universities

In a previous post, I wrote about some of the things I've learned while installing exhibitions in a university art gallery.  Right now, we're going through the process of selecting the final exhibition for the 2019-2020 school year, and I thought it would be a good time to talk about what goes into these selections.

The key driver, for me, is diversity. The art world is made up of art in all media, including many that typically aren't considered art media.  It consists of drawing, painting, printmaking (and all that is just in my own studio), encaustic, graffiti, woodworking, pottery, sculpture, metal, glass, installations, quilts, fabric, found objects, photography, and all the different types of mixed media that you can possibly imagine and more.  And that's just in media.  In concept and execution, there are many more.  Painting alone has representational, photorealism, abstract, impressionist, expressionist, drip, and various movements within and combining those types.  So there are a ton of different types of art.  And many students in a university have never been in an art gallery (I've heard that several times just this past fall), so our job is to expose them to a wide variety of different art forms.

The exhibitions this year are doing just that.  We've had a faculty show, an exhibition of works that combine 2D imagery with 3D furniture, and a set of raw paintings followed by a very precise exhibition of 125 instant photographs.  The students seem to have gotten a lot out of the variety that has been presented.

As a painter, it's easy for me to name a dozen other painters who would be great to have in our gallery.  But that doesn't do right by the students, faculty, staff, and local residents who are our "customers", if you will use that term.  So I've been reaching out beyond my norms to identify other types of exhibitions.

So over the next 18 months, we're going to have quite a variety.  One show will be by convicts in a prison's art therapy program.  We're having a show of art by Madison County public school students.  We'll have a very energetic abstract painter, followed by a classically-trained painter whose subject matter ties in with the University's Bascom Lamar Lunsford festival of Appalachian music.  There's a photographer who creates edgy, large-scale works.  We'll have a group show of potters working here in the county.  There will be an exhibition of sculptures by several individuals who will be teaching workshops on campus.  And we'll wind up the season with an exhibition of student work, followed by an exhibition of work by our seniors.

Commercial galleries find their own unique niche and then fill it with art that they believe they can sell.  That's a great thing for artists, but it doesn't answer all of a community's needs.  A university isn't worried about selling, its mission is to educate, and it does that with variety.  And meeting that mission is forcing THIS painter out of his comfort zone!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

New Artworks

With the end of the wedding season and a quiet period in my day-job business, I've been able to spend some more time in the studio lately.  I've been working primarily with the charcoal and pastel series and thought I'd share some, with their stories, here.



I met James and Rachel late last fall.  Without getting into specifics, James has had some experiences that few of us have ever had and none of us ever want.  He's a very intense man who feels deeply and expresses himself honestly.  Rachel is his wife.  She is his rock.  She's a beautiful woman through and through and, from my experience, very upbeat, outgoing, and positive.  They are two halves of one being.  Soon after meeting them, I knew I had to do their portraits.  Both came out, I think, pretty well, and will be on their way to James and Rachel very soon.

Every now and then I'll bring one of my models into the studio for a photo session.  We'll go for about an hour and take a ton of pictures.  These sessions are really about getting the models to show parts of their personalities that don't come out in a crowded life session.  I don't direct, no "do this, do that" - instead, it's about encouraging them to be themselves.  Last fall, I did such a session with Natalie, one of our regular models.  She's a lovely young woman with alabaster skin tones that are so hard to get right, and a reserved manner that hides a bit of a vamp.  Over the past week or so, I've done three of her:

Natalie #3 

 Natalie #4

Natalie #5

These were a lot of fun to do.  My goal was to capture some of the playfulness that sometimes bubbles out, while keeping the mystery that's hiding behind her reserved demeanor.  There was one other artwork of her, one that began in a life session but never hit the "keeper" criteria.  I tried reworking it and it failed.  So it's destroyed.  But these turned out well, especially, to my mind, #5.

I've got another project going in the studio as well, a painting.  I'll cover that one in another post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Creating an Art Exhibition

Last fall, I added a new job to my hodge-podge collection of activities.  I became the Director for the Weizenblatt Art Gallery at Mars Hill University.  "Director" is a kinda grandiose title, but the duties entail making sure the exhibits are put up, taken down, and advertised in various media, and that the receptions happen on schedule.  It's not rocket science.  It has provided quite a bit of insight into all the little things that make an exhibit a success, as well as how schools choose their shows.

The first exhibit this past fall was the biannual Faculty Exhibit.  Trying to corral a group of artists into delivering their work to a specific place by a specific time can be challenging.  Fortunately, this group of faculty members were pretty good about it.  Even better, they left the layout and installation of their works to me, the new guy, that some of them hadn't even met yet.  Now I'm of the opinion that the installation of a show is an artwork in itself.  You want each piece to have some breathing room around it, you want each to show itself to its best, and you want it to flow well from one piece, and one artist, to the next.  And that's whether the viewers are moving right to left or left to right.

(Note: you can click on the images to enlarge them).

I decided to group each artist's pieces together, first and foremost.  Then they were positioned so that there was some kind of a connection to the adjacent artist's work: similar colors, similar subject matter, similar size, whatever was "similar".  I spent quite a bit of time leaning stuff up against all the walls and then adjusting their order and spacing.  Once it felt right, I hung them.  For the pottery, I hauled out a bunch of pedestals and put them all together in the center of one of the two rooms.  This created a kinda free-form sculpture to hold all the pieces, helping to focus attention on them and allow the eye to move from one to the next.  It also provided a bit of protection: when pedestals are scattered around the room, people can/will bump into them and knock them over.  In the photo above, there are figurative photos on the left, leading to my figurative charcoal/pastel pieces, along with the "pottery island" in the center of the room.

The next show was very different.  We had Randy Shull, who has been a professional artist for a few decades now and is very experienced in showing his work.  As I said before, I think the installation is an artwork itself, and nobody knows the work better than the artist.  So I let them decide what goes where, while my role is to provide tools and other assistance to help them build the show they want.  Randy was super easy to work with: very easygoing, very professional, and well prepared.  His show was a mix of combined painting/furniture/sculpture pieces (yes, all three aspects in one work) as well as mixed-media pieces.  Here's how the opening looked:

You can kinda see here how Randy followed the same concepts: the colors in the small orange piece on the left were reflected in the large wall hanging/floor-furniture piece next to it, whose blues were picked up in the three small pieces to its right, and so on around the room.

The third show was very different.  David Hopes is a very intuitive painter, building his paintings organically.  He's also a poet, playwright, actor, and singer - an all-around Renaissance man.  David brought his intuitive sense to his installation: "if it feels right, do it".  So there was none of the careful measuring and adherence to gallery norms in this installation.  For example, most galleries will hang paintings using a 60" standard, meaning the center of the work is usually placed at a height of 60 inches.  Not David.  Some works were placed close together, some hung in places we've never hung a work before (for example, on the 6" wide end of the dividing wall), and there was one 15-ft wall that had nothing on it.  It was very free-form.  But for all that, the feeling of the installation seemed to match the feeling from the paintings.  I had some reservations, but decided to hold off until I saw how it looked.  It definitely provoked some discussion, but in all, I think letting David hang his own paintings without interference was the right call.

This week, we hung a new show.  Jay Kranyik is a photographer working with Polaroid and Fuji "instant" cameras and film.  These are small images, very intimate, with a unique sense of color.  Jay's subject is primarily urban landscapes: geometric arrangements in primary colors.  All of his 125 images were mounted on 8"x8" mats.  Jay was extremely careful about accurate positioning of every one of his images, down to the half inch.  It was the polar opposite of working with David, but then, Jay's photos are the polar opposite of David's paintings.  We had a bit of a conundrum in deciding how to hang the works on the walls, since there were no wires on the backs.  Our first thought was to use L-pins to clip them to the walls, but we couldn't find 500 pins in time.  (Yes, with 125 artworks and 4 pins/artwork, that's a lotta pins).  In the end, we went unconventional: we used roofing nails.  These nails have wide heads that overlap the artworks to pin them to the wall.  They're also a helluva lot cheaper than the L-pins.  We then set up a pedestal to show visitors his old Polaroid camera and newer Fuji camera.  For college kids, this may be the first time they've seen something other than digital!

So those are some of my experiences in managing a university art gallery.  There are a lot more aspects to it, like getting to talk with the college students, running receptions, planning exhibitions for the coming year, and handling publicity.  I'll get to some of those in future posts.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Living With an Old Dog, Part 2

Yes, it's been a month since my last post.  Life has gotten in the way, of course: a big day-job project, Christmas, New Year's, and a thousand other things.  One of those things is our dog, Soozzee.

You may remember a previous post from August of last year.  Soozzee had just turned 15.  She was pretty much deaf, was blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, and had a variety of ailments.  All that is still true, of course.  She's had Addison's disease for over a decade - an ailment that is deadly if not treated, but if treated (a pill a day and a shot every 4 weeks), is almost invisible.  She has dry-eye in both eyes, requiring medication twice a day.  She has a thyroid condition, requiring another pill a day.  She needs a Pepcid a day to keep her stomach settled.  She has two skin conditions: one that results in "old-dog bumps" all over her back, and another that results in skin flakes that need to be scraped down with a tick comb periodically.  She has two big stones in her bladder and possibly more forming in her kidney.  The vet doesn't want to cut the stones out due to her age, so Soozzee lives with them.  And because they seem to give her a good bit of pain every now and then, we give her some Gabapentin to help ease it.  Yeah, we spend a lot of money on the little girl every month.  And there's no Medicare for elderly dogs.

Since my last post, Soozzee's case of doggie dementia has gotten a bit worse.  I think it's exacerbated by not being able to see or hear much of anything anymore.  She gets lost in the house, or will sit or stand and just stare off into space.  She gets "the wanders" in the afternoon: around 2:30, she wakes up from her post-lunch nap and just ... wanders.  All over the house.  Bumps into things and stops.  Gets stuck behind a door.  Really, she needs one of us to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn't get into too much of a problem.  Which means that one of us is wandering along with her, or nearby.  And she gets really, really spooked if we go off somewhere and leave her at home alone.

This dementia development has really put a damper on our out-of-the-house activities, both work and social.  Either Soozzee goes with us, or one of us stays home with her.  So: going out to a movie and dinner in Asheville?  Umm, nope, can't leave the Sooz for more than an hour.  A day trip somewhere?  Probably not, and only if we can take her along.  Fortunately, we can leave her in the parked car for a while since she doesn't freak out like she does if we leave her home - she seems to understand that we gotta come back to the car at some point.

When I go to the studio, Soozzee often goes with me.  But she doesn't just curl up on the couch and take a nap the whole time.  Nope, she'll go down for about an hour to maybe an hour and a half.  Then she wakes up and ... yep, she wanders.  I keep the doors to the outside closed, but she goes everywhere and, of course, it totally wrecks my concentration.  So I'll give up after a bit and head home, usually with a stop up at the church so she can do her happy run.

And that's the coolest thing.  Here she is, 15 1/2 years old, running across the grass like a puppy.  She can't see where she's going so I have to steer her, but she still gets that happy-dog smile.

There have been a few times over the past six months where I've thought she finally started her last downward spiral.  Each time, she's bounced back within a few days.  I'm so very, very thankful.  Yes, living with a dementia patient is hard, whether they have two legs or four.  But I'm happy to put up with it.  When she plants her butt up against my hip at night and starts snoring, it's all worthwhile.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Apryl #3

Apryl #3
Charcoal and pastel on toned paper

Here's my newest piece in the charcoal and pastel series that I've been doing for a couple of years now.  I'm pretty happy with it.  Apryl is a very lively young woman, very animated and a great life model.  I've done two previous artworks of her.  Both times, she took interesting poses and held them like a rock.  That's great for figure studies, but there's one drawback.  No model can hold a true facial expression for more than a moment, no matter how good they are.

Want to test it?  Great!  Get a mirror and give yourself a big smile.  No, no, a REAL smile, one that you mean.  Nope, try again.  Okay, getting better.  Got it yet?  Okay, now hold that for 20 minutes.  Don't move, now!

Yeah, right.  Many people don't even like to smile for the camera, and that's just for a second or two.

The issue with facial expressions is that they are reflections of our inner state of mind, which is constantly changing.  When you're posing for an artist, you can hold your body in a position for quite a while, but your mind is going off somewhere else.  As one guy who sat for the painter Lucien Freud said, posing is a cross between zen meditation and a trip to the barber.  I've found that models' faces will settle in to a neutral or blank expression, one that will naturally hold itself over a long period of time.  Sometimes you can see flickers of expression cross their faces as some train of thought is amusing, frustrating, or whatever, but mostly it's just blank.

So how do I do expressions?  Photography.  I'll have a camera out as I talk with the model and will shoot a lot of photos.  Then I'll use the photos as references to build the artwork.  I don't copy the photo, though, but will use the images to see the details of how somebody's face shows expression.

This image came from my last life session with Apryl.  Her expression during the pose was, as all are, pretty blank.  But she's certainly not blank, she's smart, funny, and very expressive.  So during a break, I got out my camera and took a bunch of photos as we talked.  Then we went back to the pose. Now, several weeks later, I was able to go back, look at the photos, and start something new based on them.

Originally, this was a full-figure image of her sitting cross-legged.  I had a rough block-in and decided that it wasn't good enough.  For me, the attraction was in her face, and the small paper didn't allow a full-figure with sufficient room to develop her face.  So I rubbed out the figure, although you can still see a few traces of it.  I started over, looking at just the head and upper body.  The first stage was a rough block-in with vine charcoal.  Then I wiped down most of the vine and hit it with willow charcoal.  Why wipe down the vine?  It seems to fill the pores in the paper with slick particles and the heavier charcoals and pastels don't want to stick.  So I wipe a lot of the vine off, leaving enough to guide me along.

My next stage with Apryl was to use the willow charcoal to develop the features.  But I developed the features too much: there was so much detail in the face that the image lost some of the magic.  I got frustrated and hit it with a kneaded eraser.  That took a lot of over-development out and what was left was streaky.  But the streakiness was cool, so I re-developed the face, but only lightly and not nearly with as much detail.  Then came a light application of pastels to add color, first to the lighted areas, and later to some (not all) of the shadows.  Usually, I focus on the eyes, but this time, I focused on her smile, which was the important element in her expression.  There was a lot of experimentation, lots of rub-outs and erasures, and some happy accidents.  Finally, there was the image.

So, yes, I'm very happy with this one. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Last Wedding Painting of 2018

I completed the last wedding painting of the year just a couple of days ago.  The next day, Klaire and Drew came by the studio to pick it up, and I had one of those moments that swells your heart.  The first time a couple sees their painting in real life is magic.  In this case it was a high-pitched "OHHHmygaaawwwwdddd", complete with eyes wide and hands to face.  Yep, I think I nailed it.

The last time they had seen their painting was at their reception.  I was packing up and they were about to head out the door for the sparkler run, but they came over to get one last look at it.  They already loved it, even though I told them it was just a rough block-in.  Here's how it looked then:

As a block-in, this is barely satisfactory.  It establishes the basic composition and the couple's pose, but that's about it.  The pose is roughed-in, the wedding party is just hinted at, and the crowd is nonexistent at this point.  Time to get to work in the studio.

Over the next few weeks, I reworked every square inch of the canvas multiple times.  Drew and Klaire were developed, the crowd added and changed, the wedding party developed, both sets of parents were included, the forest and arbor behind them were brought up to spec, and the two ferns on pedestals developed.  And here's how it turned out:

Quite a change, isn't it?  I feel pretty good about the end result.  Apparently, so do they!

My next booking isn't until well into spring, so now I have a bit of a hiatus from wedding paintings.  There are a lot of other works that I've had in mind for a long time, but haven't been able to get to them, so over the next few months they'll be tackled, one at a time.

If you'd like to know more about my wedding paintings and the whole process, check out the Asheville Event Paintings site.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hell in Paradise

Our son, Rick, and his family (wife Julie and son Jackson, aka Jax) live in Paradise, California.  That is, they did until last Thursday.  Their home was one of the thousands that was destroyed in the fire that also destroyed about 90% of the town.

They're lucky: they're safe and they have a nice place to stay for the time being.  A growing number of people didn't make it out at all (76 as I write this, with over 1,000 still missing).  Many of the survivors are living in tents or shelters.  It's a brutal situation.

So what happened with them?  Well, they had been watching the fire for a few days.  It was on the other side of a ridge, so it needed to be watched, but wasn't an imminent threat.  On Thursday morning, there was smoke in the air, but no sense of danger.  Jax went to school and Rick and Julie went their respective ways to work.

A couple of hours later, Jax called Rick at work.  Fire was approaching the school.  It was in the trees nearby and the kids were being evacuated, and Rick needed to come NOW to get him out.  Rick hightailed it over there and retrieved Jax.  They tried to get up to their house to get their dog, Sugar Ray, and whatever else they could.  The way was blocked: police wouldn't let them get anywhere near the area as the fire was already up there and moving way too fast.  They drove to Chico, about 15 miles away, where Julie had been working.  Her boss has a big house and they invited Rick and the family to stay with them.

The next day, Rick and Julie were able to get into their neighborhood, using a little subterfuge since only emergency workers were allowed in.  Their house was gone; in fact, it was still burning underfoot. The only thing standing was the chimney.  Worse, their dog Sugar Ray died in the fire.  Julie's mother lived on the other side of town.  She and Julie's sister had made it out as well, so they were safe, but Rick and Julie went to check on their house.  It was gone, too.  So was almost all of Paradise.

Since then, it's been a matter of regrouping, finding out what they have to do and what their options are, and discussing what they're going to do in the future.  Right now, there's not much they can do.  Rick still has a job of managing operations for Waste Management - a job that will be very important in the near future, I think.  The fire is still burning and people are not yet allowed back to their houses ... or at least, where their houses once stood.  Jax needs to be in school.  Julie's job is still safe since the fire hasn't gotten to Chico.  So they're figuring out what needs to be done first, then they'll work on the long-term plan.

In the meantime, Rick and Julie have been overwhelmed by the support from friends and strangers alike.  Here's what Rick had to say about it on Facebook:

Woke up this morning with an incredibly full heart, here’s why… Since this tragic fire, we have more people in our lives than prior. We have completely new friends. And while our relationship LITERALLY rose from the ashes… They are happy/healthy relationships that will continue to develop for the rest of my days. To be quite honest; if it weren’t for this fire, I would not have these people in my life. 
I have “new” old friends. These people have always been there. We go through life and tend to drift away every now and again. The term “Life sometimes gets in the way.“ describes this group of friends for me. Here’s what I can tell you about this group… They have been nothing short of spectacular. And while my little family is doing well, make no mistake, we are starting to run with our new lives a little bit more each day. It is comforting to know these people are running with us. Often times; they are leading the way! 

If you know anything about me, you know I pride myself on doing and being more for my friends. For me, it is all about relationships. I fear, I could never be more than my friends have been for my family over the last week. I WILL TRY!

This kinda tells me that they're going to be all right.