Thursday, October 31, 2013

Artist Interview Questions

I like dealing with students.  Talking with kids (and since I'm an old fart, "kids" includes college students) always gives me a charge.  There are always some in the group that ask really good questions, and I like to get them to speak their minds.  I've learned a lot that way and hope I've given back as well.

So when a friend of mine, who's a high school teacher here, asked if I would be a mentor to one of her art students, of course I said yes.  Well, one student turned into two, which was even better.  These kids are high school seniors and need mentors for their senior projects.  We've been meeting once a week in my studio to talk about art, their projects, and what they want to do.  These discussions are a lot of fun and it's been great to see them grow in such a short time.

One of the things they had to do for their projects was to interview somebody working in their project's field.  So I tasked them with coming up with ten questions each.  I thought this would be a breeze.  I didn't expect something so deep.  Many of their questions would require a book to answer.  Here are some of the questions they came up with.

- What inspired you to become an artist?

- How did you get where you are today?

- What is the main challenge you face when beginning a painting?

- At what point in the process of the painting do you begin to feel like the painting is almost completed?

- How has painting influenced your life?

- What qualities do you look for in people you work with or other artists?

- How do you manage balancing work/life?

- What do you like most about your career?

Some of my answers were a bit long, as you might imagine.  How would you answer some of these questions?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Exhibits, Education, and Research

I've got work in two shows that will open next week.  One of them is the curated Citizen - Soldier - Citizen exhibit at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City, Indiana.  This will be of artwork by military veterans, with a particular focus on the post-9/11 time period.  As stated on the website, "the exhibit will explore the ways in which soldiers returning to civilian life use the arts to heal and communicate their personal experience."  I'm familiar with the work of some of the artists participating: Mike Fay (creator of the Joe Bonham Project), Aaron Hughes, and Ehren Tool, and I'm honored to be in their company.  The exhibit will run from Nov 2 to Feb 9, which is a good long time.  Michigan City is about 60 miles east of Chicago on Lake Michigan.

Baghdad Guard House
Oil on canvas, 31"x21"

I'll have six artworks in the show: Baghdad Guard House (above), Tent City, two paintings from the "Portraits from Iraq" series, and two pastels from the "Faces of Afghanistan" series.

A Pachydermian Portrait of King George II,
Pope Karl, and Lord Cheney
Oil on canvas, 36"x42"

The other show is "The FL3TCH3R Exhibit", a juried show of "socially-engaged art" at Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City, Tennessee.  They will have my "Pachydermian Portrait" (above).  Frankly, I was a bit surprised, as this one is now dated and I submitted two others that I thought were more in line with the times.  But this is the one they chose, and it's a good painting, so I'm happy to have it included in the exhibit.  There will be an exhibition opening on Friday, Nov 1, 6-8 pm and Janis and I plan to be there.

In addition to getting my works ready for these exhibitions, I've been busy with a lot of other studio things.  One is that I'm working with two young women to help them with their senior projects.  This has been a lot of fun.  Both are very excited about their projects, which is infectious, and they're working hard to learn as much as they can.  They're moving quickly through the basics of painting and are about to get into some more complex technical aspects.  I really enjoy seeing the spark in somebody's eyes when they suddenly make a connection and learn something new.

I've mentioned before that I wanted to get started on a new series of paintings about survivors.  Well, it's now underway.  I've found two people who are willing to work with me.  One survived a horrific rape, and the other was a Marine in some brutal fights in Viet Nam.  I've spent a good bit of time talking with them to understand their stories.  I don't just want to paint a portrait and say "this guy survived Viet Nam", I want the painting to say something much more about him and his experiences.  This is a slow process.  But it's been engaging and humbling to learn the stories of these people.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Looking at Artists: Jack Vettriano

The Weight
Jack Vettriano
Oil on canvas, 22"x20", 2009

This image popped up on one of my artist groups on Facebook today.  I was impressed.  It has a heavy, weighty, lonely feel to it.  It feels much like a Hopper painting, only it's better painted.  (I like Hopper, but if you really look at his works, they're not all that well painted.  He's more interested in the overall form than in light, color, or mark-making.)  The shirt here, for example, is real, not the idea of a shirt, like Hopper would have done.

I thought that I had never heard of this guy before seeing this image.  Wrong - I have seen some of his work before.  A quick Google search of images brought up one in particular:

The Singing Butler
Jack Vettriano
28"x36", 1992

I really liked this one.  It's intriguing - who are these people?  why are they dressed up and dancing on the beach?  why are servants holding umbrellas?  Additionally, the colors are rich, even in the muted areas of the storm clouds.  It's a visual treat from start to finish.

After looking at lots of his works, though, I don't care for most of them.  Yes, they are well done.  But these are not real people he's portraying: they're idealized figures playing roles.  Most of the roles are of the Rich Young Gatsby type.  Young men and women in formal wear, or women in formal lingerie, filled with ennui, sipping champagne, posing in joyless lovemaking, showing no emotion at all.  This leaves me cold.  I have no sympathy for idle rich, or the idea of idle rich, particularly in a world where the vast majority of people live in poverty and do what they can to scrape by.  Further, I'm much more interested in real people, with real emotion showing on their faces.  You won't find it here.

I had an interesting discussion with one of my gallery owners once.  (Many times, actually, but one in particular applies here.)  She was selecting figure drawings to show in her gallery.  She avoided the ones that were clearly a specific individual, particularly those that showed the face.  The reason?  Many art buyers project themselves into the art.  If the work is clearly a specific individual, they have a harder time identifying with it.  If the figure is more general (for example, if the face was turned away, or the hairstyle was more generic), then they have an easier time projecting themselves into the image.  Maybe that's one of the reasons that Vettriano's figures are so non-specific.

That doesn't affect how I work, though.  I still do specific people.  Real people have much more depth, complexity, and interesting issues than any stereotype.  And so, while I like some of Jack Vettriano's works, and I really like how he can paint, I can't connect with most of his paintings.  

Monday, October 07, 2013

End of Summer

What a great weekend.  I spent most of the weekend doing what Congress does: nothing.  Except my "nothing" was a lot better than their "nothing".  I washed one of the cars, mowed a bit of yard, walked the dogs, and spent many hours just sitting outside and reading a book.  We had two beautiful days in the mid 80's.  Light breezes, leaves falling off the trees, the sound of lawnmowers in the distance, and general peace and quiet.  I thought about going to the studio, or doing this or that project, and decided against all of it.  It was time to just sit and enjoy the last warm weekend of summer.  And do nothing.  

It was wonderful.