Sunday, September 26, 2010

An Active Week

It's been a busy week since my last post. On Tuesday, Janis left for two weeks in San Diego, visiting friends and family. I've been a single dad to our two dogs since then. They haven't died of neglect (so far, at least) so I think it's going okay. However, they do spend a good bit of time every evening lying down in the kitchen and watching the back door, waiting for their Mom to come home.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent in getting the studio ready for our Open House this weekend. I had to do some cleaning (see previous comments regarding bugs and dirt in an old industrial building) and re-arranging. I had advertised that I'd be pulling intaglio prints during the event, which meant that many of my paintings needed to be put away and some of my older prints needed to be brought out where they could be seen. Sounds like a 5-minute job, doesn't it? One thing leads to another: putting away a painting means finding a place for it, which means re-arranging the storage area, which has too much dirt and too many bugs that have to be cleaned out, which then expands to include cleaning the entire storage area. Getting old prints out means finding them first (where the hell did I put them last year?), then discovering that they're not priced right, probably because their database is incomplete and out of date, and so two hours needed to be spent in getting all my paperwork ducks in a row, then trying to find the price stickers and sales receipts and so on. So a 5-minute job takes two days. Ah, the joys of being a one-man business.

On Friday and Saturday morning, I attended a conference on public art. It was hosted by the City of Asheville, and was intended to get artists and public art administrators connected. I went because my interests and directions seem like they should include public art. (The term "public art" means art commissioned or bought by public organizations (governments or non-profits) for exhibition in public areas.) This goes back to something that an artist friend said to me once: "Most artists paint for one person. You paint for many." Meaning that most artists paint works that are intended to be bought by a collector and hung on a wall in a private home for the collector, his/her family, and friends. My works are intended to be displayed in a public area and viewed by many people. That comment has stuck with me ever since.

So I went to the conference, and it was very worthwhile. For one thing, it showed me that I can do more things than just paintings or murals. One presenter talked about a water treatment plant project that was exceptional. An artist had been hired as part of the "percent for art" program, and the municipality thought that she'd probably make some free-standing sculpture about water. Instead, she worked with the plant designers to completely revise the design. The normal rectangular settling ponds became free-form, naturalistic ponds that conformed to existing site topography. A heavy dose of natural plants provided some natural water purification. Walking paths and lighting wound between the different ponds. The end result: instead of an eyesore that people avoided, the plant became a destination. People even got married there. When was the last time you heard of somebody being married at a water treatment plant? As for myself, I kept thinking about the waste water treatment plant in Fallujah, Iraq, that has been such a problem since day one. An approach like this could very well have made a ton of difference in that war-torn city. And saved some lives to boot.

The other thing that I realized about public art is that I can do it. Public art projects require a lot of navigating a bureaucratic maze. Me, I'm a trained, professional bureaucrat. I know how government organizations run. Filling out reams of paperwork is not a problem. (It's a pain in the ass, yes, but not a problem). I already have the artistic skills, the project management skills, and the bureaucratic skills. Now all I need to do is start finding projects.

Which is easier said than done, of course. Remember the five-minute cleaning job that took two days? Yeah. This is bigger. But as the wise man once said, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So here we go.

But first, I had to get through the Open House this weekend. So yesterday and today I was in the studio, pulling drypoint prints from a new plate, and talking to visitors. Rainy weather seems to have kept people away, but we still had some hard-core art fans come around and I had some great conversations. For example, I had three people talk with me about their experiences in Bosnia. That's as many as I've spoken with in the five years since some of those paintings were done. Pretty cool.

So all in all, a busy and productive time. I'm going to spend the next couple of days giving the dogs some attention and workouts, and researching public art when they take their naps. Should be another busy and productive couple of days.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Western North Carolina Mountain State Fair

'Tis the season for the Mountain State Fair. I hadn't been to a fair in, oh, maybe 35 years, give or take a bit. But absence makes the heart grow fonder (or something like that ...), and the weather was going to be perfect, and we thought it'd be fun to see what this one's like. So we got with our friends Darryl and Jennifer and off we went.

Bottom line: it was a hoot! We wandered around and looked at Brahma bulls, antique tractors, grade-school art shows, a 750-pound pumpkin, dozens of quilts, different kinds of chickens, the horses of the Henderson County Mounted Patrol, and a variety of crafters. We people-watched. We ate really fine fair-food, including corn dogs, gyros, popcorn, ribbon fries, soft-serve ice cream, and frozen-cheesecake-dipped-in-chocolate-on-a-stick. Not all at once, but all of which was, surprisingly, pretty good. We people-watched some more. We listened to barkers trying to get people into their rigged games. We saw some guy get shot out of a cannon. We people-watched some more. And we rode some rides.

My choice was the Cyclops. Look in the picture above. You see that thing with an arm sticking out and something round at the end? That's Cyclops. The arm is a pendulum about 30 feet long, and at the end are the seats arranged in a circle. The pendulum swings you back and forth, from 30 feet in the air on one side to 30 feet in the air on the other, with the circle spinning wildly the whole time. So one minute you're staring face down at the ground way below you, then you're being whipped around and down and back up again and you're never ever going to come down and you're all just going to DIE.

I said a lot of very bad words.

When it was over, I couldn't even walk straight. Cyclops - it's my new favorite ride!

But all the rides weren't so violent. We cruised over the fairgrounds on a chairlift, looking down at all the crowds down below, listening to the barkers and kids and the screams coming from various rides, smelling cotton candy and hot dogs.

High-brow it's not. But there's a refreshing honesty about a fair. There's some hucksterism and showing off, of course, but it's really all about having fun. We certainly did our part. And we'll go back next year. Don't want to wait another 35!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Painting

Baghdad Schoolgirl
Oil on panel, 16"x12"

Sometimes you feel pretty good about a day's work. Today's one of those days.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Musings

This has been one of those mundane weeks with nothing exciting to talk about. I've been working on my drypoint prints in the studio. I pulled an edition of 10 prints of the farm buildings and was pretty happy with how well they came out. I was able to keep the line softness and also the richness of the blacks in all the prints. This is unusual for me - normally they lose both those characteristics very quickly, but this time I researched some better techniques and they worked well. So well that I went back to the gargoyle plate, used the same techniques there, and immediately pulled a beautiful print. So then I pulled a complete edition of 10 prints of the gargoyles as well. Now I'm pressing them flat and tomorrow they should be done.

I've really enjoyed making these prints. Making the plates has been more of a meditative experience for me than painting is, maybe because they're so small and require a focus and attention to tiny detail. Not that these prints are "detailed" like a photograph. Far from it - but the plates are small, the drawing is necessarily smaller, and I have to take off my glasses and get close in order to see what's happening. The drawings are not about capturing everything; rather, they're about finding interesting shapes, patterns, and textures, and using those characteristics to evoke a mood or feeling. With two editions completed, I need to come up with another three or four good images and get them printed within the next month.

The artists of the Cotton Mill Studios building, along with those in the Curve Studios just down the road, are going to have an Open House next weekend (the 24th to 26th, Friday through Sunday). It'll be a mini-Studio Stroll, with painters, potters, ceramic artists, fiber artists, a flute maker, and steel artists opening their doors to the public. I'll be there on Saturday and Sunday (not Friday) and will be pulling more drypoint prints those two days. If you're in Asheville and at all interested in the process, come on down and have a look. We're at 122 Riverside Drive, in the River Arts District.

Marty and Eileen, the owners of the Cotton Mill Studios, are having a mural painted on the side of the building. Actually, Marty asked if I'd do it, but I had to turn the offer down. The site is on a century-old brick wall that has been painted, burned, and weathered over many years. It also faces southwest, meaning it gets a heavy dose of sunlight, which will fade most paints in nothing flat. I just didn't have the skills to do a proper job. The guy who is doing it, though, knows his stuff. Ian Wilkinson and his brother Robbie submitted a knockout design and got the commission. Today, they were putting the first coat of stucco on the wall. They're going to be using special mural paint. I didn't know there was such stuff, nor did I know anything about putting a proper coat of stucco on a building. Ian and Robbie do, though, and should have the mural done well before the Open House. I think it's going to be quite an attraction for the River Arts District.

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I've been planning an Introduction to Oil Painting class in my studio. It'll run on four Saturdays, starting October 9th and ending October 30th, from 10 am to 1 pm. We'll cover a lot of ground: painting surfaces, paint, brushes, mediums, different techniques, color theory, and color mixing, to name just a few. Cost will be $100 for the course with students providing their own materials. If you're interested, let me know soon, as there is very limited space.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

America's Got Talent

I admit it: I'm an "America's Got Talent" junkie. I didn't want to be, and normally don't watch much TV, but one night Janis was watching the show. I stopped for a minute on my way back to the office and got hooked. Now we're down to the final ten contestants. It's been a long and very interesting road.

I wrote about AGT once before. It was then in its early stages and still had a lot of good talent mixed in with some so-so talent as well as a number of walking train wrecks. I thought it was a pretty good metaphor for the art and entertainment worlds. Still true. Now, however, the so-so talents and the train wrecks have been weeded out. The ten that remain are GOOD. Very good. And it has been fascinating to watch them develop at each stage, to see how they improve their acts and take it to the next level, whatever that is for them. It's been just as interesting to see the ones who don't do it as successfully. Some of them tried to do too much, or do something that wasn't natural for them. For virtually all the acts, music is an important part: if they're not musicians, then the music provides a backdrop, literally setting the stage and driving what they do. Sometimes it is successful, sometimes not.

One young man that we really liked early on was Connor Doran. For his first few performances, he used very quiet, almost spiritual music (Sarah McLachlan's "Angel", for example) to provide the setting for his indoor kite flying. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Later, he tried a more up-tempo pop song and it just didn't work. Unfortunately, he was eliminated in that round, but we still like him very much. Take a look at his first performance on AGT and you'll see what we mean.

Another one that we liked was Alice Tan Riddley. She's a wonderful lady, African-American, with a voice like Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James. She can really put some soul and power into her songs. Alice has paid her dues: she's sung on subway platforms for change, but she's way too good to go back to that. Unfortunately, she didn't make it into the finals, and that was a mistake on the judge's part. I'd buy one of her albums.

Our favorites for the finals tonight:

Jeremy Van Schoonhoven. This kid does things with bicycles that shouldn't be possible. He keeps pushing the boundaries and taking chances. Last week, he missed a very dangerous trick in practice, hurt himself pretty badly, and banged up his bike. He was doing a two-step jump down from a 15-foot high structure, and the intermediate stop was a very narrow, log-like ledge. It was questionable whether he'd even make it to the performance. But he did and he nailed it. I don't think he can win the competition, but he's going to give it everything he's got.

Jackie Evancho. Jackie is a 10-year-old girl with one of the most beautiful, angelic opera voices that I've ever heard. She sounds like a seasoned adult professional. Jackie made it into AGT via the YouTube auditions. She's definitely a top contender.

Prince Poppycock. He's hard to describe: a foppish 18th-century dandy in pancake makeup, powdered wig, high-heel boots, and the demeanor of a drag queen. But he has a beautiful operatic voice and powerful stage presence. When he walked out for his first performance, we were wondering "who the hell is this?", but then he launched into a lively version of "Figaro" that blew us away. He's one of our top three.

Michael Grimm. He's the polar opposite of Prince Poppycock. Where the Prince is a total creation, Grimm is good because he has stripped away all artifice. He's a blues singer with a wonderful voice, great stage presence, and innate modesty. He's one of my very favorites. Michael has several albums out on iTunes and Amazon - we're getting his newest.

Fighting Gravity. These guys are incredible. They're a bunch of fraternity brothers from Virginia Tech who put together an act for some event at school and it just took off. Their act, like several others, is hard to describe. It appears to be their bodies moving, dancing, and interacting without any regard for gravity. It's extremely well done, very cool, and lots of fun. Janis and I think this is a definite Vegas act, regardless of how AGT ends up.

All the others are good, too, and you can go to the America's Got Talent web site to see them. But these are our favorites.

So tonight they go into their "finals" performances. Pretty soon, one of them will win the big prize: $1M and a headline act in Vegas. A bunch of them are going to go on an AGT tour this fall and winter. Our thoughts? As I mentioned, we like Jeremy but don't think he's the top talent. Jackie is outstanding, but she's a 10-year-old girl. A headline act in Vegas is the last thing she needs - she's gotta be a normal little girl first. We think that any of the other three - Michael Grimm, Prince Poppycock, and Fighting Gravity - would be the best. And of those, we kinda lean toward Prince Poppycock.

I'll have more to say after the show!

Okay, so now it's the next morning. Everybody was on their "A" game last night. Jeremy did a super job on his bike, doing things we didn't think possible. Jackie sang an incredibly beautiful requiem. Prince Poppycock was, as usual, way over the top with a campy "patriotic" act. Actually, we didn't care for his performance as much as some of his others - the ruckus hid some of the strength of his voice and the campiness would definitely offend many people. Michael Grimm sang a soulful and heartfelt Al Green song. Fighting Gravity's new act seemed to miss the mark a bit with us, but was still a fascinating performance. A young singer that I didn't mention last time, Taylor Mathews, took the song "What A Wonderful World" (officially recognized (by me) as the World's Sappiest Song) and turned it into a happy, upbeat, skipping-along-in-spring joy. Great show! For Janis and me, the top three remain Prince Poppycock, Michael Grimm, and Fighting Gravity. The fourth slot is a tossup between Taylor and Jeremy. While Jackie Evancho is an unbelievable singer, we think she's just too young for a Vegas career. We'll find out the results tonight!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Another New Print

Farm Buildings
Drypoint, image size 5"x12"

Here's another new intaglio print. This one came out much better than Gargoyles, I think. The composition is better, the darks richer, and the line quality is better. I pulled five prints today and will see if I can pull five more before the burr goes away.

Friday, September 03, 2010

New Print

Drypoint, image size 7"x5", edition of 6

In yesterday's post, I talked about trying to make some decent prints. As it turned out, I did. I pulled an edition of six drypoint prints. The image is of gargoyles at the Biltmore estate. These will be available in November through Bella Vista Gallery in Biltmore Village.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

In my last post, I mentioned that I was working on a series of intaglio prints. Since then, I pulled out my press and some old plates and started making test prints. Let's just say that getting back up to speed is a slow process. It takes a while to get everything adjusted correctly and to re-learn the intricacies of effective printing.

Short background: Intaglio printing uses a metal plate in which the image is incised into the surface, creating grooves. With etching, an acid bath is used to eat into the metal; with drypoint, the lines are carved in a way that creates a soft line; with engraving, the lines are carved in a way that creates sharp lines. To make a print, the plate is covered with a very thick ink and then the surface is wiped clean. This leaves ink in the lines. Then the plate is placed on a press, face up, with the paper on top, and then some special heavy felt blankets on top of that for cushioning. Everything is then run between rollers under a good bit of pressure. This transfers the ink from the plate to the paper. If all goes well, you'll have a nice, sharp, clear print.

I'm not there yet. My prints are muddy, with weak lines and way too much plate tone (which comes from not wiping the surface clean enough). I'm apparently not getting enough ink into the lines, not wiping the plate correctly, and don't have the pressure set to the right level. That'll come with some more practice. Reminder to self: you don't unwrap an etching press after three years and immediately pull good prints! Looks like I'm going to burn through a lot more paper before everything's working as it should.

Yesterday, I had other tasks to do outside the studio. I replaced the spark plugs and plug wires on my truck, and reminded myself of why it is that I let a mechanic do most of the work these days. After a couple of hours, lots of cussing, and some busted knuckles, the plugs and wires were replaced and the truck started right up. Beautiful! I used to do almost all my own car maintenance, but over the years have done less and less of it. The main reason is that cars have gotten increasingly complicated and difficult to work on. Open the hood and you'll see tons stuff - equipment, hoses, lines, belts, wires, sensors - crammed into every available cubic inch. Even my Ranger, which is a pretty basic truck, suffers a bit from that malady. Way back when, I had a 1968 Triumph GT6, and access was not a problem. The "hood" was the whole front end. I could flip it up, walk in, sit on the tire, and have everything right out in the open. Carburetors? They're right there, on the right side. Distributor and plugs? On the left. All you needed was a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench, and occasionally a hammer. So easy, even a caveman could do it. Which pretty much describes my approach. Now, you need computers, special tools, and an advanced engineering degree.

Last night, we booked Janis on a trip to San Diego later this month. She's going to go visit family and old friends for a couple of weeks, while I stay home and take care of our two 4-legged daughters. J hasn't visited San Diego in well over two years, which is well over too long. So this will be a good thing for her. She needs to see all her friends/family, and since I've been home from Iraq for four months now, I think she needs a break from me!

But now it's time to get back to the press. Let's see if I can get a decent print today. Wish me luck!