Thursday, February 28, 2008

SellOut Is Gone

I just deleted the link to the SellOut blog. Had to. After only a couple of months online, Deborah Fisher, the owner, closed it down. SellOut was a blog about the business side of being a fine artist. There were a lot of really good discussions on there, and I liked the fact that it was oriented towards those of us creating artworks because we have to, not because they sell. Evidently a lot of artists felt that way, because readership and input took off. Deborah went from being an artist with a business blog on the side to being a blogger who couldn't keep up with all the traffic. So, to keep her sanity, she closed it down.

Good for her. Sad for the rest of us. I'll miss SellOut. But I'd do the same thing if I were in her shoes. And since almost nobody reads this blog, I don't have to worry about it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Looking at Artists Again

I'm going to try this again. Earlier this evening, I got out my current issue of Art in America magazine and went through it, commenting on the various artists who caught my eye. Unfortunately, when I hit the "publish" button, Blogger dumped the whole thing. An hour's worth of exceptionally creative and absolutely brilliant art critique was lost forever. Well, okay, that's overstating things a tiny bit, but you get the idea. I was on a roll and now it's lost.

To set the stage: when I first go through the magazine, I flag pages where there's some interesting artwork. Later I'll go look up the artists on the internet to see more of their work. Sometimes I find some really great artists (see the list "Artists I Like" on the right). Other times the initial positive impression doesn't last. That's life, isn't it?

I wrote about a bunch of artists earlier this evening, but in this recreation of the Lost Blog Post, I'll only talk about three.

David Shevlino had a full-page ad for his show at DFN Gallery in New York. David's work is a soft abstraction on a photo image. He's much more concerned with the image's formal elements of color, shape, line, tone, and composition than with the image's subject matter. This image, for example, isn't really about cars at dusk (although that's the painting's title). It's about the color of the background, the lines, the geometric elements, and the spots of bright color. It has much more to do with Piet Mondrian than with landscapes. This approach carries over into his work with figures, too. They are not specific individuals, they're interesting human shapes in a geometric setting. It looks like David can really paint: I like the quality that I see, he pays attention to edges and how one layer of paint sits on top of another layer. His approach is very different from mine. I take my cue more from Lucien Freud and Alice Neel ... not that I'm in their class, but I need my people and places to be specific and recognizable. David doesn't give a hoot about that, which makes it very interesting and enjoyable for me to look at his work.

Kim Cogan had a full-page ad for his show at Gallery Henoch in New York. His approach is, on the surface, very similar to Shevlino's. Kim paints cityscapes, but they're very bleak and devoid of human presence. It's as if they came from one of those disaster movies where all the people have died but left their lights on. His drawing is superb and his compositions very dramatic, with sharp light/dark contrasts and strong diagonals. Unlike Shevlino's works, Kim's scenes are very specific locations. I really like the feelings I get from the images. As an artist, I'm always interested in process, and Kim is both brave and courteous enough to have a succession of still images showing the development of one of his paintings. It didn't develop at all like I'd have thought, and not at all like I would have done it ... which is probably why he's in Gallery Henoch and I'm not. Kim is a good painter. Go take a look.

The third artist was Robert Selwyn, who was featured in a review of his show at DFN Gallery (yes, the same gallery I mentioned above). The magazine had an image of a suburban house distorted as if seen through water. The web site showed that the paintings were of two very different groups. One group consisted of these suburban houses seen through water, and the other was paintings apparently of a still from a TV newscast. Frankly, once I looked through them all, I was disappointed. With the houses, it seemed as if he'd found an interesting gimmick and then repeated it over and over. I can see one or two interesting conceptual foundations for these: the idea that the houses aren't really as perfect as they seem on the outside, or with the current mortgage crisis, that they're on shaky ground. But saying the same thing six times was overkill. With the newscasters, they were all the same, too: female newscaster staring straight at you, mouth partly open while she's saying something, with something disastrous happening on the screen behind her. Again, saying it once might be interesting; saying it six times isn't.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Afghanistan Article

My last post was about Iraq, where the situation is a bit improved over the past six months. Afghanistan is a different matter. Read this incredible article from the New York Times. This is the real war. And it's ugly.

Thoughts on Iraq

Have you noticed that none of the candidates for President are talking about Iraq anymore? Well, McCain is occasionally, mostly to denounce the Democrats for wanting to "lose". But Iraq certainly isn't on the front pages any more.

Half of the credit for this goes to General Petraeus. We finally put a guy in charge of things over there who knows how to do things the right way. The Republicans want you to believe that "the surge worked", but that's not quite right. If lots of troops aren't being used well, then adding more troops just means you have lots+more not being used well, which means more troops getting shot at and killed for no good reason. But Petraeus shook things up and started putting the troops where they'd do the most good. The "surge" let him do the most good in a few more places.

The other half of the credit goes to the Iraqi city and tribal leaders who finally got sick of all the killing. The Sunnis turned against Al Qaeda and the Shi'ites reined in their death squads. This past week, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that his Mehti Army would stand by their cease-fire for at least another six months. Good on 'em. Iraq certainly isn't a Sandals resort yet, but at least the death tolls are way down. Progress is finally being made.

Which may be good news for me, personally. Back in November, I started applying for some one-year jobs with the State Department in Iraq. (Take a look at my Nov 19 entry for the mention). This past week, they finally contacted me about one of them. And they're being pretty aggressive about it, too. Which indicates to me that I'm on a very short list of potential candidates ... which means that I may actually be in Iraq before too much longer. And I'm pretty excited about it, too. We screwed everything up with the Bush/Rumsfeld invasion, we have to put things as right as we can, and I want to do my part.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aaron Hughes and the "Warrior Writers" Book

Aaron Hughes is a young man with a lot of talent and a lot to say. He did a 15-month tour in Iraq with the Army National Guard in 2003-4. Subsequently, he earned a BFA in painting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since then he's been very active in the anti-war movement, using his art to speak his mind and make a difference. This image showed up in my "in" box, announcing a closing reception for his show "Shifting Memories". It was a collaboration between Aaron and Drew Cameron and was published in the book "Warrior Writers". It just blew me away.
In life, there are those who talk and those who do. Aaron is a doer. I've added his web site to my list of favorite artists. Take a look.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ups and Downs

What a roller-coaster of a day. We had a great weekend - got a lot of stuff done, I got to watch the Daytona 500 which had a really good finish and a really good guy won it. Got started on an interesting new painting yesterday. Today the news reported that Castro was resigning (yay!), and the Pakistani elections went off well and Musharaf got beat (a very very important yay!). Then I got a phone call from a dear old friend of mine. He has inoperable pancreatic cancer. Doctors give him four to six months to live.


News like this just takes all the wind out of your sails. We all have to go sometime, but most of us don't know how soon. So we all go about our lives as if we have unlimited time left. Some of us, though, do find out how long they have left. This isn't a comforting feeling. In six more months, a man that taught me a lot about art will (probably) no longer be here.

And what is it with cancer lately? I've now had four friends come down with different versions in the past fifteen months. Two caught it early and are well on the road to recovery, thank God. One died. And Gary, unfortunately, is going to leave us as well.

But Gary isn't moping. He's still his ornery self, determined to pack as much in as he can. So I'm not going to write his obituary in this blog. Not yet. Not as long as the sumbitch is still planning a trip to Paris!

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Oil Paintings

Flag Waver, oil on canvas, 24"x18"

Veteran, oil on canvas, 24"x18"

I finished these two paintings last week. Both are part of my "Meditation on War" series. Flag Waver can also be part of the satirical "Bush League" series. Both of these are dark in theme and color, but I have four paintings in the planning/workup stages that will not only be a lot cheerier but also even more satirical. Somehow I think my gallery will not be amused.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Watercolor Sketches

Krista #5

Krista #6

Krista #7

Krista #8

All of these watercolor sketches came from last week's life drawing session in the studio. The figures were all quickly drawn with an artist's pen on watercolor paper. Over the next few days, I went back in on them with layers of watercolor, just playing around to see what happened. These are a lot of fun to do. Unlike my "serious" paintings, these have no underlying message, they're just exercise and play. I've got a couple more in development from last night's session with a different model and might post them here in a few days. Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Non-Political Ramblings

Wednesday night we had our regular life drawing session in my studio. Since I'm a figure painter, I need to work from the figure on a regular basis. In our recent sessions, I did portrait studies in oil. This time we had the model doing shorter 20-minute poses and I worked in charcoal for the first time since before Christmas. It felt good to get the ol' drawing mindset going again. Here's one of the drawings:

Yesterday we got a new batch of photos of Jackson. Here's one of them. Evidently his dad has dreams of Jacks being a future Tiger Woods and supporting Dad with all his winnings!

Y'know how a minor project can grow all out of control? I'm still trying to work through a "project" from over a week ago. Janis had spotted a stain in the ceiling in the office, meaning a water leak somewhere. I found the source: a vent pipe was right over the stain, and the sealer around it was pretty much gone. It didn't take much to fix it: a run to Lowe's and some time on the roof and it was done. But in checking out the source, I had to get up into the attic ... and on this side of the house, there's only one access hatch, a tiny little thing in the top of the closet in the office. So everything in the closet had to come out. And here's where it became a Frankenproject: I thought, hey, it's dumb to just put everything back, I bet there's a lotta crap in there that should be thrown out. Boy, was I right. There were all my old military records and stacks and stacks of old bank and credit card statements dating back to (I kid you not) 1990. Yes. Seventeen years worth of statements. And do you think you can just throw this stuff away? No, mon chere, you can not. The military thought that my name was not officially my name without my SSN tacked onto the end, so every bit of official correspondence had it prominently displayed. And bank statements ... well, they're bank statements, with account numbers and all that. So I've spent lotsa hours this past week hunched over the shredder, feeding it a page at a time. And meanwhile we've been tracking little bits of shredded paper all over the house. You'd have thunk it snowed, only the stuff didn't melt. But I've just got a few pages to go now (I'm taking a break to let the shredder cool down) and it'll be done.

And you'll be happy to know that my roof repairs don't leak.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

News and Stuff

So John McCain now has the Republican nomination all locked up. Mitt Romney packed it in today. No big loss. I've seen a few Romney bumper stickers around here and every single one - I'm not kidding - has been on a late-model Cadillac with an old white guy driving it. And yes, they were all different Cadillacs. We don't need a Prez who only represents the gated-community set. Goodbye Mitt, so long Mitt, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

The south got hit hard the other day with lots of tornados. Ever been through one? I have. Back in the mid-1970's, I used to work in a company in Olive Branch, Mississippi, which is just south of the TN-MS border at Memphis, the same area that got hit Tuesday. Our building was a big 4-story box, with two walls being brick and two walls being glass. One day somebody yelled that there was a tornado outside. So what did we do? We all ran over to the window to watch! Yessir, we sure did. I was standing there watching stuff flying around and then this big sheet of steel came flying through the air and sliced through the roof of the company president's car, like it wasn't even there. I turned around and went back to the middle of the room and hid under my desk until it was over. Afterwards, all the power was out, so we were sent home, and the devastation was amazing: houses demolished, trees down, cars upside down, trailer parks obliterated. Never want to see that again.

Speaking of stuff I never want to see again, I just read an article in Newsweek magazine that horrified me. Back in February, 2003, three US contractors were taken captive by the FARC guerrilla group in Colombia when their single-engine plane went down. Two other men in the plane, one American and one Colombian, were executed. Since then, President Bush has mentioned the three men exactly one time in public, when he was asked about it at a news conference. That seems to be the extent of American efforts to get the men back. There has been no negotiation between the US and the FARC, and no effort to work with any countries who could be an intermediary, even though at least three (France, Spain, and Switzerland) are available. This is obscene. The men are Americans, they are under contract with an American company, to the American government, and the American government is doing diddly squat to get 'em back. You can read all the details here. I urge you to write your Senators and Congressman to put pressure on the Administration to get their ass in gear. (My Senators won't: they're mindless Republican footsoldiers who march in lockstep to whatever George tells 'em, but you gotta tell 'em to do it, anyway.)

Tomorrow I'll post some cheerier thoughts. Promise.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Tuesday Eve

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, meaning that if you're reading this, you probably already know the results and I am likely to sound like a doofus for saying things that won't turn out to happen. But that's never stopped me before ... being a doofus is, unfortunately, a natural state of affairs for me. So here's my thoughts on the political events so far.

First off, I've basically ignored political reporting on TV and the net and everywhere else for several weeks now. The reason is that politics is being treated like a sport, right alongside the NFL playoffs. It's all polls and little substance. The evening news comes on TV and I wander off into the kitchen to see if there's anything interesting in the fridge. Seeing green algae growing on an old loaf of bread is far more entertaining than listening to George Stephanopolous pontificating for the 2,347th time.

But a few interesting things have happened. I was greatly pleased by the wisdom of the Florida voters in sending Rudy back home to his (third) wife. Any man who builds his wealth and fame on the deaths of the 9/11 victims is not morally qualified to hold any public office.

Fred Thompson has gone back to pretending to be a politician on TV rather than pretending to be one in real life.

Dennis Kucinich has gone home to canoodle with that hot babe wife of his. I'll miss seeing the wife.
John Edwards stepped out of the race, too. Of all the candidates, he was the one with the most highly developed set of ideas and proposals. I wasn't confident of his abilities to carry them out, which is why he was only my #3 choice, but hope he'll continue to be involved in developing the Democratic platform.

The Republican party is in big-time turmoil and it's hilarious to watch. Rush Limbaugh is apoplectic over the prospect of John McCain becoming the Republican nominee. I stay away from his show (it ranks with the insides of septic systems on my list of favorite things), but have heard snippets on news reports here and there. And Ann Coulter even said she'd campaign for Hillary if it came down to a contest between Clinton and McCain! Holy moly, what a concept. I figure, anybody that is hated by Limbaugh and Coulter has gotta be a pretty sharp cookie.

In the South Carolina primary, Bill Clinton really stuck his foot in it. The guy never met a TV camera or microphone that he didn't like, but in SC he got pretty nasty. All that reminded me of what it was like in the latter part of the Years of Bill, and frankly, it wasn't pleasant. I really, really do not want to go back to that.

So here, on Super Tuesday Eve, are my picks of Prez, listed in order:
1. Obama.
2. McCain.
3. Clinton.
4. Bloomberg.

Yes, that's right, McCain is #2. He's been a dipshit over Iraq, but then, so has Hillary, and McCain at least knows a thing or two about war. And my #3 and #4 listings could easily trade places, depending on what I hear.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Surprise Painting

Yesterday I got a call from a former student of mine. Kate Condon wanted to come by the studio because she had something for me. This was a BIG surprise, since I hadn't heard from Kate in two or maybe three years. When she came to the studio later, she gave me this painting. What a wonderful surprise! I had not seen this before ... I remember her taking some photos, but never got to see what she was working on. Bigger surprise: this was her first time painting a person! I'm completely blown away. Kate did a beautiful job - it's a good likeness of me, and the fact that I can tell which dog is which shows her attention to detail. My studio partner, Christine, and I also appreciated how Kate "cleaned up" our studio for us ... I can only wish it was that pristine.

Anyway, this was a heartwarming highlight to my week. Many many many thanks to Kate!