Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Real Weekend

We just had a real, honest-to-gosh weekend. Yeah, I know, you're probably thinking "What's so special about that? They come around every week." Well, yes and no. Yes, they come around, but I'm usually working my butt off on some project or another and am a walking zombie by evening. Which is what happened on Friday: I did a major clean-up on our garage for the first time in two-plus years, tossed out a ton of stuff, reorganized everything, swept, vacuumed, and wiped, until it was actually a useable place again. Didn't stop until it was 9 p.m. and I could barely move.

Yesterday, we slept in a bit. After walking the dogs, having breakfast, and bathing the dogs, it was almost noon and rapidly getting hot again. I decided that I wasn't going to do anything else the rest of the weekend. For once, I was just going to relax for two days. This was actually hard for me to do. Our work schedule in Iraq was 10-12 hours a day, 6 1/2 days a week, with only half of Friday off. If you do that long enough, it gets to be a natural rhythm. Now that I'm a self-employed artist again, I was back into a similar rhythm, only now it's made up of home projects and studio projects, not Iraqi projects. So it was time to break up the rhythm and give myself a meritorious two days off. Hey, that's my rationale, and I'm sticking with it.

So yesterday, I made a lot of progress on a novel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - a really good book). Last night, we watched Robert Downey, Jr, and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes - an okay movie, kinda fun, certainly not one of the better ones we've ever seen. Today, I walked the dogs, we watched CBS Sunday Morning, and then this afternoon went to wander around the Biltmore Park area. We had a great lunch at P.F. Chang's, visited with our friend Genie Maples, who was manning the desk at Echo Gallery, and browsed through Barnes and Noble. Then we came home and I watched the NASCAR race (it was a pretty dull one, but who cares).

All in all, a nice, quiet, lazy weekend. Two days off. Unheard of.

Tomorrow: back to work.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Another Revision

I reworked another old painting today. This one was a sunrise at Cape Hatteras. Here's how it looked a few hours ago:

Since it's been sitting in the Rack of Unloved Paintings for years, it was a prime candidate to become something else. I turned it into a storm over the Iraqi desert. Here's how it looks now:

I don't know yet if it's done. That's pretty common: often I won't know if something is done for several days. As a painting dries, the colors change a bit, and I need to see it with fresh eyes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More Revisions

I mucked around with another painting in the studio today. I originally did it in Baghdad - it's of the wall to the north of my barracks. It was pretty bland, I thought: mostly sky that didn't have anything interesting going on. Here's the original:

So today I slapped it up on my easel and went to work. I decided it needed a thundercloud, so here's how the painting is right now:

Much more interesting, no?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Still Playing with Paint

I'm still playing with the old abstracts. Today I worked on the red-one-that-became-a-purple-one. This is an interesting process, very different from my normal one. There's a dialogue between the painting and me. It seems to have a mind of its own: it wants to develop in its own way, and I cannot direct it. Jackson Pollack talked about this same experience, saying that when he gets into a painting, "there's an easy give and take". Same with me: I have to listen to what the painting wants, and help it along. Today, it wanted to become a landscape. It already was, kinda, but today it said "forget being abstract, I wanna be a straight-up landscape". Okay. So together, we pushed some things back, lightened other areas, simplified, and painted over a lot of the purples. Here's how it looks right at this moment:

It's still pretty dark. I don't know if it wants to be lighter or not ... will have to sit and stare at it and "listen" to what it thinks it wants. Once the painting decided to switch from being abstract to being a landscape, all I could think of was J.M.W. Turner, the English painter known for his abstracted, highly textured landscape paintings. This one is developing along those lines.

Here's a close-up of an area in the center to show you what the surface looks like.

What's next? I dunno. This one is bugging me because it's not done yet. But I'm enjoying the process.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Slapping Paint

I've been painting in the studio for the past couple of days. It feels so good to finally be back doing what I was meant to do. I've been reworking a couple of old paintings, mostly just to get the feel of working with paint again, and since these were pretty bad paintings to begin with, there's nowhere to go but up. Here they are:

Response 1 (BEFORE)

Response 1 (AFTER)
This new version is not really in black-and-white, it's more like muted dark purple and cream.

Response 2 (BEFORE)

Response 2 (AFTER)
This one, I think, is a big improvement already.

Those of you who are familiar with my regular work are probably wondering where in the hell these come from. They were done right after 9/11 while I was in the painting program at UNCA. Abstraction is not what I do - my work almost always needs to be representational - but I'm having fun experimenting and loosening up right now. Don't have a clue what kind of paintings I'll work on next.

In the meantime, I've got my etching and printmaking equipment out and will start working on new prints in the next few days. Prints are a very technical drawing medium and it'll be fun to work on those for a while.

Actually, it's fun to be doing anything in the studio!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

After the Studio Stroll

We finished getting the studio spruced up in time for the Studio Stroll. Here's how it looked on Saturday ... now go back and look at the "tornado hit a flea market" photo from last week. Quite a difference, huh? Notice the shiny wood floors. Notice the carefully arranged furniture and the freshly painted walls. Notice the crowds of visitors.

Okay, so there weren't hordes of people jammed into the studio all the time. We had a good number of visitors overall. They tended to come in waves: no visitors at all for a while, then 20 would show up. I had some good conversations with new visitors on both days. Some artists sell lots of work (some make thousands of dollars during a Stroll), but I rarely sell anything. My work just isn't oriented that way. Instead, I treat the Stroll as an advertising session, to show people what art can be and what I can do.

The Stroll brought in some old friends, which was really cool. Some were local artists: Margaret Nodine, Julyan Davis, Claire Simpson Jones, and Cindy Walton. I got to meet a friend of a friend from high school, and then an old friend of mine from college showed up. I hadn't seen him in 37 years! It was really cool

Oil on canvas, 60"x60"

While sitting in the studio over the weekend, a couple of things became very clear to me. The most important is that I need to have all new work on display at the Stroll in November. While Lament and Warrior are very powerful pieces, they've been in too many Strolls now. When I go into the studio tomorrow, I'm going to wrap them up and put them away for a while. Another thing is that my new works need to be as good as, or better than, Warrior - technically, compositionally, and conceptually. And since Warrior is probably the best painting I've ever done, I just set myself a pretty high bar: to do a bunch of new paintings within the next 5 months that are as good as, or better than, my best work so far.

I still don't know what my subject matter will be. I've got some ideas, but I need to just do some exercises first and get used to the act of painting. The subject matter will come when I'm ready. I've been thinking that I have a few paintings to do about Iraq, but really not that many. That stage of my life is behind me now and I don't want to live in the past. So I'm thinking that I'll wrap up the unfinished business from Iraq and then move on to something new. Whatever that is.

So. Tomorrow I'll be back in the studio. I need to convert it from a showroom to a working studio again, and I need to start slingin' paint. Some poor defenseless canvas is gonna die a messy death tomorrow. I can't wait!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hard Labor

I've been working my butt off this week. Most of my time has been in the studio: cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, and painting (the walls, not art). You know it's bad when you have to vacuum your artwork before you can even wipe it down! Ugh! The place was nasty. But it's clean now, re-arranged so that it's more open - my studio partner had set the place up to suit herself, since I wasn't around for a year and a half, but now I'm back and need open space.

Janis came down and worked in the studio a couple of times this week, too. Together, we got the wall repainted and it looks pretty good. She "advised" me on which artworks to put on display ... her eye is a bit better at public-relations aspects than mine is, and I remember some sage advice given to me by one of her lifelong friends many years ago ("just do what you're told and everything will be all right"), so I did what she suggested.

I also threw out a lot of old work. Old drawings, paintings, and prints - things that were really mediocre at best and pretty bad at worst. Stacks of old drawings and drawing pads. I mean, why keep 'em? For my future biographers? (It is to laugh ...) No, there's something about throwing out old crap that helps make way for new crap. I had planned on ordering a lot of new canvas and panels, but now I have a bunch of old artwork that I can just paint over. So next week, after the Stroll, I can get to work, gesso over a bunch of paintings, and get to work on ruining them for the second time. (If that sounds defeatist, it isn't, really; it's realistic, for two reasons. One, it's going to take me a while to get back into the flow of things in the studio. It's like an athlete: they don't go from off-season straight into a game, they have to hit the gym, do their practices, and work themselves back into shape. Same with artists. So I'm using these canvases as practice sessions, not as a regular-season game. Second, it seems to me that once a canvas has been deemed to be a flop, then any later painting done over the top of it is going to be a flop, too. Don't know why, it just happens, so now I can plan on it and put it to some good use anyway).

So tomorrow we open our doors to the Great Unwashed. Looks like it'll be a pretty hot and muggy day with a chance of thundershowers. Pretty much like this whole week has been. I expect to see a moderate crowd that'll come in waves. Some will ask interesting questions, too many will rhapsodize about how wonderful my studio is (they have some idyllic fantasy about how "relaxing" it is to be an artist ... ha!!), and most will wander back out without saying a word. Hey, that's just the way it is.

So if you're in the Asheville area this weekend, stop in and say hello!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Slavin' in the Studio

I've been working in the studio this past week. I need to get it ready for this weekend's Studio Stroll, which means a major cleanup/fixup. As you can see, right now it looks like a tornado hit a flea market. This place is really filthy. Old industrial buildings like this one are dirty, anyway: they're relatively open to the elements, there are bugs and dust and dirt that you cannot block, no central A/C with filters, no screens, and no weatherstripping. The last time this studio was thoroughly cleaned was two years ago. So it's the pits. I've been vacuuming the walls, for crissakes! There are probably several thousand spiders and other bugs inside my Shop-Vac now, along with many pounds of dust and cobwebs and who-knows-what. But it's getting there, and we'll be ready for this weekend's Studio Stroll.

So what, exactly, is a Studio Stroll? Well, there are a lot of artists working in Asheville's River Arts District. We're in all the old industrial buildings, most of which were built in the late 1800's or early 1900's, along the river and railroad tracks. Most of the artists, 120 of us, open our doors to the public twice a year, in June and again in November. People can come into working artists studios, see how we work (and, in some cases, live), talk to the artists themselves, and buy some art in the place where it was born. We have all kinds of artists here: painters, printmakers, photographers, fabric artists, quilters, potters, woodworkers, sculptors, glass blowers, musicians, dancers, performance artists, mixed-media, multi-media, and more. Some are very traditional and others are, well, maybe not fully connected with this planet. Some of our artists have been professional for many decades, while others are still getting their feet wet. I've found it to be an exceptionally stimulating place to work: with all the different types of art down here, there's always something new to look at, ideas to throw around, and people to compare notes with.

My particular building is a good example of what's down here. It's the Cotton Mill Studios, located at 122 Riverside Drive. It is the small remaining part of what was once a huge cotton mill. We're not really sure when it was first constructed, but some of it is well over 100 years old. My studio is on the left on the top floor. The building is owned by Marty and Eileen Black who run the Potter's Mark functional pottery studio on the ground floor, left side. Next to them is Lenny Lopatin, a musician who was trained at Juilliard and now makes unique flutes and piccolos with square holes. On the ground floor, right side, is Barbara Zaretsky, a fiber artist. Upstairs, I share my studio with Christine Dougherty, a traditional painter. Next to us is Heather Maloy, a choreographer who runs the Terpsicorps Dance Company. Then there's Genie Maples, an abstract painter. On the far end of the building is the studio and John Mac Kah and Ruthanne Kah, two traditional landscape and still life painters.

In addition to the artists, we have some good eating and drinking down here. The 12 Bones Restaurant was recognized by Good Morning America as the best barbecue place in the nation. (It's just a quarter mile down the road from my studio). Clingman Cafe is a great little restaurant/cafe - it's where I often head for lunch. The newest addition is the Wedge Brewing Company, an excellent micro-brewery.

So if you're in the Asheville area this weekend, come down to the River Arts District and take a look at what's here. Come up to my studio and we can chat. I'll have some of my drawings and paintings from Iraq on view. I hope to see you this weekend!