Monday, November 29, 2010

Art and Life: What Instigates Creativity?

"Art" as a label for what is in museums, galleries, etc. has been a source of contention and debate for many people for a long time. It hasn't always been this way. Historically, the label of "artist" has been only used for a few hundred years. Prior to the Renaissance in Western art, "artists" were not even known. They were simply craftsmen who filled orders for the church and were not even allowed to sign their work as it was intended to fill a strictly theological role. Nowadays, "what is art" is fodder for art books and late night discussions at art schools and hosts of other venues. Mostly, I hate this discussion because ultimately, for me, it is a matter of personal taste. There are so many people advocating so many schools of thought on this subject that there is an argument to defend anything as art. I just chalk up stuff I don't like or doesn't appeal to my sensibility as bad taste. Sure people can call it art but it's just art I don't like. Art is ultimately a label, albeit one that has lost its way and is far more subjective than say a "tomato" or "chain saw".

circa 2001, spit bite etching with soft ground

With that being said, I can only talk about how my work has evolved and how I view the creative process. I have always drawn landscapes in some capacity. Mostly, landscapes from life and mostly in a romantic/realistic vein. Back in the late 1980's and early 1990's when I was really applying myself to generating images and finding my style and voice, these landscapes were done from life, were heavily worked and reworked and generally took a long time. A long time then was a few weeks of sustained work on an etching plate. I loved the time consuming aspect of etching and still do. I have equated it to the work of a monk transcribing a manuscript. It is the transformation of physical labour into a spiritual act. The work is the enrichment. It is my devotion to a place and a time in that place. I was certainly after an image and a lot of work was devoted to making the image work. Composition, value range, texture, light and a host of other formal concerns were instrumental in the development of this body of work. But I really loved the PROCESS of putting the pieces together. The laying down of grounds, the etching times and the scraping back into the plate were as important to maintaining my connection to the work as the image. The work itself, exclusive of an end result, holds meaning.

"Banishment",2008/2009 oil and collaged etchings. One of the first landscape/
figure hybrids

Back in those days, I was not married and without the very broad responsibilities of being part of a family. So throughout the 1990's I generated about 50 or so of these very labour intensive landscape etchings. It still is by far the most productive era of my artistic life, in terms of raw output. In 2003, I got married and soon afterward started a family. This effectively put an end to these large landscape etchings. I simply had no time to get these done. About this time, I started painting much more. I also began the smaller line etchings of insects, birds and small landscapes. Looking back, I don't think I was searching for a new way of working or new imagery, it just simply evolved based on how my life evolved. I had no moments of angst or regret at how my art output slowed or that I was no longer able to do the involved landscape etchings. I was still making art, still reveling in all the things that drew me to the creative process of making pictures. I was simply adjusting my bearings based on where I was.

"False Modesty" 2007

The changes in my life are directly related to the changes in my work. A new group of images can be chronologically linked to momentous events present throughout my life and I think this will always be the case. A very interesting development in this awareness of how and why I create images is that, for the first time in my life, I think I am consciously aware of this phenomenon. Back in my twenties and early thirties I was so focused on getting things done that there was very little time for reflection. Now I can look at work over time, see this development and look FORWARD to how my work will inevitably change.

"Visitation" 2009

Soon my two kids will both be in school full time. This means five days a week I will have full days to work. Maybe I will teach, but I know that I will have a huge amount of daylight to spend in the studio. Will I go back to working on some of the old style landscape etchings? Will the paintings get bigger? Will the figures continue to pop up? I'm not sure. But I do know that I am around the corner from finding some of this out. It's kind of like waiting for Christmas morning.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My new favourite Painting

Being in new places has a multitude of advantages. One of these is the opportunity to encounter new art. This lovely little portrait by Lord Leighton is one of my regular stops whenever I visit downtown Christchurch. This will not be in many art books or on many lists of masterworks but it is such a beautiful piece of work I can't help but give it a disproportionate amount of my time during every visit to the art center here in town. I hope to post more of these little gems....

" by Lord Frederic Leighton 1874
25 centimeters x 35 centimeters

Sunday, November 7, 2010

America's Next Top Artist

In my early days (about 15 or so years ago), I entered a lot of competitions to build up my resume. An unforeseen perk of all this competition entering was I won a few prizes. "Cloudy Water, Tryon Creek" was my real go-to print back then and it got me a few hundred bucks, some pretty ribbons and a publication to boot. This particular print is drawn onto such a thin piece of copper that I could probably fold into a paper airplane without much trouble. It was the source of weeks of frustration and was almost abandoned until some fine friends at the now sadly departed, Inkling Studio in Portland, Oregon insisted I rescue it from the scrap heap and push it a little farther. I'm glad I listened to them.

Nowadays, I hardly ever enter these competitions. Primarily because they have an entry fee and they require you to ship work to the show's location. Both are expensive enterprises and I have gotten a bit more selective. One that I did enter recently was for "American Artist" magazine. Now this is a publication that I hardly ever look at but the prizes were really impressive and there was a separate category for printmaking. I knew that this was a magazine that heavily focused on painting and drawing and I figured my realistic style would have a chance in the quiet little print category. I ended up in third place which got me $500 worth of really nice printmaking paper and a bunch of other art supplies. Not bad for the thirty dollar entry fee....
The print I entered for this competition was another Tryon Creek print. I think by the time 2003 had rolled around (which is when I finished this print) I had been along every bank of Tryon Creek. A wonderful place to be sure, but beware of the stinging nettles!

Competitions can be good, but I am very, very selective about what I do these days. Look at the costs, the potential prizes and the exposure.