Sunday, September 14, 2014

Big Head(Thinking) 2014

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Albert Einstein

 “Stop thinking, and end your problems.”
Lao Tzu

In thinking, keep to the simple.”
Lao Tzu

I have a hard time with thinking, or rather, perhaps better said, thinking has not always been my friend.  My thoughts shape me:  they can create much anxiety and loneliness, and I don't understand why.  The thoughts swirl and repeat, swirl and repeat, especially at 4:00 am in the morning, when whatever thoughts I have seem always to go to dark places.  When I teach, I tell my students to let their brains go outside for a smoke while they stay inside to work.  I see my students convincing themselves that they can't paint, or can't collage, or don't understand color, then, when given a little push, and their hands are allowed to take over and their thinking discouraged, they are able to do all those things, and much more,  beautifully with complex creativity and, often, with profound meaning.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Big Head(Worrying) 2014

Of the three Big Heads that I did this past year, "Big Head(Worrying)" is my favorite. It's the one that I most identify with.  The colored dots of perspiration dripping from the head's face and forehead, the background, made of columnar paper; straight, rigid, meant for keeping careful track of numbers and accounts. The eyes and ears are tiny,  fever dream features, and the mouth is from a photo of a young friend who has a congenital disorder that is causing him to lose his teeth. It's a large head, with big worries, not just about numbers, but about the environment, children, the on-going war in the middle east, aging, bad backs, the tea party, mothers with dementia, GMOS.  I could go on and on, but it's probably better if you just add your own worries so that you can relate to "Big Head(Worrying)" as I do.  It's good to be able to share.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Big Head (Listening) 2014

My process is this:  I take paint and move it around on a panel until something happens that looks good to me; that gets me pretty worked up.  The next thing I do is to take paper of some kind, either  photographs I have taken, paper that I've painted on or altered in some way, or paper that has something on it.  Then I take the paper and start to cut it.  The cutting releases something, lets some genie out of the bottle, and allows me to start making the image.  I arrange the paper,  mostly with mushy purpose but sometimes--very rarely--with clear intent. 

With Big Head (Listening) the intent was clear almost from when I had the panels cut, which is very unlike me.  There was an idea in my head of big heads (and they are big--the panel is 49" x26"), and that they would be formed as negative space left by the paper.  The paper I used is handmade paper with little flowers in it, given to me by a friend.  The mouth, eye, eyebrow, and ear  were all bits and pieces from my enormous collection of photographs(I have thousands of pieces of photographs that I have tried to organize in my own arcane way.  For example, I have two plastic boxes with just photographic heads.  One box is labeled "not real heads" and the other "real".  Within those categories they are organized by size and sex, either male or female.  Each category has it's own little paper folder to keep it with it's peers).  The motion and action of the existing paint determined the title of this particular big head.  With Big Head (Listening), it was the pink paint sweeping from one side of the head to the other, starting with, or ending at, the ear.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Horse Resting 2014

For as long as I can remember, I've carried an image of a horse, or horses, resting.  There has always been a fascination for me of seeing a horse rising from the ground, and conversely, watching as they first drop their knees, then their hind ends as they take their bodies down.  They are large beings, and just the fact of getting up or down requires a lot of energy and activity.  They can sleep standing--their knees lock--so laying down for them is a sign of being either very secure, or sick.  The other wonder to watch is when, after returning from a hot and sweaty ride, they drop down and then roll, turning side to side, legs waving in the air like a big bug.  Supposedly, a horse that can roll all the way over and back is the sign of a good horse.

When I did this image, I know I had in mind a painting of several horses resting in a pasture, so I went online to see if I could track it down, a favorite from my childhood. What's interesting is my use of a tree to define the horse, clearly having been impressed by the tree in this painting.
I also came across this Chinese painting of two horses resting, one on the ground, which I thought captured the same quality of peace that my horse has.
And lastly, I found an image of one of my favorite artists, Deborah Butterfield.  Both horses are made of wood:  cottonwood trees in my case and sticks and mud in hers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Obsession 2014

For quite some time now my students and I have been working on different ways to transfer photographs to other surfaces.  Our biggest success has been with polymer transfers, and we have unraveled many of the secrets of how to make those transfers work(most of the time).  Lately, we have been working with DASS transfers, the brain child of Bonnie Pierce Lhotka     With care, those transfers are consistently rich and full, but can be finicky and require using Lhotka's transfer paper and "Super Sauce".  Most recently, I have been experimenting with ink jet transparency transfers. 

After a few weeks of trying different ways of making the transfers, and most of them working only some of the time and not very well, I turned to youtube, and found clips on how to do the transfers(Gary's here has over 160,000 hits  ).I watched all that I could find, and was appalled at their sloppy techniques.  "No problem", I thought to myself, "I teach this stuff". So, back to the studio, armed with lots of knowledge and ideas of why things weren't working.  One woman had said in her demo, "Don't be cheap about applying lots of the glue!", so I knew to load up my brush with the "glue".  Days later, I wasn't much better off, except that I knew what would happen if I used too much of the polymer medium, and what would happen if I was stingy with it.  I tried regular brushes, foam brushes, and even my fingers(sloppy technique!) to apply the medium.  Still bad. Always something lifting or smooshing or disappearing, but with tantalizing bits and pieces of it working perfectly.  I kept working.  One night I dreamed that I was doing full body transfers of people.  They worked just fine in my dreams.

 The images piled up.  Sometimes they almost worked. Sometimes they were a complete and total failure.  Days went by. I kept working.  But the interesting thing that happened was that when I would first pull off a transfer, and realize that once again, it hadn't really worked, I would be disappointed. However, later that day or the next, I would come back, look at the image and find that I liked what I was getting, or perhaps, better said, what was happening that I didn't have much control over.

One night, I thought, why not just put make the layers in photoshop and then put the pieces of paper through my printer and get the image in a 100% true and faithful way, so I did:
 But what I decided was that I preferred the rough, hand made quality of the image, rather than the smooth perfection of the inkjet print print
I'm not sure where I stand with all of this.  I have never really used any of these transfer processes in my own images, but at this point I have 50 of these transfers.  I'm just going to try a few more.  I'm thinking if I use canvas for the ground and load my brush fairly heavily but not too much......

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Drowning Kittens 2014

Destroy list
I'm in the process of re-organizing my studio, which is a euphemism for spending a lot of time avoiding going through years of things that have piled up.  Every corner of every room of my studio has a stack of something that needs to be decided on(as a result, I've done several lovely little paintings while "experimenting" with materials that I didn't know what to do with).  One of the first real things that I did that wasn't pure avoidance was to open up a drawer that had 27 paintings inside--my "To Destroy" drawer.

It was heartbreaking.  Some of the pieces had technical issues and others were not fully resolved.  But mostly there were a number that were just too big, too complicated, and too difficult to deal with in terms of content.   They were multiple panel pieces which were based on grids of large gelatin silver prints that I had then over painted with oil paint.  They were difficult to print as photos because they were so large, hard to set up to paint and then really hard to paint because of their complexity and size.  They were hard to photograph and frame, and very difficult to show people because of the multiple panels.   Most were done in the early 90's. 
Bird with Hand 75" x 52"   
Some of them are quite beautiful.  As I stood and looked at these images I was in awe of the young woman who, 20 years ago, put her entire heart and soul into tackling these big, difficult paintings to create something that she had never seen before. Those were the days when I would stay up until 2:00 in the morning, trying to finish the piece, and would then continue to paint as I slept so that I would wake up exhausted that next day, still trying to resolve the problems I had encountered the night before.  I pulled a few out of the destroy pile that I just couldn't bear to see go under, and then slowly and carefully tore the rest up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Woman with Shining Light 1986

The under-photograph that this image is painted on is of a friend of mine named Karen Mountain. At the time the photo was taken, we were hiking in Utah, and had gone into some beautiful cliff dwelling  spaces.   The photo was of Karen walking through the soft, mounded dirt in the cave, blurry because of the long exposure.  As I worked, I couldn't make her figure work within the painting, but, gradually this figure started to emerge, completely obliterating Karen.  I was just finishing up when the phone rang. It was Karen, calling me from Texas.  She was crying, and having a hard time explaining to me what had happened.  Finally I came to understand that her boyfriend, Sam Baker, had been blown up while sitting in a train waiting to go to Machu Pichu.  The terrorist, a woman and a member of the Path of the Shining Light had placed a bomb in the overhead rack and it had gone off, severely injuring Sam and killing people all around him.

Recently, a friend, (on his way down to Mexico) and I were talking about the dangers of travel in Latin America and I mentioned this incident.  A few days later he sent me the following link: