Contemporary Art

Of Mountains and Oceans

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

Last January (over six months ago now), I woke up in the middle of the night with a couple of ideas for two very impractical paintings. As I explained in a previous blog, I don’t usually TRY to paint an impractical subject matter, because impractical ideas are often “hard sells” in Asheville. Because I am a full time painter in the River Arts District, I don’t have the luxury of a “public-opinions-be-damned” sort of attitude. If people don’t like my artwork or can't relate to it, they aren’t going to buy it. Does this make me a “sell out”? I’ll let the reader decide that, but the bank really likes it when I pay my mortgage. Thankfully, most of what I know sells off my walls is an absolute joy to create, so I really am not the “angsty” sort of artist. But every now and then, I just have to paint something whether or not I think it will sell. And thankfully, my wife Joy is wholly supportive of those times because it’s at these points I grow as an artist.

So last winter, I had in my head a view of a crashing wave and a craggy, snow-capped mountain. For the wave, I wanted to depict the violent force of the water slamming into the shoreline. The challenge for the wave was to depict movement and to keep the shapes “soft” and fluid. And I knew I had to apply the white paint LAST because white is a very opaque color of paint and because I’m painting on top of textured metallic leaf, I will ruin a painting if the paint is applied in a manner that blocks the light from penetrating the paint (so it can then bounce back off the metallic background layer). So I worked with varying shades of blues and greens for 90% of the piece, and then finally applied all the white at the very end.

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

For the mountain scene, I combined several photos of the Himalayan mountain peaks because, well…because if you want to do it right, you might as well use the tallest mountains in the world for inspiration, right? This one was a challenge simply because it’s basically shades of just three colors: Blue, black and white.

So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up.

Both of these pieces are “impractical” as far as my Asheville clientele simply because a couple from Poughkeepsie that are walking down the street to my art studio in Asheville will not talking with each other about “do you think he’ll have any paintings of the ocean or the Himalayas?” People generally want to purchase a painting to remind them of their trip to Asheville, so…these two pieces are in the impractical category.

That’s okay. I can totally live with that. But I have to say, after I hung these on the wall for their grand debut yesterday morning, they got all sorts of really positive attention all day long. So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up. Honestly, I’d like that very much!

"How do you decide what to paint?"

One of the questions I regularly get asked from visitors to my art studio in Asheville is “where do you get all these ideas to paint? Have you been to all these places?” My answer varies but basically, I explain that no, I have not necessarily been to all these places, though I have been to some of them and I’m always taking photos. “Oh,” they’ll respond, “so you work from photos then?” Yes. About half the things I paint are inspired by photos I’ve taken or received from a client. I find I especially lean on a photo if it’s a commissioned piece of art from someone who has something specific in mind. The rest of what I paint basically reflect the happy places in my head.

“Because this is my job, I have to paint

mostly what I think people will purchase…”

Because I’m a full-time artist, I need my work to sell so I’m always listening to the people that visit my studio (even when they’re whispering to each other — yes, I can hear you sometimes!). This is SUPER helpful to me because I know what is really resonating with people. When I paint something new and hang it on the wall and it gets a ton of attention, loud sirens and blinking red lights go off in my head: PAINT MORE LIKE THIS! So I do. Because this is my job, I have to paint mostly what I think people will purchase in my River Arts District art studio by visitors coming to Asheville for a vacation. So most of my paintings are local or generic scenes. That said, I’m most excited right now about two really impractical pieces of art I started thinking about last winter: A 3’ x 6’ single crashing wave and a 3’ x 5’ scene featuring a composition of towering, jagged Himalyan mountain peaks.

What does a crashing wave or jagged mountains have to do with Asheville, North Carolina? Nothing. “Don’t you want these to sell?” you ask. Well, yes I want them to sell but I don’t care if these two sell or not. See, every now and then, I think it’s important that you express something really personal and distinctly “you”, whether or not anyone else ever appreciates it. Maybe these paintings won’t sell, and that’s okay. That said, these two are thankfully getting a ton of attention as I’m working on them, so that’s really encouraging. I’ll post the completion photos here when the time comes.

Close up of silver leaf wave.

Close up of silver leaf wave.

Interior shot of my wave (with the first layer of paint) and the mountain scene.

Interior shot of my wave (with the first layer of paint) and the mountain scene.

One of my All-Time Heroes

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When we were living in Orlando, Florida, we discovered a museum in Winter Park that turned out to be a complete surprise to me. The Morse Museum houses the largest single collection of Tiffany stained glass anywhere in the world. To be honest, I had no real interest in stained glass at the time, and to me, I associated the name “Tiffany” with expensive jewelry. But from the moment I entered this museum, I was completely blown away by the unbelievable beauty of the glass. This was pure art and I was completely unprepared by the beauty of it all.

One of the things about being a full-time artist with an open art studio, is that you hear all sorts of comments from visitors to Asheville’s River Arts District. Thankfully, most of the comments I get are really kind and very encouraging. Some comments are not very kind though, and honestly even if I get one negative comment out of a hundred, that one comment can bother me. But what would it do to the emotional nature of an artist if he or she never really made a profit from their lifetime of art-creating and if a lot of their creations were simply unnoticed or completely unappreciated? I know I’d crumble.

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But this is exactly what I appreciate about Louis Comfort Tiffany as a man. He produced countless stained glass windows and lamps and he never did make a profit. How can you keep producing and actually improving in your creativity and your craft and not be making a profit? I have no idea, but that’s exactly what Tiffany did. Don’t get me wrong, some people recognized the incredible beauty of what this man was creating, but not nearly enough. There are stories about how people would purchase his stained glass windows at auction and pull out the glass and discard it, keeping only the leading so they could sell it. Unbelievable.

How can you keep producing and actually improving in your creativity and your craft and not be making a profit?

And in 1902, President Roosevelt had all the Tiffany windows in the White House removed (because they looked so “dated”).

The fact that this incredible artist/craftsman was able to forge on and keep going, and keep growing and keep creating his art is absolutely amazing to me. But this all just really makes me sad to think he never really was appreciated. That he did not rely on being appreciated says a whole lot about him. He is my hero.


The Best Complement I've Ever Received

A couple weeks ago, a woman from New Jersey entered my art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District and unknowingly paid me just about the highest compliment anyone could give me, exclaiming to her husband, “Oh, this guy’s artwork reminds me of Monet. It’s like neo-impressionism!” (I didn’t even know that was a word!) Compared to some of the things people say (like, “I think these are photos he’s somehow dipping into glass”), this comment made me smile deep inside. Monet has long been my hero. What he did with his oil paint was magical. The color variations, the light, the texture and the compositions of his work are (in my opinion) second to none.

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The Story Behind the Series

One of my all time favorite series of paintings he did has to be the Poplar series from the summer and fall of 1891. If you’re not familiar with this series, there’s kind of a fun story behind them. It seems the trees were growing in a marsh on the banks of the Epte River, just south of Monet’s home in Giverny, France. Each day he painted, he got into his small boat and rowed upstream to his floating painting studio (for the record, I would love a floating painting studio!) that was moored there in the river, with the poplars in the background, planted in a single row by the waters edge, forming a graceful S-curve with the river. According to the story, when he was about half done with the series, the trees were put up for auction and were about to be purchased by a lumber merchant. Undaunted, Monet decided to purchase the trees himself so he could finish his paintings. Upon completion, he did sell them to the lumber merchant who had wanted them in the first place, and I assume they were turned into pencils or furniture not long after that. 

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I love this story because it hints at a familiar obsessiveness about creating. The thought of him thinking “well, I’ll just buy the trees so I can finish my paintings!” just cracks me up but I love it and I’m so glad he bought those poplar trees. I do wish I could visit the Epte River and see that line of poplars now. The trees themselves may be long gone but they will live forever in his work. 

"Frankenstein-ing" a painting

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One afternoon last autumn, Joy and I had a hankerin’ (Southern for “urge”) to pack a picnic and watch the sunset. So we stopped at the store and grabbed what is now “standard picnic fare”: a roasted chicken, whole wheat rolls, potato salad, a bottle of decent wine and Pim’s (for dessert). It was somewhat cloudy that day but the afternoon seemed clearer than the morning, so this was one of those evenings I wasn’t sure about the weather but it was still worth taking a chance. In short, it was wonderful (but cloudy). We drove up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed south (toward Smoky Mountain National Park). About a half hour drive from Asheville, we found a good west-facing turn out and parked the car and feasted, enjoying the muted sunset and the peace and quiet of the place. I took several photos, always hoping for the sun to break through but alas, that evening the sun was a “no show”.

That’s the really great thing about being an artist: we get to “play God” every now and then…

That’s how it goes sometimes. I had what I thought was a great composition in my photos but just not the perfect lighting because of the clouds. So, in looking at my photos afterwards, I concluded it was the right composition for a painting but the wrong sky. What to do, what to do…

That’s the really great thing about being an artist: we get to “play God” every now and then. It occurred to me that I could use an older photo of a really beautiful sunset I had taken on my walk home from my art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. The sunset was gorgeous, but the foreground was the French Broad River (nice enough) and the New Belgium brewery (also, nice enough but…uh…not “painting” worthy. So…I decided this was a chance to do a bit of artistic “Frankenstein-ing”: taking a bit of this and a bit of that and combining it into one piece, add 10,000 volts of electricity (just kidding) and VIOLA! IT’S ALIVE! (Just kidding.)

So the photo of the painting you see pictured here is from two very separate experiences I had with nature. One in May of 2017 and one in September 2018. There. Now you know my secrets. I unabashedly (and quite regularly) combine foregrounds, midgrounds and backgrounds of photos I take (or find) and create (with the addition of 10,000 volts of electricity — just kidding) a new and unique piece of art.

That’s how we roll here. That’s how we roll.

The Big Reveal

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

For months now, I’ve been concocting a new type of artwork. I wanted to create a new type of painting that was dynamic rather than static; a painting that billowed out from the wall rather than lie flat against a wall. I’ve shared the earliest experiments here in an earlier post, the early development of those experiments and some problems I had along the way. Now finally, my first “Sails” piece is hanging in my studio and it’s even better than I’d originally planned.

I had thought I’d just create different shapes of “sails” mounted into a hardwood “rail” top and bottom (see photos below). That was where the first experiment ended and I liked them but had yet another idea that sprouted out of this one: What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that? How would you mount them? Ahhh…questions to answer and problems to solve!

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

As it turned out, mounting them at different angles to each other was somewhat of a simple problem to solve, and the result is something much more dynamic (in my opinion) and much more visually interesting (again, in my opinion). I can imaging this type of artwork running down a 40’ corridor or across the lobby of a hotel or bank. I can also see these in a contemporary home.

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This is the thing I love about creativity. These are made using exactly the same steps as any of my landscape paintings (though you’d never know it). The only difference is that I’m painting on a flexible panel and I’m mounting it to the wall on slotted rails.

What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that?

So my first experiment for 2019 is complete. I have two other experiments to tackle this year (as soon as I finish a few more commissions — they come first). So the next time you’re wondering around the streets of Asheville’s awesome River Arts District, please come and visit my studio, take a look at these pieces and let me know what you think! Cheers!



Making the Most of Mistakes

Step One: Texture Application

Step One: Texture Application

As a full-time artist residing in Asheville, North Carolina with an open art studio in the River Arts District, I am pretty much used to hearing every question about my artwork that I can imagine. That said, one question from a young artist just the other day caught me by surprise: “Do you ever make a mistake with your artwork, and if so, how do you not just get completely discouraged?”

Oh my gosh, my whole technique and process was built on top of mistake after mistake. Even the subject matters I paint are informed by past mistakes. Yes, if you’re a creative person, mistakes can be unnerving. That’s because we want to be perfect. I want something beautiful and brilliant to just flow out of me naturally, with little effort. I also want to fly, but neither scenario is possible. If you are a person who has given yourself to honing your create craft, then you know the little irritating secret: mistakes are our friends. The whole notion that “there are no mistakes with art” is utter nonsense. Progress is built because of mistakes, not in spite of them. (And yes, you may quote me.)

Just yesterday, one such mistake happened with a new idea I’ve been working on. I have upcoming “sail” artwork in the making. I say “upcoming” because I’m still in the experimental stages of developing it. I say “sail” because they will bow out from the wall rather than lay flat against the wall. Why would I do this? Oh, just because I think it could be really cool! But a couple months ago, I applied a flexible medium for texture to my 1/8” flexible panel and yesterday, I unwrapped a set of them (after about six weeks of being wrapped in brown paper to protect it) and realized that the flexible texture is not sticking to the panel. I stared at it with angst (naturally) and immediately went into the problem-solving mode. Either texture material is wrong, or the panel itself is the wrong material. So tomorrow, I will begin another prototype and trash the first one.

…keeping a playful heart when dealing with adversity is the key to ultimate success…

Do I feel frustrated? Depressed? Like a failure? NO! This is exciting. Seriously, I love this because eventually, I’ll figure it out. It’s really not rocket science, it just requires experimenting and playing. And play is fun.

So the moral of this story (which probably applies to everyone (artists and non-artists alike) is this: Getting something right the first time does not matter like you think it does. I think that keeping a playful heart when dealing with adversity is the key to ultimate success with whatever we’re trying to accomplish. And who knows, with enough creativity and playful experimenting, we really WILL fly.

Exploring Austin Galleries, Part 2

My wife Joy and I delivered a painting recently to some clients of mine in Austin, Texas. It was so nice to see the home my painting would become a part of (it was magnificent by the way!). After the delivery, we spent the day exploring several of the art galleries in town. The first gallery we visited was amazing. If you have not read my post on that visit, please click here first, then return to read the balance of this post, because that post will have a very different tone than this.

When we left that first gallery, I was really excited about what else Austin had to offer. Granted, we did not see every other art gallery in town, but we did see several and honestly, the rest left me feeling really frustrated. I hope it’s okay I say that but it’s really the truth. I know a lot of people who just do not visit art galleries any more because they think they obviously just don’t “get” art (because of some bad experiences with it in the past). If you are one of those people, I get it. If I could do anything, I’d just want to encourage you to keep exploring the art around you. Art is the voice of the culture, and so it’s really important. That said, the voice I heard singing the rest of the day in Austin was pretty off-key, and left me not only discouraged, but really frustrated.

Why frustrated? Well, if you want someone to appreciate your 12” x 18” piece of artwork priced at $8500, don’t make it something that looks like anyone could do it. There. I said it. In my opinion, really great art should wield the power of mystery. It should force you to wonder “Oh my gosh, how did they DO that?”. Over and over again though, the rest of the day in Austin, I was confronted with a lot of art that honestly left me thinking “If I had two hours and the right materials, I could make this myself”. Granted, I am an artist too, but still, if you are going to charge several thousands of dollars for something that I’m pretty sure I could recreate in 120 minutes, something is wrong (isn’t it???).

“With any painting, that skill is what you’re paying for.”

I am an artist in Asheville, North Carolina and I have an open studio there in the River Arts District. People come into and out of my studio all day long and so I hear a lot of comments. There are plenty of people who do not like my artwork (I can hear them making comments since I’m standing right there). So I totally understand that everyone has different taste in art and that’s totally fine. And because of that, some people will value types of art that I do not. But if an artist is going to charge several thousand dollars for a painting, whether I like that style or subject matter, I would hope I’d appreciate the skill involved. With any painting, that skill is what you’re paying for. I don’t like a lot of abstract art. I don’t like cubism. I don’t care for a lot of Pointillism. But I can appreciate the skill involved in the creation of abstract, cubist and pointtalist art. In other words, you don’t need to enjoy ANY type of artwork. But if it’s well-crafted artwork, whether you like it or not, you should be able to appreciate the skill involved.

This is just my opinion, but I feel pretty strongly about it. But if you disagree, that’s fine. And if you disagree strongly enough, I can spend a couple hours creating a mock art piece and charge you $8500. Hmmmm. This could be the start of a new creative direction for me!

Exploring Austin Galleries, Part 1

We’ve been spending the winter months in Dallas, TX so while there, we really wanted to visit the state capital, Austin (mostly because we heard it was a lot like Asheville). I had a list of galleries we planned to visit and while most of what we saw was really frustrating (see next blog entry), the exception was the Guo Aihe exhibit at the Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery. Understand, I may be unique in the way I view and judge art, but what really grabs me is when I see a painting and wonder “Oh my gosh! How the HECK did they do that?” See, to me, that mystery is what captivates me.

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When Joy and I entered the Russell Collection gallery, we were warmly greeted by a young Chinese man and woman who explained what it was we were looking at. Rather than being pushy salespeople, they were merely informing us and I really appreciated that. Turns out his father comes from a village of artisans in China and he produced all the art on display in this exhibition. When we entered, I thought we were looking at lacquered paintings, but I was wrong. They were each ceramic paintings, glazed with extraordinary color; luminous, shiny, bright (see why I was attracted to them???). I commented about the amazing color and was told that when the color is applied, it’s applied as a ceramic glaze, i.e. EACH color looks like a brick red slurry. How that uniform monotone slurry turns into the intricate coloration I saw in each exquisite piece utterly baffles me. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness, and that I was only a poser. I don’t mean that in a self depecating way but in a (I think) really healthy, humble way. This was really unique to me. I’ve never seen anything at all like this and oh my gosh, if you’re anywhere near Austin, you should visit this gallery.

I am an oil painter in Asheville, North Carolina (which BTW is still way cooler than Austin). I have an open art studio there and meet people from all over the country on a daily basis. And it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent with what I do. But it truly is not often that I see artwork that really causes me to pause and wonder. What I saw in Austin (at the Russell Collection gallery) did. No other gallery hit me this way on this trip, but I’ll spill my angst in my next blog.

Progress!

I was bored yesterday and read one of my old blogs. I’m laughing at myself right now! I mean, how bored does a person have to get to re-read their own blogs?? Actually, I was just checking my post “Looking Back and Looking Ahead” and I was kind of excited. It’s just over a month ago I wrote that post, and I’ve already started tackling the goals I listed.

I mentioned first that I wanted to get into more art galleries. That’s important, because although I have an art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District, having your work in other places increased the chance that something will sell. It just makes sense. I do have a gallery (Hanni Gallery) in Harbor Springs, Michigan that I’ll sending my work to and I’m curious about it. It’s in a great location. I’ve been to that part of the state and it’s really beautiful and draws lots of tourists. So we’ll see.

I’ve also had several art galleries recommended to me in Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas. I’ll be headed back out to my Texas studio soon and will be visiting galleries while I’m there.

The next point on my “goals” list had to do with connecting with designers and art reps. I do have a good lead in Dallas that a client of mine in Asheville (an art consultant) recommended I contact, so I’ll reach out to them while I’m there as well. But I’m really searching for art consultants that can connect me to corporate art opportunities. So I only have one lead so far, but that’s a start anyway.

The last point on my “goals” list had to do with finishing my “sails” paintings and I’ve nearly done that and I’m really excited about the potential there. I just last night poured a single layer of resin on three of the panels and when I checked this morning, though the piece was sealed and high gloss, it was still flexible enough for it to do what I want it to do (billow out from the wall). I’ll be hanging all three of my prototypes on my Asheville studio wall in early March and then I want to start working on a larger piece with multiple, overlapping panels. Isn’t this fun?

This winter has been amazing so far. More sales and more commissions than I’ve ever had. I am so, so thankful for peoples interest in my work. It’s so humbling and gratifying, and it enables me to keep dreaming and scheming and planning and creating (i.e. doing all the things I love to do). Enough for now. I should really get back to painting…