Art Gallery

Recent Projects on my Plate

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My gosh, the life of an artist is so much fun, but can be really busy this time of year! I’m so thankful for that! I’m still amazed I can do what is (for me) the most fun thing I can think of doing and be able to make a living doing it.

Currently, I’ve got twelve paintings in various stages of creation that will end up in my open art studio / gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District. These are mostly local landscapes with a few “generic” themed landscape pieces. When I paint for my studio, I have to consider the fact that visitors are mostly tourists that would like a piece of art to remind them of their trip to Asheville. I’ve learned over the years that venturing too far off the path (of local themed paintings) is not a great idea if I want the art to sell (and I do).

And so far, I have six commissions lined up for a January start date! Here are my assignments:

1) 44” x 72” piece that depicts the view off the back deck of my clients house near the tip of Long Island, NY. This will feature some trees in the foreground, and wetlands with cattails and fishing docks in the mid-ground and the sparkling water of the bay in the background.

2) I have a 24” x 72” piece that is a panorama of woodlands at the tail end of summer, so the trees will be mostly green leafed, but with a hint of gold and rust thrown in here and there.

3) 12” x 35” spray of orchids. This will be fun and challenging because the orchids will be built up and sculpted onto the canvas, then covered with the aluminum leaf and paint.

4) Two 8” x 10” paintings of birch trees during summer and autumn (to go with another two I did last year for this client featuring birch trees in spring and winter) so this will make a complete four seasons group.

5) A 36” x 36” painting depicting a scene from the Netherlands. My clients are using their own photo for this one (I love it when people feel the freedom to do that!)

6) A 24” x 40” painting featuring a scene on the Biltmore Estate of an old oak tree overhanging the French Broad River in autumn.

So that’s what’s on my plate right now. That should be enough to keep me busy and out of trouble for a while anyway! Huge thanks to everyone that has asked for commissions! I’m offering a 20% discount on any commission ordered now but that I can start after the holidays. So if you’d like to own one of my paintings at a discount, now’s the time to inquire about it!

Okay, enough blogging. I obviously have to get back to painting!

Planning for a Second Studio Location!

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This winter, I will be doing the preliminary set up for a second art studio…in TEXAS! I love mountains or wild seascapes, so I never, ever thought I’d be excited about being in Texas but here’s the thing…three of my four kids are there and seven of nine grandchildren are there, and Joy and I have the opportunity to set up shop right there with them all. We’ll still be keeping Asheville, North Carolina as our home base, and St.Claire Art studio in the River Arts District will still be open there, but parts of the year (corresponding to slower tourist seasons in Asheville), we’ll be painting in Texas.

I’m excited about two things related to this: first of all, I absolutely love the idea of being close to our family, and second, this opens up new opportunities for galleries in the central U.S. and Rocky Mountain states.

…finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party…

I’ve always wanted to find gallery representation in that part of the country, but being on the east coast, it’s just too far away to realistically explore. And finding the ear of a gallery owner takes either a personal visit by the artist, or a connection via a third party who knows the artist and the gallery owner. This second option happened to me just this summer. There is a gallery Elk River, Michigan (on the north-west coast) that will be carrying my work in the spring and I’m really excited about it! I’ve been to that area and it’s gorgeous — and it’s frequented by tourists. This opportunity came about because a client of mine that lives in that part of Michigan knew a gallery owner and she played matchmaker, and I’m so appreciative whenever that happens because it makes my job so much easier!

So if anyone out there in cyber-land knows of galleries I’d fit into in the central US and Rocky Mountain states, please let me know! This spring, I’ll be ready. :)

What makes art "Art"?

“Red Triangle”  Francois Pelletier, 2003

“Red Triangle” Francois Pelletier, 2003

Imagine one afternoon not long ago, you were visiting a rather famous art museum. Some of the art, you felt like you understood and you were feeling pretty proud of yourself. And then…you came into the “modern art” wing and and saw there, at the end of a long hallway, the huge master work by French painter Francois Pelletier “The Red Triangle”. Imagine please that this was your first time seeing this piece (maybe it is?). If that was/is the case, what is your visceral reaction? It’s okay to be honest. We’re all friends here. Many people (we’ll call them “Group One”) express that they have felt and received the message Pelletier was trying to convey and others (Group Two) laughed at the people in Group One, so whatever your reaction, you’re probably right.

What makes art “Art”? Do you know? Is there an actual answer anymore? See, what makes art “Art” depends upon several sometimes conflicting assumptions. Is “Art” beautiful? Sometimes, but not always? Is it disturbing? Sometimes but not always? Is it serious, whimsical, deep or meaningless? I know people who would answer with a resounding “YES!” to each of these descriptions of what makes art “Art”. Eventually, you get to the point where everything and anything at all is art if you “think” it is.

But honestly, I think that is only possible because today in western culture, we’re not allowed to have any form of “measurement” when it comes to measuring the value of art. I don’t mean that we’re not given any form of measurement, I mean we’re not “allowed” any. But if that is correct, then art (and artists) really are in a completely unique category.

Imagine you were planning a trip to France and you went to TripAdvisor to see what were the “must see’s” in France. The Louvre had five stars, Eiffel Tower had five stars, the restroom in front of Nortre Dame - five stars, the bus from the Arc de Triomphe to the main train station — five stars. And then you notice that every point of interest, every restaurant, every hotel had five stars. Well of course they do, it’s Paris, right? But seriously, if there was no judgement being exercised by anyone rating on TripAdvisor at all, if everything they rated was given five stars, what sort of help would that be? And do you really think that the bus from the Arc de Triomphe to the main train station “DESERVES” five stars? But “who are you to judge?”

So if there are not standards at all (and our post-modern western civilization tells us there are not), then is there such a thing as real art? Beautiful music? Skillful poetry and prose? Masterfully executed films? If your answer is yes, then how can our post-modern assumptions be correct? And if the answer is no, then how can we live in a world like that? Can you?

I’d love your input on this one. No judging here. This topic is a pretty big one and I will not pretend to be the ultimate authority here. It’s just my blog, that’s all. :)

Beauty in the Center of the Pit

Let me first say that if someone by chance is reading this blog, you probably already know I’m an oil painter in Asheville’s River Arts District. I paint some abstract pieces (great therapy!) but mostly I paint local landscapes. For the record, my favorite time of the day to depict in a painting is dawn or dusk, because the light is perfect, and my favorite time of the year to depict is probably autumn, because again…the light. I love trying to capture that moment in a day that may only last a couple minutes and then it’s gone — that time when the sun colors the clouds crimson and orange and the world feels like it’s holding it’s breath, waiting for the first cricket to begin it’s song. In short, I love depicting the awesome beauty of this place.

This week though has been really difficult for me and I need to write about it. So this blog entry will really be more like a journal entry. I need to get write this down or I’ll pop.

“I’m not afraid”.

I got a phone call from my 92 year old dad last week and it sounded like he had the flu, so he went to the hospital. As the days of last week slowly ticked by, we found that he has a large tumor in his colon and it’s nearly blocking the whole thing. I know what this means, and my dad does too. I knew he wasn’t going to live forever but “that day” was (in my mind) always off in the future. Grief and fear are really interesting. Most of the time, I steel my heart and I’m fine. But then there are waves that are too large, and they knock me off my feet. My plan was that my dad would live the end moments in my home. But he’s in Dallas and I’m in Asheville and this snuck up on us by surprise. By Tuesday, when they get the biopsy results back, we’ll be able to make a plan. For now, we wait.

Suddenly now, I remember all the ways I disrespected my dad (he wasn’t perfect — surprise!) and caused him pain with my words and my own brokenness, and that regret can be crippling. But when I talk to him now, I can tell none of that matters to him at all. He just loves me and wants me to know he’s not at all afraid. For him, this is the final logical step one has to take to meet his Maker, who loves him, and my dad takes that very seriously. Yesterday (through many tears) I read Psalm 91 to him…

”Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday…”

I was crying but he was encouraged. “I believe that Steve”, he said strongly. So do I.

I don’t know how long he has. Maybe days or weeks? Maybe months or years? No idea. But this is grief and I guess it’s time I become familiar with it and let it become fuel for my creativity as the waves wash over me. What does grief and creating artwork have in common? If done right, I think they are very much connected because they’re both real and honest. I found myself painting some pieces of art this week that I’m really proud of and excited about, not as a diversion from the grief and fear but because of it, propelled along by it. Strange thing.

Alright. I feel better now at least getting that much down. I promise I will not regularly use this blog to vent regarding this. But this was therapeutic.

SURVEY: GLOSSY OR SATIN

Even before I became a full-time oil painter in Asheville's River Arts District, I was developing a unique way to create a painting using dimension, both in the build-up of the composition and in the finish (which has mostly been using a thick, high-gloss, solar-resistant resin). In fact at this point, I think I'm probably known for that "shiny" resin finish. I like it a lot. It allows me to embed flecks of gold that are essentially "floating" above the surface of the actual painting.

That said, my largest commissions over the last couple of years have been with a satin varnish finish, which leaves all the texture visible (and touchable) and is not nearly as reflective as the high gloss resin. And I'm really liking the results of that finish as well.

Lately, I have more and more people asking about the satin finish and so I'm thinking I need to listen.

And so I'm asking for your brutally honest opinion:

Would you suggest I continue to produce paintings with a high gloss resin finish or would you honestly prefer a softer finish that leaves more of the texture showing and is much less reflective? You won't hurt my feelings either way and on the contrary, you'll really help me decide what direction I need to go now.  (SEE PHOTOS BELOW FOR EXAMPLES OF BOTH)

HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

HIGH GLOSS FINISH USING RESIN

SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

SATIN FINISH USING SYNTHETIC (NON-YELLOWING) VARNISH

So, what do you think? One or the other, some of both? Mostly one, some of the other? I'm really open to listening. If you could leave your opinion below (so they're all consolidated in one place), that would really be appreciated! Thank you!

On the Brink of a Huge Failure

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It's Sunday, and traditionally a day of rest. And it IS restful today for me, but last Sunday...my head was in a very different place, and that place was not at all pretty. I was basically a basket case. Let me explain...

A couple months ago, my son (who was visiting Maui with his wife at the time) emailed me from Lahaina and says "Dad, there's a gallery owner over here that wants you to contact him!". I was not familiar with the gallery (or Lahaina for that matter) but apparently, because Hawaii does not charge sales tax for artwork purchased, it's become an art destination. And apparently, some the THE top-dollar galleries in the world are on Front Street running through the town of Lahaina. So, I contacted the owner of the gallery and ended up sending him two of my paintings. They are now hanging on his gallery wall there. But he then asked for three more pieces ASAP. Understand, these three paintings (of water lilies) have GOT to be amazing. Awesome. Unrivaled. Because, if this gallery picks me up as one of their artists...that's a total game-changer for me. It makes what I consider now as the artistic "big leagues" look like the pee-wee league. It's absolutely amazing (and humbling) that my paintings are even being considered for representation there.

So all that to say, these paintings are potentially VERY important. And last Saturday afternoon when I left the studio, they looked horrible.

The paintings had turned the corner.

I didn't sleep many hours at all that night. So after church on Sunday morning, Joy was okay with us heading over to the studio to look that these paintings with fresh eyes. To be honest, they actually looked a bit better than I'd remembered from the night before. So we prayed, and asked for artistic and creative insight. And we looked at these paintings afresh and figured out what to do next. I spent about an hour that Sunday afternoon a week ago implementing the ideas we came up with and...when I left that afternoon to enjoy the rest of my "day of rest" at home, I left a bit encouraged. The paintings had turned the corner. 

So now a week later, I honestly think these three paintings may well leave my studio as my favorite pieces I've ever done. Imagine that. How ironic it was I was really thinking I'd failed just one week ago.

There's a moral to this story I think. Maybe it's up to you to apply it to your own life and situation right now. Your input at this point would be awesome! I'd love to hear what you think!

"The Trail That Never Ends"

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About a month ago, I had some really nice visitors to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. They spent some time looking at all my landscape oil paintings and approached me as I was painting at my work station up front. They asked me if I ever did commissions (I LOVE COMMISSIONS!) and after talking them through the process, they gave me a photo of theirs which was taken somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. I was excited to be able to honestly say I’ve now tackled the A.T. 

“it just kept going and going and going...”

This trail is infamous and wonderful. One friend of mine tried to hike it a few years ago and the main complaint was “it just kept going and going and going”. Yes. It goes on forever. 

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, it criss-crosses through twelve states along the eastern seaboard.

Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four makes it all the way. A typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T.

I’ve not actually hiked much of the A.T. but some of my very favorite vistas are on the trial: Max Patch and Roan Mountain. If you’re in North Carolina (or…Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine), it’s definitely worth exploring. And in the meantime, enjoy the painting!

Inspration Begets Inspiration

I received a wonderful gift the other day...a poem. This wasn't just any poem though. This poem, entitled "Portal" was written by a client of mine who had recently purchased one of my paintings and apparently, the painting (my creative expression) inspired his own creative expression (the poem). I love that!

As an artist in the River Arts District, I deal with so many really great people. They're perusing Asheville's various art galleries and art studios because they enjoy art and want to meet the artists. Art becomes the common ground between strangers here, and even if we differ in regards to background, race, religion, or politics, we can come together with art. Art is magical that way I think.

I love the idea of one genre of creative expression inspiring another, so that creativity bounces from one head/heart to the next and how far it eventually goes? Who knows, but it's exciting the think about. As far back as our exploration of history goes, creative expression has always been linked to the homo sapien. I really like that!

So without any further written expression on my part, let's get to the written expression that inspired this particular blog post:

 

Portal

By Ray Griffin

29 May 2018, Asheville, North Carolina

 

The day has been quite unsettled

with shifting clouds and continual gentle rains.  

I, too, am restless as I sit on pier’s edge.  

The Sangiovese soothes my senses

as descending clouds begin to encroach

upon lake’s placid domain.  

 

All is quiet

except for the occasional call of the loon.  

I skip-a-stone

across water’s surface

just to create movement and sound

upon its liquid sheet of glass.  

I relish the moment.

My eyes follow the ripples

until they disappear into the misty void.

 

The fog thickens

as the sole cry of a hawk, unseen,

pierces the silence

echoing off of the nearby mountains.

 

I take my bottle, drinking from its neck,

and settle into my red canoe.  

Slowly, I paddle towards the morphing void.  

As I pass through its edge 

the pier disappears.

 

I place the paddle at my feet. 

The eerie quietness of the moment

is disturbed only by the gentle lapping

of the lake upon my craft.  

I am adrift in my thoughts... 

 

Sol briefly

pierces storm’s grey veil

pathway

though opacity

provides for poetic transparency

Where it Began

"Autumn Reflections", April 2012

"Autumn Reflections", April 2012

When I was a kid, I used love to look through my grandparent's old photo album. In it, were scary photos of dead ancestors -- dressed very smart, unsmiling, staring into the camera. Something about the thought that "I am related to these people -- this is where I came from" kept drawing me back to that old book of ancient photos.

I thought of that memory just the other day, as I looked back at the first first photos I posted on my (then brand new) Facebook page. Wow. I cringed and laughed out loud. I found myself staring at the very first painting I had shared back in 2012, "Autumn Reflections". This was one of the very early "landscape" pieces I had done using my new technique I called "Dialuminism" ("Light Passing Through"). See, when I started working with painting atop aluminum leaf and finishing with resin, I was doing all abstracts. Separately, I was painting small quasi-impressionistic landscape scenes, but I really wanted to figure out how to paint landscapes using the tools of dialuminism but I had no idea how to coax the materials and ingredients to create what I wanted to create. The painting I'm showing here was my first attempt at a landscape. I had so much fun with it (and these new reflective landscapes were SELLING!), that I quit doing my more typical oil painted landscapes and jumped head long into my technique, using dialuminism for every piece I did. It became my trademark.

I enjoy seeing where I come from. I was all about ancestors long before ancestor.com. I like seeing progression. It's fun. And I thought it would be entertaining to share that progression with other people. I hope you're enjoying the ride as much as I am!

"Until Tomorrow", July 2018

"Until Tomorrow", July 2018

World View #8: Post Modernism

"The Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp

"The Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp

I'm an oil painter in Asheville, North Carolina and I love living here. It's a unique little city. Asheville is an odd little cultural "melting pot". It attracts bohemians, artists, hippies, and hikers. To a great extent, we're a cool version of "the Island of Misfit Toys". Asheville is a southern American town with a handful of "locals" who were born here, and the rest of the population are transplants from all over the country. The vibe of the town, the beauty of the surroundings, the art, music (and craft beer) scene -- this is what draws people here (it's not the job opportunities!).  This makes Asheville a really interesting place to live, because you live your life amongst people who all have different views on things political, social and spiritual but (for the most part) respect the right of their neighbors to hold their own views. In fact, the only thing people here seem not to tolerate is intolerance. That sentiment leads us right into our next (and last) world view: Post Modernism.

To be accurate, a post-modernist would say that post modernism is NOT in fact a world view, but an “anti-world view". They would say that no single narrative is able to make sense of all our little cultural stories. In other words, "worldviews" are now out of fashion (which in itself is a world view).

Per this world view, there is absolutely no absolute truth.

Because our world views create the sense of how we interpret life here on this planet, how we make sense of everything we experience, a post modernist would assert we all create our own reality, and that it's pointless to try to convince anyone else that your particular "take" on things is the correct "take" on things. Post modernism would insist that there is no authoritative "take" on anything.  

Per this world view, there is absolutely no absolute truth. Yes, I wrote that sentence that way intentionally, because it points out to me the weakness of this world view. To say there is no absolute truth is in itself an absolute truth claim, so when I say "there is NO absolute truth", I'm contradicting the very assertion I'm making.  But because of the abuses of power by all who have held the previous world views discussed (see earlier blog posts), post modernists  distrust of all authority and dogmatism.  And if you listen to people speaking around you (from the news on TV to social media), you'll notice that the phrase "I believe this is right or true" has been replaced by "I feel this is right or true". I.e. post modernism appeals to our "gut" rather than reason and logic based on an accepted set of principles we regard as absolute truth.

Because of this, tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have all the answers are the only universal values. And honestly, that sounds really good but...but it's a world view of contradictions.

Consider the following conversation between two friends:

Sam:  "I don't think you should do it. It's not right.

Tom:  "I think I should have the right to do whatever I want to do."

Sam:  "I just don't think it's right."

Tom:  "You're just pushing your morality on me. It's YOUR morality. Not mine. You're just judging me. Who are you to tell me I'm wrong?"

Sam:  "Wait, so you think judging people is wrong?"

Tom:  "Of course judging people is wrong. Everyone knows that."

Sam:  "So you think I'm doing something wrong when I'm judging people?"

Tom:  "Yes, of course you're wrong when you judge people."

Sam:  "But you're judging me. I think I should have the right to do whatever I want to do. What if I want to judge? Who are you to tell me I'm wrong?"

Logic like that is really hard to debate. So I personally find post modernism really frustrating and most difficult to scrutinize, but it is an absolute truth (pun intended) that this world view has very deeply affected twenty first century culture.

And so, we've reached the end of our very over-simplified discussion of world views. Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Modernism, New-Age Pantheism and Post Modernism...these are the world views that have shaped the western civilization since time immemorial. And because of that fact, they have drastically affected the art produced by our culture.

So in light of all we've discussed, how do we use our knowledge of world views to understand art? I would suggest it boils down to asking two questions when we are exposed to artwork (painting, photography, ceramics, poetry, music):

1) What world view is it speaking from and to? The answer to that question has a whole lot to do with what is the artist is probably saying.

2) So in light of the answer to the first question...is there a message in the art and if so, what is it?

“BUT IS IT GOOD ART?”

I think that's a fair question to ask and a rather simple question to answer. Once we have at least some idea of what the artist is saying, I would consider one more point: What level of skill is involved in the execution of the art being considered?  I mean, do you look at the piece of art with any degree of wonder? (i.e. “Wow, how’d he or she do that?”)   

That’s it. You don’t have to be sophisticated to figure it out.  When my kids were little, we took them to a modern art museum. For the record, I wouldn't suggest this outing for most kids, but it was pretty hysterical. Everyone there looked like they were quietly viewing the artwork (one was a blob of red paint in the middle of an 8' square white canvas) with wrapped fascination. To me, it was so interesting just to watch the people. It really felt like a modern retelling of the story of the Emperor's New Clothes and I felt like the little kid that was laughing at the emperor because he was in fact naked (though everyone was acting like they saw such astute wisdom in the king's choice of royal finery). Everyone else in the museum was acting like they saw such wisdom and depth in the artwork on display. Into that scene, my kids come racing around the corner and shout (so embarrassing), "Mom! Dad! You gotta see the stuff in this room over here! It's even weirder than the stuff in this room!" There were gasps from the museum crowd. Truth hurts.

What level of skill is involved in the execution of the art being considered?

There's a true story about an art auction in New York some years ago. There was an abstract painting auctioned off for millions of dollars. It was prized for its frenetic energy and non-traditional use of color. It was later found out that it was painted by a gorilla. The interesting thing is that everyone was completely insulted to find this out and the buyers demanded their money back. This is fascinating. Was it good art or not? Everyone thought it was great before they found out it was painted by an ape. Again -- think "Emperor's New Clothes".

Look, bottom line is: If it’s good art, you can probably tell.

Since I'm obviously giving my opinion at this point in my blog series, let me go one step farther:

I don't believe that everything called art is art. There. I said it.

  • Just because it’s shocking doesn’t make it art. It may well be a visual expression. But unless there is skill involved, it is not art.
  • Just because it is clearly conveying a message doesn’t mean it’s art if it is not skillfully pulled off.
  • Just because no one else has thought of doing it doesn’t mean it’s art.

For what it's worth, I think good art says something TO the viewer (which is why we need to interpret the art in lieu of the artist's world view) or that art does something IN the viewer...and is skillfully done.

That’s it.