Archive for the ‘ misc. ’ Category

The Alternative Facts Gallery (ongoing portrait series)

The other day, I was on the way to a friend’s house for a gathering of artists who meet and share their work together. I have been going for a few weeks.

As is my way, I was mulling something over on the way there. I had shared a post that was defending libraries for the techno-futurist claim, that in the information age, there is no need for public libraries and stacks of books available for anyone.  The problem I was mulling over: “do these people really exist, people that imagine there is no need for public libraries making information free to all?”

Certainly, they do. There exists a sad sort of person that despite wealth and privilege and all the advantages that an education confers, –somehow look at all the grief and horror that makes up the world and, yet, the greatest injustice they can conceive of –and the one that keeps them awake at night– is the injustice that somewhere, public funds are being used to give a poor person something for free.

When I think of the pitched political battles in the US since my childhood in the 1980s, the common theme has been Conservative politicians (and some neo-Liberal ones) chipping away at all the Social Safety Net that protects the poorest among us from worse deprivations. Then, I thought:

What if, all these powerful men, were not men of wealth and status? What if I re-imagined some alternate timeline where they were not protected by their wealth, and privileged, but lived lives that were desperate and roiled by misfortune. What if these men weren’t powerful men, but homeless men, the impoverished, or the incarcerated?

This is an ongoing portrait project. For each portrait, I will create and alternative biography (based on details from their actual biographies) and create alternative fact biographies for each picture.

My end goal here is not to cast scorn on the men depicted, (though I feel the scorn is much deserved), but rather, if we can imagine powerful men as homeless men, then we ought to be able to find a way to, and the means to, raise those men and women around us who are the homeless, addicted, and impoverished, towards a better future for them and for us.

 

Paul Ryan, born Janesville, Wisconsin, 1970

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Case notes: Paul has faced a long-time methamphetamine addiction, (15+ years) that began when he followed his father (Paul Davis Ryan Sr.) into the construction trade. He became dependent during times work was more scare and has repeated bouts of unemployment and incarceration (drug manufacture/distribution, armed robbery, drug possession and operating a vehicle while ability impaired). The family’s resources were strained when an onsite accident caused his father’s disability and there was further strain at home when an elder relative moved into the household needing care. Paul has been homeless for about the past 8 years. He is still actively using. His drug use makes him often unpredictable and difficult to house.

 

Donald J. Trump born June 14th, 1946, Queens, NY.

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Donald Trump, alternative facts portrait, acrylic paint and graphite on gessoed paper, 8.5″ x 10″

 

Case notes: Donald is a mixed drug user and a serial sexual offender/pedophile (level 3). Raised in Queens, NY, when he has not been incarcerated, he has run a small subcontracting firm, –which folded when he was sued for defrauding an elderly client. He has committed sexual offenses against both adult women and adolescent children. (see read more)

The duration of Donald’s homelessness has been greater than twenty years. He is also known to be positive for Hep C (intravenous drug user).

 

Mitch McConnell Born Sheffield, Alabama, 1940s (date in-precise)

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Case notes: Mitch has had lifelong mobility impairments due to inadequate treatment of polio at age 2. At present he is wheelchair-bound. Nonetheless he is an abuser of prescription painkillers. He was –for a time the proprietor of a small book-shop. He was forced into early retirement (social security remains his sole source of income) which he took with early retirement penalty when a nearby Wal-mart Supercenter made his business no longer profitable. Mitch currently resides in public housing for the aged.

Other images/process images:

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Continue reading

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My Current Favorite Tree. My Pet Tree

I’ve always had a great fondness for trees. There was a plot of land behind my father’s house that was more or less my playground as a kid. It was a woods was filled with stately old trees. That plot of land (much to my father’s chagrin) sold and now has a house built on it. Still, a fondness for trees, and especially urban trees that live out their lives more or less paying little attention to what humans are doing below them, endured. The landlord has told me that the house I’m living in was built in 1910. It’s reasonable that the tree has stood about as long as the house has, and was part of the original landscaping of the lot. There is a large stump in the middle of the back yard, –a sister tree that must have been a match for size of its brother that is still standing. I am not one for new-agey/spiritual beliefs, but I do find the presence of a venerable old tree in my backyard to be calming. Frequently when I am at home I can be found perched under it.

I am often noted to be a sort of whimsical human. I do talk to trees, –who in turn don’t say anything, but simply listen.

This spring, when the weather changed, I took a series of photos of my pet tree as it began to leaf out. The photos were taken with an Olympus OM-1 35 mm camera, and Fuji 400 film.

I hadn’t intended these for sale, it was more a project of selfishly documenting something meaningful to me. Still, if someone made an offer for a print, or even the whole series, I’d be more than happy do that for those who asked. There’s many way I can think of that these photos as a series together would make a very beautiful piece framed imaginatively.

 

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Mini-lesson: The Ten Minute Sketch

It wasn’t that long ago I was teaching in a classroom 40 hours a week in a subject matter that was unrelated to fine art. The simple reality for a lot of creative people is that a great deal of our days are spent doing things other than create art to pay our bills. So, with that in mind, the single greatest block on an artist’s creativity can be the simplest of stumbling blocks: “Do I have time for this?”

With this in mind I thought about ways that creative non-professionals and even professional artists can kick-start their process. I’m calling this example the “ten minute sketch.” It involves sectioning a piece of standard 8 x 11 1/2 sketch paper in your sketch book into four sections (the sections will be roughly the size of 4 x 6 note cards I was taught in high school to use to take notes for research papers).

Generally, I have encouraged my past students to “scale up” (ie: increase the size of their drawings and art) and to use a full sheet of paper for each piece. However, –this time around and in the interest of time– the idea is to create a smaller image that can be done more quickly as it will require less detail. Since this is meant for a sketch book exercise, it’s ideal for pencil or charcoal. Those who wish to may choose to work in color, but if you want to keep to the time limit (a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule by any means) you will simplify your drawing by working in one color, or with a limited palette.

Here is my example from last evening:

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My partner, Muse. Pencil on paper, 3” by 5”, from my sketch book.

Bare in mind, this is an exercise designed to help get the blood flowing. You need not agonize about small works not intended for sale. With the small size you will want to keep your details simplified.

I choose portraiture for the topic of this sketch. The planes of the face are generally simple enough to sketch in this small a size. Subjects that are more intricate and have a great deal of detail might take a great deal more time.

Whether or not you work in areas unrelated to your art, the most important key to being happy creatively is good time management. Set time aside each day to be creative. Whether your ten minute sketch is done in ten minutes or not is not important. The important piece of doing this exercise is getting over the notion of being “too busy” or, “not having time” to be creative. This is a mental trick more than anything else.

Get out there, have fun and create!

The Small Works Progress Administration

So, I am launching a thing at the moment, I am playfully calling “The Small Works Progress Administration.” It’s an obvious allusion to Franklin’ Delano Roosevelt’s depression-era Works Progress Administration. During the 1930’s in this country, among other things the WPA did, was launch the careers of artists like Jackson Pollock, a personal inspiration of mine. The WPA paid artists to produce art during the Great Depression and the result was American art blossomed and put America and New York City on the map as one of the modern artistic and cultural hubs in the world. 

But, much like the 1930’s, it’s a hard time to be a person that aspires to make a living creating art. That’s why this photo:

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What’s in the image is a bunch of found objects in gesso. There are 5 pieces of found card-board, and piece a typical brick like many found in 19th century buildings. The brick is the only piece that there’s a clear plan for right now. When it’s done it won’t sell for 10 to 25 dollars –there’s a big back-story behind that one.

The rest are open to interpretation.

[UPDATE]

My lovely partner gave me a couple found objects that I gessoed today. Here they are with gesso drying: two paving stones found locally:

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I’m going to give a little thought to what needs to go on them. They are both rather small. I’ll post results as I have them.

I finally got around to working on the small pieces.

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This is what my floor ends up looking like in the process…

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two of the gessoed cardboards on my easel.

I spent a few hours and got the first three (in a series of five) of the small works done. These are 7.5” by 10”. All are acrylic on gessoed cardboard. I am looking to sell these cheaply to fund other things (see below). All of these three are loose extrapolations of figure studies I have done based on Eduard Manet’s work “The Old Musician.”

Here are two of the small works drying next to my boots on the radiator:

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And here is the third drying on my easel:

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More as they come…

Finished another of the small works. From the book “Hudson Valley Ruins,” this image of Fedralsberg, an abandoned Mansion south of Albany: (drying, next to my boots)

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Another new addition, this of the former Trinity Church (Albany’s South End Neighborhood) The building was demolished in an emergency demolition in 2011. The images is based on a photo I took the day the historic church was demolished:

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This is an image of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center in acrylic, on paper. I did this as an in-class demonstration:

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“Old Main” Hudson River Psychiatric Center, Poughkeepsie, NY. (SOLD) Acrylic on gessoed paper.

The two commissions are finished. (acrylic on cardboard, sold.)

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Lastly, I have a glut of mounted and unmounted photographic prints (most are from 35mm film and are of local/regional architectural landmarks). I am looking to unload those for $3 to $5, so inquire if you are interested.

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I don’t have so high a hope for my small work progress administration as the result FDR got. I just need a few things. What I’m looking to do is 5 simple images on the cardboards in hopes of selling them for about $10-15 a piece. I’ll commission one of the card-boards for $25 for –whatever you want on them (bear in mind: the cardboards are only  7.5” x 10”). I like the idea of producing original art for anybody that wants it –not just the typical crowd that buys art from galleries. I like the idea of making original works that anybody can afford, but I need supplies to keep making new larger projects.

Some of the things I need:

Pencils, especially 2 and 4b.
Sketch pads of quality drawing paper
Oil Pastels
Max Grumbacher water-soluble oil paints
Especially in the following colors: titanium white
cadmium red
yellow ochre
burnt umber
french ultramarine blue

Canvases (any size)
Water-color paper

Money for gallery entry fees
Money to travel

You can use my e-mail contact if you are interested in a commissioned work. Or, you can send an e-mail about a particular piece when they are finished. All pieces are 7.5” by 10” acrylic on cardboard.

Cultivating the Sketching Habit

I’ve recently become a lot more disciplined in doing regular sketches of images that I find interesting for whatever reason. When I was a kid, or a teenager, it was a natural thing to just pick up a sketch-book and treat whatever I saw. I sort of lost that habit in the business of being an adult. Now, as I am producing more lately, large complete works, it’s all the more detrimental to maintain regular practice sketching small ideas and things that I may want to turn into larger complete works.

So, I came across the following Reuters photograph in the NYT (photo by Rebecca Cook): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/27/us/300-million-in-detroit-aid-but-no-bailout.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I started with a pencil, and quickly realized what I thought was going to be a quick sketch was actually a very complicated and difficult image to reproduce. There was so much texture to this photo, from the over-grown grass, to worn brick, to wispy clouds. I actually put a couple hours into this over a couple days.

This gets to why doing regular sketching is important. There was a lot of problems to solve with this image, a lot of challenges to it too. This is how being twenty years into taking art seriously, I am still learning and not stagnating. Enjoy:

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Continuing on the sketching habit, I was immediately charmed by this image in the NY Times. This is Arline L. Bronzaft. She’s described in the NY Times article as a “environmental psychologist.” This fiery little woman has been a consultant to NYC mayors for decades now, she essentially busies herself with reducing noise problems in one of the most bustling urban environments in the world.

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Photo and article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/07/nyregion/arline-bronzaft-seeks-a-less-noisy-new-york.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

So, continuing the tirade with sketches from photos credited to the New York Times, I did this photo from the paper of virtuoso Pipa player Wu Man,

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I did a bit more sketching last night. I am trying to draw out some ideas for the small works I talked about in the “Small Works” Blog.

The first draws from “Right Woman…” by Degas. I was doing a class demonstration and realized this pose has some pretty serious challenges in it. So, I brought the image home to work it again: 

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These poses of young girls come from two separate works by Edouard Manet: (“Old Musician,” and  “St-Lazaire” respectively):

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“Years Later, I Stopped Looking for Places to Hide From Her”: Session 1

I started a new work today. The image comes from this sketch, which is a pencil drawing I did from a photo by photographer Clifford Richards of the Steven and Harriette Meyers House. The Meyer’s Residence was once a stop on the underground Railroad, and a local organization is currently fundraising to renovate the house and make it a historical site and cultural center. It is located on Livingston Ave in Albany:

Here is my beginning sketch (with my prompt for the larger piece, which I will talk about in a moment):

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Now, I have always believed that as an artist, one needs to find a way to connect to the emotional content of the work you are creating. Since pre Civil war as an era of history is a little beyond the scope of my experience, I used a prompt to get me thinking about the piece. The title refers to a period in my early twenties when I had to withdraw from school to tend to my health. At the same time, a pretty serious relationship had ended, and my former fiancee had made some pretty wild accusations about my behavior. As a result of that I developed a strangely specific anxiety about meeting my former partner in public places. I began mistaking almost any petite girl with dark hair that bore a passing resemblance for my former partner. Agoraphobia, if you call it that, or any related phobia of that sort is pretty balls. Panic attacks suck.

The prompt may be about a pretty dismal time in my life, but it’s hopeful, because it suggests that that fear passed with time.

Anyway, before the picture of my first session with the piece: I needed to let the first coat of paint dry before I continued to build the colors. I made the pitch of the stairs less steep, and opened up the fore-ground (see original sketch). I hope to continue to work on this piece throughout the week. If I make some progress, I’ll share it here:

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The work is large, acrylic on canvas. It is very much a work in progress.

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So, session two. I am building the colors and darkening the painting. I feel like the contrast has to be made even greater. Here is the work after session two:

 

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The Finished Degas Piece

Over about four sessions, I finally finished my pencil on paper reproduction of Edgar Degas’ Girl Combing Her Hair. This is a piece Degas worked and reproduced many times. Here is the image I was working from on the easel with my own version:

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A little about the process and the image:

While working on this piece, there were two mistakes I made early on with my sketch that I had to contend with. I did what I could to solve problems as I could while working on the piece.

First, since I had only intended to make this a figure/compositional study on a day our still model was not able to attend the class, I started the sketch on a large sheet of low-quality paper. I had intended to use this as an in-class demonstration for my students, so the choice I made for paper was something I would end up contending with later, since a very smooth and thin paper will hold pencil much differently. (I advise all young artists to use good paper as often as they can afford and generally follow my own advice, using inexpensive papers only for my practice sketches and studies.)

The second mistake I made with this sketch was in making the initial lines of my sketch. Overall, I made the body much too large, and I essentially ran out of room for the left arm. By the time I had realized this I had gotten a bit far into the drawing, having already added a great deal of detail. I choose to attempt to bring the arm forward as I was drawing it, as though pointed more in front of the model to make the arm fore-shortened enough to still fit on the paper. Even after that, the result was less than satisfactory, and at one point I slightly shortened the right arm to make the mistake less obvious.

So, that speaks, obviously, to why pre-planning remains so vital to getting an image right –especially when reproducing another piece. If I had been more careful, or looked more carefully as I placed the outside lines in my sketch, I would have been able to place all of the image easily withing the space it was intended for.

Something to think about when you are working on a piece. Perhaps when you think your initial sketch is done, pause, take a break, and come back to view the initial sketch. Make sure that you have proportioned and placed all your lines correctly before you begin shading and adding detail. (While drawing, I was walking around a classroom, interacting with my students and doing the business of teaching, –not that this necessarily forgives me).

Obviously, this is a very challenging pose, no wonder Degas returned to it again and again, the same pose, and even this pose using other figure models. If you don’t get it right, do it again.

Nonetheless, I was pretty pleased with the end result. I’ll add a couple more pictures at the end, when I have the light to take them without the glare from a flash. Until then here’s a shot of the detail:

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The lesson –sort of within a lesson– if you try to create you will make mistakes. You’ll make mistakes whether you are starting, or advancing or have been working in a medium for years. Relax, it’s your art. It probably won’t be perfect. You will realize you have made an error, you may spend hours trying to correct it and still be unhappy with the result. Don’t be afraid of your mistakes or toss your imperfect works away. Instead, look at what happened and analyze the problem. You can probably learn more from those works that are imperfect than you can from others that simply have problems that escape your notice or the notice of people you seek feedback from.

After you are finished, do it again. Make that mistake ten times, or until you don’t. Happy arting.

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