Monday, February 24, 2020

Artists I Like

You know how you can go a long time without doing any housecleaning?  Well, over the past few days I've been housecleaning my studio.  Literally.  My dust bunnies were more like dust buffalo.  Damn things were chasing me around the room.  So I got busy and have been cleaning up, throwing old stuff out, dusting (cough cough), and discovering things I'd totally forgotten were there.  I still have another day or two of work, but the studio is feeling much better.

Just now, I realized that I haven't done any housecleaning on this blog site for quite a while.  I went through my "artists I like" section and discovered that several of the links were no longer good or hadn't been updated in a few years.  So I tossed those out.  And, since I'm always searching for new artists, the ones I'm looking at now are not the ones I was looking at X years ago, the last time I updated this section.  So I added some new artists to the list.  Here are some words on who the new ones are and why I like 'em.

Adam Miller is a really skillful and talented painter.  Not only can he paint some wonderful figures, but he puts them into situations where they are actually saying something.  I've been thinking about how to do that with my own work, and then ran into Adam's paintings, and now have some new thoughts burbling away in the back of my brain.  Actually, one of my new paintings was already influenced by his work, but you wouldn't know it unless you listened to a way-too-long description from me.

C.W. Mundy is an American old-school painter.  He paints people, portraits, landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, you name it.  Cutting-edge he is not, but damn, he's good.  I've copied a couple of his paintings in an effort to learn something from him.  I did learn something - I learned that I really have to up my game.

I've written about Nick Alm in previous posts here, here, and here.  He's a Norwegian figurative artist.  While his subject matter (a bunch of young Norwegians getting drunk in cafes) doesn't resonate with me, how he puts his paintings together does.  They are far more structured than you might think at first glance - they're really based on abstract compositions that are made up of people.  This painting, for example, is a large V-shape that focuses attention on the young lady sitting on the table, and fades off to the right, and is bounded by a hard vertical on the left.  I have tried a few times to create a painting with this approach and have failed.  Another effort is on my easel right now.  One of these days, maybe the light will come on and I'll know what I'm doing.  Or not.

Jerome Witkin has been one of my very favorite artists since I was studying art at UNCA back in the early aughts. He's not afraid to tackle heavy topics, like the Holocaust, nor deeply personal subjects.  He can tell a story in an incredibly powerful way.  And, as I know from personal experience, he's the nicest guy in the world.  While his work has been very influential to me, I discovered that I cannot structure and paint like he does.  His paintings are small stage settings that are carefully constructed with an eye toward overall composition, color, movement, and narrative.  I have done a couple of model-in-the-studio paintings that follow his example, but beyond that, his approach doesn't work with my brain.  No matter - he's one of the best painters in America today, so enjoy him.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Training at Muscatatuck

I spent this past week up at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana.  I was on a team that worked with a bunch of Defense Department civilians who are heading to Afghanistan for a year.  We do a pretty intensive training program that's a lot of fun and very rewarding.  I've written about it before on this blog.  If you're interested, you can check out posts here, here, and here.  Basically, it's immersive training.  They live on a base, have to coordinate with their military security force to convoy out to meet with Afghan officials, plan for the meetings, learn to work with an interpreter, figure out what's really going on within the Afghan organizations and between the people, and put together a briefing for the Colonel at the end.  The Afghan officials and interpreters, by the way, are real Afghans.  The course puts all their classroom education to practical use and stretches their own personal capabilities.  It's really good stuff.

There were two very noteworthy things that came out of this particular class.  One was my team.  This was a very diverse group.  Some had military experience, some had been in Afghanistan before, some were technicians, others were managers, there were both males and females, and there was a variety of ethnic backgrounds.  When they started, they were a bunch of individuals with only a rough idea of what they were going to be doing.  Gradually they pulled together.  Every training scenario that they went through showed improvement.  Then, in the very last training event, one that is very ambiguous and much more difficult than it appears, they nailed it.  The senior Afghan role-player said at the end, "THIS is the team that I have been waiting for!"  And he's been doing this for years.  I'm not taking credit for this - my role was to mentor the team and guide them along.  They had to do the work.  But they did a fantastic job.  I've been floating on cloud nine ever since.

The other noteworthy item was one of the students.  He was on the other team this week, not mine.  He had been through this training a couple of years ago and then gone downrange to Afghanistan.  A couple of months into his assignment, his vehicle hit an IED, which banged him up, but he stayed in-country.  A month or two later, an Afghan National Police officer turned on his team and sprayed them with gunfire.  Our student woke up in a hospital in Germany.  He's been recuperating ever since and is still dealing with PTSD.  But, and this is a very big "but", he volunteered to go back to Afghanistan, and fought hard for the opportunity. 

You have to wonder, why would a civilian volunteer to go back to a place where he had very nearly been assassinated?  I talked with him a few times.  He's an impressive guy, very cheerful, very positive, big smile all the time, and very smart.  He was thoroughly enjoying the training and looking forward to his new job downrange.  When I asked him why he was doing it, he said, "I didn't get to finish the job."

So this is the type of man that America can still produce.  Makes me proud.  And I'm proud to be able to help train people like him.