Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Road Trip

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family if at all possible. I'm a firm believer in that. So this week, we went up to Baltimore to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt and cousin. In short, we had a wonderful time.

We left early on Tuesday morning. This was the first real road trip with the Volvo and it turned out to be an excellent highway cruiser. We went north on I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley, our favorite north/south route. Traffic was pretty light for a holiday season and moved well. We ran at about 75 the whole way and got over 32 mpg. That's a bit better than the 16.5 mpg that our Land Rover used to get on the same trip! Everything was great until we got two miles outside the Baltimore beltway, where we hit the rush-hour crawl. It took over an hour to make it the final 15 miles to my aunt's house in Cockeysville. I swear, every time I go up to the Baltimore and DC areas, I'm reminded of why it is that we don't live there anymore.

Still, it was wonderful to see Aunt B, Bridget, and Logan again. We caught up on what we all were doing, ate some fabulous food (Aunt B's crab cakes are WORLD CLASS, worth the drive all by themselves), watched some TV shows and movies, played with each other's dogs, and did all the things you normally do during family visits. Bridget and Janis, in particular, are two of a kind, and bond deeply over shopping at Nordstrom's. Which they did. Again.

I needed a good art fix, so Aunt B and I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Their special exhibit was on Andy Warhol's late work. We both thought it was quite a good show. Warhol (in my opinion) wasn't necessarily a good painter, but he was great at conceptualizing, and these works showed it. For most of them, the more you studied it, the more there was to the piece. That's what good art is all about. We then browsed through the collections of European and American art, which includes works from the Renaissance through the early 20th century. You expect to be blown away by a Monet or Van Gogh painting, and of course we were, but I particularly enjoy finding beautiful works by artists you rarely, if ever, hear of. There was a marvelous portrait by Thomas Sully, for example, and this beautiful tonalist painting by Thomas Dewing. Some museums (the Getty comes to mind) aren't too particular about the quality of the works as long as they're by "name" artists, while others (like the BMA) make sure they get top-quality pieces. It was great to just wander in a really great art museum again!

Aunt B and I spent a good bit of time going through old family pictures. I've been working on our family tree off and on for thirty years or so and take every opportunity to pick her memory. There's always something to learn. I discovered, for example, that my grandfather was left-handed - it was common knowledge to them, but since I never saw him write anything, it was news to me. I also came back with a trove of old pictures dating back over a century. One of the really cool things was a scrapbook that my grandmother kept between 1914-1916, when she was a teenager. My plan is to scan all the old photos so they can be preserved and shared. I just gave myself a lot of work to do.

We came back on Saturday, hoping to avoid the worst of the traffic crunch, and we pretty much succeeded. The weather was cold but clear, and while there were certainly a lot more cars and trucks on the road, it not as bad as it could've been (and probably is today). We ran at about 75 most of the way and stayed out of the crowds of pushy drivers. They'd come by at 80 or more, running on each other's bumpers, darting from lane to lane, trying to get out in front, and generally being in a hurry. Anytime I wound up in such a group, I'd just get in the right lane, drop my speed down, let 'em go, and then pick it back up again. Then I'd just watch 'em battle each other. We stopped about every hour and a half to stretch our legs, walk the dogs, and swap drivers. Breaks like this keep us fresh and prevent falling into the "pushy driver" category. What's the rush? We still made it home in less than nine hours.

So today has been a recovery day. Lots of clothes are going through the wash. I cleaned out the car and put up the Christmas tree. The dogs were ecstatic to be back home - they had to catch up on every smell left by every critter for the past five days.

I hope your Thanksgiving was as rewarding as ours!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Painting Developments

This painting seems to be developing quite nicely. Since my last posting about this painting on the 8th, I've added quite a bit: the crate, wine glass, easel, painting, hand, book, pillow, dog, and light. Next step is to add a purse under the crate and do something about the floor. Then it'll be time to bring everything up to a more refined level of execution. This painting is a lot of fun to do. I'm thinking of doing a larger one (this is 30"x24") with a similar theme of "model in the studio".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life Drawing in the Studio

My life drawing sessions continue to go pretty well. Last night we had a new model. My drawing was pretty crappy at first, but then it started coming together.

Cari #1

Cari #2

Today I'm working on the painting of the model in the red dress again. It's been over a week since I last painted and, as usual, getting back into the swing of things takes some time. But it's getting there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

After the Stroll

Well, my predictions for the Stroll pretty much came true. We had a lot of visitors. From my perspective, the numbers were up significantly from June. The weather was great, which helped bring people out in droves. As is normal (for me), I had no sales at all, but then, the Strolls are really an advertising venue, anyway. The surprise? The low levels of sales for those who normally make a lot of money. One potter said that this was his worst Stroll in eight years, with sales at about the level of a normal workday. The stained-glass artist had no sales at all, despite having beautiful work priced as low as $30. An abstract painter, who normally has a few thousand dollars in sales, had a grand total of $150. None of the few artists that I've spoken to had even an "okay" weekend. For most of them, sales were better in June than November, and that has never been the case, even during the worst of the Great Recession.

So what was up? (Shoulder shrug here). For whatever reason, people just are not yet willing to open their wallets for art. If artists are the economic "canary in a coal mine", the canaries are on life support.

I usually have some very interesting discussions with my visitors, and this weekend was no exception.
- One of them is a retired Marine officer who was in Nasariyah, Iraq, during the worst of the insurgency. He spoke of having one of his armored vehicles hit by an IED, killing six of his Marines, and the pain in his eyes and voice was still brutal.
- There was an elderly couple who must've both been retired university professors. Their conversation was deeply insightful, laced with references to classics, politics, philosophy, art history, and both had sharp questions and listened keenly to what I had to say. A most enjoyable discussion.
- I talked with several people who were planning to move to Asheville. After living here for ten years, I say, yes, this is a wonderful area, lots to see and do, a great artist community, beautiful scenery, great food, and friendly people. Please bring your own job, though, as there aren't enough to go around.
- After doing these Strolls for seven years, I now have some regulars who always stop by to see whose buttons I'm pushing. It's good to see familiar faces showing up every time.

- One of my paintings on display was Pleasantville. This one always seems to get a good response, and I had it positioned so that it was the first thing a visitor saw when entering the studio. One guy, though, made it clear that he thought this family was on the right track, and that every family ought to have their own arsenal. (Sorry, guy, I've been to Baghdad and seen what happens when every family has its own arsenal.)

After the June stroll, I wrote in this blog that I didn't want to show Warrior and Lament and other old paintings during the Stroll again. They've been in too many now and it was time for something new. I set myself a goal of having all new pieces, hopefully as good as Warrior (which I consider my best work). Well, that didn't quite happen. Yes, there were some new ones, most notably the series of portraits from Iraq, but not much that was worth showing. And in my discussions with visitors, most of whom were seeing my work for the first time, I wound up saying things that sometimes caught me by surprise, that made me think about the direction of my art from different perspectives. So I'm torn between ideas. On one side, I wanted to move away from paintings about war. They're inherently downers, and I want to do something a bit cheerier. This is the impetus behind the "model in the studio" series that I've been thinking about. On the other hand, there are still some things that can/should be said in paintings about war. Warrior, Lament, and You Don't Understand are three very powerful paintings about the effect of war on people, but there are more in that vein that can be done. When Lament was nearing completion, and I knew it was going to be a good work, I felt "This was the kind of painting I was meant to paint". That's not a feeling that you walk away from.

So. Where to go from here? Is it one or the other? Both, in moderation? I dunno. I think I just need to sling some more paint and let it work itself out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Prepping for the Studio Stroll

This weekend is the fall Studio Stroll. My studio is in Asheville's River Arts District, the old industrial area around the river and the railroad yard. Starting about 25+ years ago, artists began moving into the old buildings and using their large spaces as studios. Then, about 20 years ago, they started opening their studios once a year to the public. Now we have about 150 artists in the District and we do the Stroll twice a year, in June and November.

This time, it looks like we'll probably have a very large turnout. The weather is looking really good all weekend. Gallery owners that I've talked to are saying that they're seeing an uptick in the number of visitors and buyers. It's as if those who have money have been sitting on it for a long time, waiting to see what happened with the economy. Now they think the worst has passed, they still have money, Christmas is coming, and they feel pretty good, so they're starting to spending some of it. About time, I say.

Not that I expect much of it to come my way during the Stroll. Some artists will sell a whole lot this weekend. For the most part, the pieces that sell are about beauty, color, and warm feelings. The potters and glass artists will do well, as will my new neighbor who does stained glass mosaics, and also the fabric artists. Among the painters, the abstract artists and landscape painters (those who do Appalachian vistas) will do best. As for me, I do edgy works, often confrontational, about such cheery subjects as the effects of war, political satire, and aging. While I'd say that some of my paintings are beautifully done, they're not about beauty and warm feelings, so most are still, umm, in my "private collection".

Still, I participate in the strolls as a way to show a lot of people what I can do. I like talking with the people who come through. Opportunities pop up, sometimes years later, from chance meetings in the studio. So while it's frustrating to end the weekend on Sunday evening with everything I started with on Saturday morning (which has happened on more Strolls than not), it's still a great advertising opportunity.

This time, I'm showing Warrior (hopefully for the last time, at least at the Strolls), Pleasantville and Ann's Slander, along with the series of small portraits from Iraq, a few other related works, and my Forest Nymph series of photographs. And I've got a few other surprises out, too.

So I've been working hard, along with Christine, my studio partner, at cleaning the place up and making it presentable. What a slog that's been! Old industrial buildings are dirty; artists' studios are dirty; combine the two and you have the potential for a monumental pigpen. We weren't that bad, but it took a lot of work. For the past few months, we've had a massive infestation of stinkbugs - evidently it's a regional or nationwide problem - and the little buggers were everywhere. In boxes, on shelves, in paint drawers, behind supplies, even hiding inside paintings. I was prepping one painting today and found six stinkbugs hiding in the back, between the canvas and the stretcher bars. Unbelievable. So if you come to the Stroll this weekend and take home one of my artworks, and then find a stinkbug in it, rest assured I won't charge you extra for it.

'Nuff said for now. I've still got a lot of preps to do tonight and it's getting late. If you're in Asheville this weekend, come by and visit, I'd love to see you!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pushing Forward on Too Many Fronts

This post's title pretty much describes my life these days. There are just too many irons in the fire right now, and I didn't choose some of them. But then, that's life, so deal with it.

Last week we took our two dogs in for their annual physical. They were NOT happy about it, but they're good dogs and put up with the poking, prodding, shots, and things stuck up their butts, all without a whimper. Soozee has had a skin condition for quite a while: a growing number of scabs all over her back and sides. We thought it was an allergy, but it appears to be a bacterial infection, so she's on antibiotics for the next three weeks. This in addition to her meds for Addison's, and Indy's meds for Addison's and bladder control. I swear, the dogs are on more meds than Janis and I are. On the good side, their blood tests came back just fine, so the Addison's medications are doing their job.

Winter has moved in with a vengeance. We had snow this past weekend - just a dusting around my house, but my studio partner, Christine, who lives about ten miles west of us at a higher elevation, had over four inches. It's a bit warmer today, though, which is good. I'm not ready for winter yet. We barely had fall, fer crissakes, and I don't like the sudden shift from highs in the 80's to lows in the 20's!

I'm continuing to work on the painting that I showed you last week. We had the model come back the next night and I was able to pretty much complete her figure. Here's how it looks right now:
I decided to make it a "model in the studio" painting, clearly showing the things that normally get left out. I'm going to add the floodlight on a stand on the right and a table on the left with a wineglass. Once the brickwork was added, I realized that a big part of the painting was going to be about hard versus soft - in this case, the hard bricks contrasted with the softness of the figure. So to emphasize the softness, I'll try putting in some soft things: pillows, maybe a sheepskin rug, maybe one of my dogs, that sort of thing. Haven't got it all figured out yet, but I don't think that getting it "figured out" is the right thing to do for this one. The painting seems to have quite a life of its own, and it's telling me a good bit about what it wants, so my job will be to listen to it and help it along. So far, I'm really happy with how it's going. This very well could be the first in a whole new series ... quite a change from the usual "downer" paintings that I've been doing, about war and politics and so on.

In other studio news, our semi-annual Studio Stroll is coming up this weekend. This is where the artists of the River Arts District open up their studios to the public. We're up to 150 artists now. Back when I became President of the group, we had about 45 artists; three years later, when I turned it over to somebody else, we were up to 90. Amazing how it's continuing to grow. (The current President keeps trying to talk me into taking the job again. No, thanks!)

Our group is helping to give artists more influence with Asheville city government. Not that we're taking over or anything, but events like our Stroll, and several similar events (Leicester studio tour, East of Asheville studio tour, Weaverville Art Safari, a West Asheville studio tour, along with older events like the Southern Highland Craft Guild's shows) are proving to the city fathers that arts and crafts are a big part of the economy here because they're big tourist draws. The state government had an economics study done not long ago, and it turned out that arts and crafts contributed three times as much to the state economy as tobacco did.

So this week, I need to get this studio ready for the Stroll. That means cleaning (again) and shifting artworks around. I think I'll have my Forest Nymph photos on display this time ... they've been put away for a while, so maybe it's time to get 'em out again. We'll see. I better get to work - can't make any of those decisions if I'm sitting here, banging out a new blog post.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Army of Dude

The Army of Dude is a blog written by a soldier who spent 15 months in Iraq during the worst of the violence. The guy can really write: he captured the essence of combat, of loss, and of bonding, and the difficulty of reintegration with civilian society. Now that he's no longer in the Army, he posts only infrequently, but this entry from a couple of weeks ago is typically thoughtful and hard-hitting.

Studio Developments

My prints and drawings are now up at Bella Vista Art Gallery in Biltmore Village in Asheville. The show will run through the end of December. So far, all the comments I've been hearing are really good, so I'm pretty stoked. It feels really good to have a quality show up on a gallery wall. I'll get some pictures and post them here soon.

I hung another show a couple of days ago. The artists of the Cotton Mill have a group show at the Clingman Cafe, right here in the River Arts District. I think it looks pretty good as a whole. My contribution was two older paintings (Portrait of Our Shoes and Strange Fruit) plus a giclee print (Generation).

All 150 artists in the River Arts District are getting ready for the Studio Stroll, which comes up in a week. We're hoping the weather will be good and bring out thousands of visitors. The Stroll is a great time to see lots of different artists in their studios, many of whom don't open their studios otherwise. I haven't yet decided what I'll have up on the walls this time - maybe my newest work-in-progress?

Which is a sitting, full-figure portrait of a lovely young lady. I started it in our life drawing session last night. This is one of those paintings where everything seemed to click right from the very beginning. The drawing was pretty accurate, the colors worked, and the whole thing was fun. Two hours isn't enough to get a canvas like this done, so she's coming back for another session tonight. Any artist who wants to come draw or paint from life is welcome to show up. Here's how the painting looks right now:

The mural on the side of the Cotton Mill is now done. Here's how it looks:

It's getting a lot of attention. We have cars pulling in to the parking lot every day just to take pictures of it, and it was featured in the Asheville paper. I think it's pretty cool. Those windows on the top floor above the mural, by the way, are to my studio.

So now it's time to get going. The dogs finally woke up and I have to get them walked and to the groomers.