Monday, December 19, 2022

Looking, thinking, digging deep...

Contemplating a new painting
      I like to say that at a certain point in the painting process, watching me work is like watching paint dry. At first, there's usually a lot quickish choices being made about color, form and placement. Then, once I've gotten over the usually annoying mid point of making the painting, there's a slowing of mark making and much more contemplation of what's in front of me. I have a habit of looking at my paintings from all sorts of odd angles at times. One of the most unconscious positions is turning my head sideways instead of the painting. I was taught long ago that you should rotate your paintings to see how they are working from different directions. The classic move is to turn it upside down. This is used as one way to determine how the painting is holding together compositionally. The point is that there is a lot of thinking going on when we're sitting or standing in front of a work. Even when I'm not in front of it, like at home or some place other than the studio, the work is on my mind. I'm mulling over possibilities of changes or placement of forms as I'm walking down the street. I'm trying out all sorts of compositional possibilities when I'm in the shower. I'm considering which new materials I could use as I'm washing dishes. The work is never ending, but I also love it this way. 
   Last week,  I found a couple of chairs in the hallway of the floor I'm on in the Crane Arts Building that someone didn't want any more. I took them in because they're softer and generally more comfortable than the hard molded plastic chairs I already have. They both have old thin leather covering the back and seat. The frames are made out of silver metal of some sort. I brought them into the studio, wiped them down and am enjoying having them. I still need to get a couch in there. Studio naps are essential not only to my well-being, but the well-being of the work. 
    Trying to push through sleepiness in the middle of the day or late afternoon is tough without a proper place to take a nap. I feel like a good hour to hour-and-a-half is a good period of time for a nap. They are so necessary for helping to keep my mind clear during the day. Taking time to nap is so beneficial for thinking. Art is really taxing mentally and physically sometimes. It's best to try and keep your mind sharp so that you don't go about making bad choices in the work. Well, bad choices happen regardless of napping or not, but the likelihood of them increasing is greater without resting a little during the day. 
    I watched a "behind the scenes" video with Tom Cruise that's the beginning of the hype machine for the next installment of the "Mission Impossible" franchise. This one was interesting to see because it shows how much of a committed actor TC is. He is known for doing a lot of his own stunts and this video showed just how deep that commitment is. One of the big stunts is him riding a motocross bike off of a huge ramp, off the side of a cliff and then parachuting down into a ravine that's closed in on three sides with rock face. He trained on riding the motocross bike, practicing the jump, learning to parachute from a helicopter and even more than that. He did all of that and did those actions over and over and over again to get everything as right as possible to make an action sequence as believable as possible. Seeing that kind of dedication to honing just one part of his craft made me think about how much we as artists need to make sure that we're doing all that we can to keep ourselves educated, doing research and pouring as much as we can into the work that we do. Being persistent, consistent and risk-taking with your work habits in the studio and digging deep within to make the best work possible will pay off. Show up for yourself!



Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Paintings being free

 (Detail :: work in progress)

    Online recently, I made a post that mentioned a shift that I feel is happening in the work. Yesterday, that feeling became even more clear to me. What's happening is that I need to take a break from making the dense, glyph-filled work that I've been doing for the past few years. The glyphs will still be in the work, but I'm kind of done with the denseness of mark making that's been going on for a while. Two recent paintings that I've worked on sealed that feeling for me. I was having a real struggle to complete them and couldn't figure out why until just this past weekend; I'm just tired of what I've been doing. These paintings feel heavy in a way that bugs me. Everything about the work feels heavy; the surfaces, the compositions even the colors, many of which are repeated in similar ways throughout recent paintings. The paintings are breathing laboriously at this point, wheezing even. It's funny how palpable the feeling of discomfort around this work has been for me lately. It literally weighs on me, almost oppressive to a certain degree. I feel the need to think about why this is a little deeper.
    Even as that revelation has become more clear to me, I've already begun making some paintings that are moving down a separate, but parallel track. I've been making some works on paper centered on these forms that are basically interconnected triangles. It's been something that I've played with off and on over time, but now I'm feeling more comfortable with how I might be able to put them to use. I'm hoping to create some different color and spatial relationships within the work where they behave somewhat similarly to the glyph paintings, but are completely different in execution and how they behave on the canvas or panel supports. 
    I can trace these new works back to some things I've done since 2013, but I haven't been able to figure out what they mean for me, yet. That's probably a good thing because they will define themselves over time. Compared to the various connected influences of the glyph paintings, these new works are very much their own thing. They exist outside of everything that I've been focusing on over the past seven or eight years. They are as alien to me as anything that we may call biological that might exist somewhere else out in space. They have a history for me, but I haven't been able to identify them, yet. They are resisting categorization, which is somewhat frustrating, but also very freeing. They aren't tethered to any kind of ready-made philosophies or uses. They insist on being what they are without outside intrusions of meanings. 

I'm perfectly fine with that. 


In silence

     I like to take a few moments to be silent and express gratitude when  I come into the studio for the day. It really helps to ground me and remind me of all the good things that have come into my life through my actions and otherwise. I had hoped for years to have a larger studio again after having to move from the space at 16 N. 3rd Street back in 2015. I don't like to take things for granted because everything can crumble, turn to dust and disappear in an instant. I worked hard to get here, with help along the way, and I'll never forget that. 
    Since moving here, I've been able to look at my work in a completely different way than I have for the past seven years or so. Just being able to have the room to step back from something and see it in relation to something else that I'm working on a few feet away is truly powerful. I get to walk a few yards away from a painting and can really take my time with letting it live and come into being on it's own terms and not with the crush of all of my other work right on top of it. It's an amazing feeling. 


Bringing others in

    Coming off of my birthday weekend, I gave a workshop for teaching artists of Mural Arts Philadelphia this morning. Things seemed to go well since this was the first time I'd led an activity in a workshop like this for peers. The actual first workshop ever was last spring with some of Brad Carney's Mural Arts Education students at George Washington High School in northeast Philly. This workshop was focused on showing the participants how they can use translucent materials like tracing paper or drafting paper to create interesting layering effects in their work. 
    It's very educational when you have to interpret what you do in your studio practice for other people in a situation like this that demands clarity of communication and thought. You have to really look deeply at what you do in the studio and find ways of connecting people with what's mostly in your head otherwise. What seems simple to you can be a complete mystery to others, even artists. We all have our own experiences with making art that are often as completely singular as we are as individuals. That makes sense for obvious reasons, but we don't often think about that because of the myopic lens through which most of us look at the world.
    That's not an indictment, I'm just stating what I see as a part of the human experience. All of us are made up of what ever experiences we have and tend to look at the world in a particular way as a result. Problems occur when we can't make room to appreciate how others might experience things in their way. Being able to empathize is a huge thing and a lot of the bad experiences that we have with people who can't or won't accommodate other world views shows up in horrific ways. Learning to effectively share and communicate your ideas and processes with others is a huge thing and not something to take lightly. It's a key way to better understand what you're doing in your work, bring you closer to other to others and help them understand who you are as a person and artist. 


Monday, December 05, 2022

How long...?

Detail of No Way Out (2022)

[The following is copied verbatim from a recent social media post I made last week. I felt like it needed to be enshrined here, too]

Studio 12.01.22 :: I felt a perceptive shift within me regarding aspects of my work now and possibilities moving forward. Yesterday evening felt like a moment where the dust of years of different paths and influences collided and started forming a couple of new ways forward that I feel absolutely compelled to follow. An “oh shit, yes!!” moment that packs a bigger punch than others in the past.

The question of inspiration comes up once in a while and my answer is always some version of “life and doing the work” that I elaborate on. First, no idea comes from a single influence or source; there’s always a constellation of experiences-conversations, random thoughts, dreams, research, whispers, daydreaming, reading, music, doodling, walking down a different street, noticing that tiny crack in your glass-that can lead to where you are now. Everything that you’ve lived through is right in that moment of discovery. Second, I don’t believe in waiting for “inspiration”. That comes from doing the work, whatever that is for you. You don’t get anywhere sitting and making yourself frustrated that inspiration hasn’t swept you off you feet. It won’t, trust me, I know. Doing and actively participating is how discovery happens. Begin where you are with what you have and see where that takes you. Rinse and repeat as needed 

“How long did it take to to do that?” My whole life to this point, literally.

Monday, November 28, 2022





    These images came together in a couple of bursts of ideas between Saturday and this morning. Saturday, I was here in the studio and had the urge to return to drawing over book pages, specifically this old House and Gardens New Complete Book of Gardens that was published in 1955. It's a used book that I bought from Mostly Books on Bainbridge Street for $5 years ago. I've been using images and pages from the book to make collages and other things. One project that I like a lot from around 2015 or so is called "Notes". "Notes" consists of several images from this book that I tore and then drew glyphs on. I had them up on my old studio wall for almost seven years when I moved out this past summer. 

    First, I drew on and collaged the pages and photographed them on the floor of the studio, with the book leaned up against the wall and the "Vegetable" page taped to the wall. I didn't want to use push pins in it. That was Saturday. This morning, I woke up too early, as usual and got the idea to incorporate some digital aspects into the photos and that's what you see above. I imported the photos into the PicsArt app to make the additions. 

    Anyway,I've been into drawing over book pages for a while now. In practice, it's been more sporadic than I'd like, but I feel like I'll be doing more with this idea now. I like drawing on these book pages because the printed images give me something to react against with my own mark making. It's another way of imposing one's mark on something that already exists, i.e., graffiti. There's also something about marking up older books like this that are very orderly and represent life from another era. The gardens and layouts presented in this book represent a certain type of suburban ideal that has levels of social complications, to say the least. 
    The immaculately manicured gardens and plans seen in this book brings to mind ideas about class and race from the jump. Only a certain class of people could afford many of the extravagant gardens pictured within and you definitely had to be of a certain racial background to be able to have anything like this in the '50s almost anywhere in the U.S. If you were Black and could afford it, most often, you would be pushed to consider something much less nice and in a Black enclave because the subtext is that suburbia was only for whites. I know there might have been exceptions to this, but those exceptions were probably few and far between. When I think of the suburbs, I automatically think "white", even when I know that's not the case in today's world. With the scars of segregation and Jim Crow laws from those times still here, being Black it's hard to look at anything from the '50s and feel good about it. Combine that with how much things haven't changed in our society regarding race and acceptance (witness these past couple of decades and especially the past eight years). 

    With that said, taking my marks and superimposing them over the book images feels good in a lot of ways. I even took a few pages from it to make a loose series of images I dubbed, The Great (Suburban) Outdoors. Being a fan of nature with hiking being one of my favorite activities, the sterility of a lot of suburbs with their subjugation of nature into "manageable" plots of land feels like an affront to nature (and it is) "But people have to live somewhere and not have plants, grass and trees grow wild..." *insert eye roll*

    It's complicated. This is only me getting some things off my chest. However, I like how these digital images came out and I already have more edits in mind. I'll probably make more soon. One thing that I have to balance is making sure that I don't get overwhelmed with the sheer enormity of editing options these days. If I didn't restrict my choices for what parts of the app to use and which to leave alone (for now) is unbelievable. For these, I had a couple of problems to solve. One was making sure that the image fit into the square format for Instagram because one of the original photos was horizontal. The other was using colors with each image that complimented the image in some way and didn't overwhelm the photo. i think this worked out pretty well, although I'm already thinking about how to possibly make this idea better next time. 


Saturday, November 26, 2022

What I've far...


In my latest studio newsletter, there's a section called "Exit" where I posted an Esquire Magazine-like series of statements about my experiences of making site-specific temporary installations, like Tumbler, that's now on view in the Speer Gallery at the Shipley School. The magazine section is called, "What I've Learned..." from which I borrowed the format for my version of it. My "What I've Learned..." are reflections on my ongoing project of making temporary installations made up of drawings on large sheets of paper, clear acetate, silver mylar, frosted mylar and, in the past, tracing paper. Tumbler is the third, and largest, iteration of this idea. 

The making of Tumbler was different from the previous two because there were people passing through and present in the space where I was working between classes. I had to be more careful than usual about keeping my materials out of the way of students and staff passing by, as well as being aware of being watched, however briefly, while making the piece. I wasn't particularly worried about that aspect, but it did make me a little anxious at times, as working in a public or semi-public space will do. In the end, I channeled that nervous energy into a laser like focus on the work. I learned some new things and am grateful to have had this experience that I can now take and use for the next one. 

Without any further delay, here's what I've learned about making site-specific works in public/semi-public spaces, so far...

- I always wind up buying more nails than I really need

- Making unplanned work in public forces action

- Fear creates energy to move ahead with the work

- Having people witness your creative process can be affirming

- Having people witness your creative process feels like electrified nakedness

- Using the drawings in different places and ways always seems to open up new possibilities

- I love manipulating (tearing, folding, creasing...) the drawings from one installation to the next and seeing how they change

- When that weird middle section of the install happens and I want to rush to get past it, I let myself feel the angst, and then take extra long, deep breaths and walk away if need be. Same as when I'm in the studio. 

- My palms always get sweaty when it comes to heights, no matter how safe I am

- When people ask questions about what I'm making, it forces me to get better at making good, short answers

- My stomach is in knots the whole time

- Transforming a space through artistic intervention is a great uplifting experience


Thursday, November 24, 2022

Easy isn't bad

New painting (detail)

"It’s easy to romanticize struggling, to think that something must be difficult to be of quality" 

"Yes, this is so important! I think a lot of visual artists and other creatives fall into this mind-f&%k where they believe EVERYTHING must be a struggle and the harder it is to make, the better it is, when that is absolutely not always the case. I've had to make room to be ok with making something that was "easy, so I really understand what you're saying. Just because it's not causing you to have a mental breakdown doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it or that it's not good. If it brings you some joy or spark of some kind, then it's good."

• • • • • •

     The above quote and response comes from my reply to a friend's IG post about making things that are "easy" and still of quality. I've had my battles with the way of thinking that can infect creative people across disciplines. The myth that "all great art is the result of struggle" is just that, a myth. A way of thinking that follows from the idea that life is hard and when you struggle to gain status or other social/financial reward, then that reward carries even more merit somehow. With artists, it's perceived that struggles with mental illness or other neural divergent behavior is somehow responsible for their art rather than that person being able to make their in spite of their mental illnesses, not because of them. 

    I've not had any issues with mental illness in my life, thankfully, and that has never been a barrier to making good art. I'm not in the position of determining if any of my work is "great" or not, but I can say that not having a mental illness or addiction problem hasn't stopped me from making what I consider some very strong, worthwhile art work. Now, I do struggle with aspects of my work all of the time, but that doesn't equate to the work being better than something that was "easy". All I'm getting at is that artists need to reject the notion that they have to have a bad life or bad experiences to produce good work. It's complete nonsense. 

    I've struggled with making and/or appreciating work that I considered "easy", where the solution came so easily that I questioned the work's worth. Over time, I've gotten better with this and now find myself embracing a much wider range of thought surrounding what makes my work good or not in my eyes. The easy stuff should be embraced and enjoyed as much as the more difficult work. It's ok to make "easy" work and to enjoy it. There's nothing wrong with liking your easy work. If it brings you joy, why not? Something that you work on for days or months doesn't necessarily mean that it's any better than something that you made in a half-hour. Your worth as an artist isn't tied to how long or how hard something was to bring into existence, your worth as an artist is what you make of it. Nothing else. 



    It was a podcast kind of day in the studio. One of what could be a new favorite art pod is ArtSmack, hosted by Jerry Gagosian and Matt C. In a nutshell, Jerry Gagosian, aka Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, has made a name for herself with satirizing and poking fun at gallerists, institutions, art fairs and more through her meme-filled Instagram page. The ArtSmack podcast is no less entertaining and enlightening. Give it a shot!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

(Not Just) Another Day


Above: palette (might make for a not-too-bad painting)

    Recently, I ran into a young artist that I know in the stairwell of our studio building. I asked him how things were going in the studio where he works as an assistant and he replied "not bad". Then I asked, "How are you?" and he replied, "Well, you know, just another day..." I was on my way out to grab a couple of snacks from the nearby supermarket and once I was outside and on my way up the block, I thought about what he'd said, "...just another day..." In the past, that phrase might not have bothered me that much, but for some reason it hit different this time. My thought was, no, this is not "just another day" and it kind of saddened me a bit because we seem to be conditioned to view each day as just like any other in our routines. 

    Now, the phrase "just another day" is often used as a metaphor for "nothing special is happening, I'm just going about my regular routine", which is often the case. There's a certain amount of surface sameness in a lot of our everyday lives which makes it feel like one day is just bleeding into another without any kind of distinguishing value. On the other hand, "just another day" can also elicit feelings of heaviness and/or sadness, coded language for "this is just another day of drudgery and misery"

    I feel like this is symptomatic of how work culture in the U.S. tends to drain as much joy out of our daily lives as possible. There is so much outward sameness with our routines around jobs, going about our daily tasks and other things that repeat hour after hour, day after day that it's hard not to think of each day as the same as the last. All of us here need to figure out how to bring money into our lives just to be able to live day-to-day. That often leads us to be employed in jobs that we don't like, that I think most of us would quit if it weren't for whatever our needs are. 

    What I believe I heard in the young artist's "Just another day" was this: "It's just another day of giving my energy to someone else's pursuits, dreams and goals". I know that's how I felt during the years where I worked in retail jobs while also making art and having shows. No matter how much I liked where I was working, and I had a couple of favorite workplaces, there was always that feeling of frustration in the back of my mind about giving over so much of my energy to a job that advanced someone else's goals and not my own. In 2020, I got to walk away from my last regular job to pursue my life as a "full time" painter. I put full time in quotes because no matter where I worked in the past, I always prioritized my art life over the steady job. When you're an artist of any discipline, you're never divorced from what you're creating because it's always on your mind. When I was at work, I'd be going over ideas and possibilities in my head about what I wanted to do the next time I was in the studio. 

    Even though those days weren't strictly the same, the overall feeling was that they were because of the baked-in repetition of tasks. Some days, I'd feel more annoyed than others that I had to be at the job when I sorely wanted to be in the studio working out whatever my latest ideas were on the canvas, paper or panel. At times, it was visceral and others, not so much. I remember saying in response to "how are you?" something along the lines of "Same old, same old" or "Another day, another dollar", etc... just to keep from sounding too negagtive. Now that I get to come to the studio and do what I want to for myself, I've come to better understand how different each day really is. It's all perception; if it feels the same as yesterday, then it's the same to you. The reality is that this day and the next and the next, are entirely new. There's so much that's new that it's easy to take for granted if you aren't tuned into it, or even able to be tuned into it because of whatever else is going on in your life. 

    I think my take on each day being new and treating it as such also has to do with getting older and realizing how much less time is ahead of me than when I was younger. These days, I'm trying to make sure that I acknowledge every day as a new, original, never before seen day. Even as many of my days include some tasks that I don't always feel like doing, it's all for the greater good of advancing my creative priorities. I do my best to not take any day for granted because we aren't promised anything. Just waking up to a new day is a blessing that I embrace with all of my might and am thankful for. I now truly understand what my elders were saying when they said something similar when I was little. I really get it.