Thursday, August 29, 2013

Preps for an Upcoming Exhibition

I've been asked to be a part of an exhibition opening next week in Asheville.  The show is titled "Thought-Provoking Art by Six UNCA Alumni".  When Robert Tynes, the curator, asked me to be in it, I had nothing on hand that hadn't already been exhibited in town.  So I said, "Sure, I'll participate!"  This was a way to get my ass in gear and paint something.

But the pressure is on.  Not only does it have to be exhibition-ready, but it has to be thought-provoking as well.  That's a pretty high bar in my book.  So what to do?  I thought of maybe doing something about the current disaster of North Carolina's idiot governor and state legislature, but I really don't want to go back to satirical political paintings again.  Thinking of politics just makes my blood boil.  I then thought about doing the first of my intended new series on "Survivors".  The problem is that I don't yet have a survivor to work with, and I'm not about to just make stuff up.  Eventually, I decided to do a painting based on my experiences in Afghanistan.  I went back through my photos, thought about how they might be used, came up with some ideas, and finally whittled them down to two.  Of those, one is now underway.

The painting is tentatively titled "Negotiation".  Three Afghan men are sitting cross-legged on the ground, looking directly at the viewer.  One is a white-bearded elder who is carrying on the conversation, one is an adult, and one is maybe a teenager.  An AK-47 leans against the wall behind them, while a plate of treats and cups of tea sit between the viewer and the Afghans.  I'm trying to make the setting ambiguous: are they a threat? friendly? what's the viewer's role? what might happen?  In other words, it's typical of most any negotiation with Afghans, particularly villagers.

I'm posting photos of the development of the new painting on my website in the "Development of a Painting" (duhh) section.  Normally, I'd do this after the painting is done just to make sure (a) the finished work is something worth looking at and (b) I can make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.  This time, though, all that's out the window.  I don't know what it'll be like, whether it'll be worth a look, and it's showing how everything keeps changing.  So in addition to the pressure to make a "thought-provoking work", I'm upping the pressure on myself, showing you the ugly side of the sausage-making process.

One last note.  I mentioned photos.  I much prefer to work from life, but that's impossible in this case, so I have to use what's available.  This painting is not a copy of one photo, it's being put together from parts of many.  At least 12 photos have contributed something so far: an expression here, the position of a hand there, the shape of an AK-47 from two others.  The overall idea and composition, though, is straight out of my head.  There is no way I could have taken a photo like this.

So go take a look and let me know what you think.  I can still change it.  Next week at this time, though, it'll be too late!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

End of a Line

I spent last week up at Muscatatuck, training another group of State Department and USAID folks who are heading to Afghanistan.  My luck held out: once again I had a team of really sharp people.  They made my job easy.  I could just suggest a few things, make a couple of recommendations, and ask that they consider this or that aspect, and they would take it and run with it.  If anything, they made things a bit harder on themselves because they over-prepared themselves for the different events.  They did their research and knew what was going on every time.  In some cases, they had actually worked relevant real-life situations and knew much more about what would have been going on in reality than we presented in the training scenario.  So I learned from them as well.  And they definitely came a long way last week.  At first, they were a group of students sitting around a table.  By Friday, they were a tight-knit team, able to divide responsibilities, work with each other, handle anything we threw at them, and generally kick butt.  And it is so cool to see that happen.  So I'm wishing all the best to Mark, Amanda, Bernie, Bill, and Chris as they head downrange.  Good luck and stay safe!

There was a sadder note to this week, though.  This was the last of these classes for the State Department.  The drawdown that has been accelerating over the last few months means that there won't be many State Department people going out to the field in Afghanistan anymore, and certainly not enough to justify continuing this course.  So it has now ended.  That's life, of course, but you hate to see a good thing go away.

I have to say that this training program has been one of the highlights of my professional life.  Every once in a while, you get a perfect storm of an important mission, one that's fun and worthwhile in itself, and also get to work with a great group of teammates.  We had that at Muscatatuck.  The mission was critically important to those who were going to Afghanistan.  It was so much fun to do.  And my fellow trainers are a great group of people: dedicated, committed, experienced, sharp, witty, creative, innovative, and always put the mission first.  We worked like hell to make the training scenarios the best experience for the students that they could possibly be.  And we had a helluva lot of fun doing it.  I'm going to miss working with them.

But there's always the chance that one day the phone will ring and somebody will say, "Hey, we're getting the band back together.  We're on a mission from God and we need you at Muscatatuck."  I'll be there in a heartbeat.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

New Painting

The Figure Drawing Session
Oil on canvas, 22"x24" 

I finished this painting today.  This was a fun one to do.  It started during a figure drawing session, with what was initially just an oil sketch, but things were clicking with it.  So I continued to work on it, refining, changing, adding, and subtracting.  Finally it's done.

Here's what it looked like earlier.  During the initial session, I worked on the figure and roughly sketched in the couch.  The next day, rather than wipe everything out, I laid in the initial red of the couch and added the easel and light.  At this point I knew where it was going.  The next steps were to bring some more depth to the couch and figure, and to revise the easel since the angles were all wrong.  It took two tries to get the position of the easel right.  Then I needed to add some more things that said "artist studio", so I added the rug, the jar of paint brushes, and the drawings on the floor and wall.   The lighting also needed to be adjusted so that it was clearly a spotlight on the figure.  Finally, I went around the picture to bring everything up to snuff: refine the figure and couch (again), rework the easel and light, and minor touchups all over.

This is the first real painting I've done in over two years and it feels good!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Studio Work

We had a life drawing session in the studio this past week.  This was the first evening session I've run in over two years.  And as it's still summer, I had a typical summer result: only one other artist showed up.  This didn't really matter to me, though, since I schedule these sessions for my own practice, and open them up to others because it's fun.

Claire was our model.  She's been working with my groups for maybe ten years now.  Claire is an artist, a performance artist, and a dancer, and she has a good feel for what makes an interesting pose.  This one, for example, brought out the muscles around her neck and collar bones.

Actually, it was a tough pose to hold.  To get the strain, she carried her weight on her arms and tilted her head back.  So she'd hold it for as long as she could (five to ten minutes), then relax for a few minutes, and go again.  She was a trooper.  We gave her an easy pose after this so she could recuperate.

Meanwhile, I'm about to wrap up the latest "model in the studio" painting.  Only need to do some work on one small area and then it'll be signed, photographed, posted here, and put up on the rack.  I've got some ideas for the next one.  We're going to have another life drawing session this Wednesday with a different model, and she might give me some more ideas.

I'm going to be part of a show at the Asheville Area Arts Council next month.  It's "Thought-Provoking Art by Six UNCA Alumni", curated by Robert Tynes.  Since almost all of my "thought-provoking" work has already been exhibited here in Asheville, I want to make something new.  I've tentatively decided on an Afghanistan-based image.  But I needed a canvas and didn't have one of the right size available.  So I stripped an old painting off its stretcher bars yesterday.  It was one of those paintings that was a little too good to throw away, but not good enough to be pulled out and shown anywhere, so it's been sitting on my storage rack for ten years.  (If you're an artist, you know that kind of artwork: you've probably got several of them on your storage rack, just like I do!)  Then I reworked the frame a bit because my standards for stretchers have gotten a lot more stringent since it was first made.  Now it has a tight canvas with three coats of gesso, and another will be laid on tomorrow.  Then I'll lay a tone on it and let it dry for a week or so while I'm off in Indiana.  When I come back, I'll have two weeks to get it done.  That's not a lot of time for me - some of mine can take months.  Deadlines are deadlines, though ...