Oil paintings

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.

Commission Confusion

This last week, I had a visitor to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District who spent quite a bit of time looking at all my paintings I have displayed in my art studio/gallery. They walked around a couple of times, studying each piece. I just assumed they were an artist trying to figure out my technique, so I was politely quiet. :)

I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it…

After several minutes, they left, but then returned about an hour later and went back to a couple of landscape paintings I have hanging near the back of my studio. On my way to my “back of studio workspace (where I do the messy work), I briefly commented that if they had any questions, to be sure to ask. They nodded quietly and continued staring at my painting. That’s fine. After another ten minutes or so, they walked slowly by my front-of-studio workstation and watched me paint. So I got to talking with him just a bit and he said that he REALLY liked a couple of the paintings but was afraid they were both the wrong size for his space. So I recited my standard commissions speech:

“If you would like to commission a painting based on one of the paintings you like, I am very happy to revisit that idea in another size. I can even change it from a summer to an autumn scene or add some sun rays coming across the trees. I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it or I’ll sell it here and paint you another one. And I ship for free, which, since you live in New York, saves you having to pay the NC sales tax…”

“Oh no,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have you do that.”

I was fine with that, smiled and told him to have a great day and to make sure he comes back again next time he’s in town. But honestly, I don’t understand his reluctance to commission a painting. Did he want a “unique” painting? Or did he not want to spend the money for a “commissioned piece”? Or did he think a commissioned piece wouldn’t have the same “artistic energy” from me as a painting that came “from my own heart”? I didn’t ask because, well, I just never would.

Is it unique?

As far as being a unique painting, each one I do is a unique piece of art. I never just “copy” a painting of mine — I always tweak it so each one is unique, but I feel complete freedom to revisit a favorite theme (look up “Monet Water Lilies” or “Money St.Paul’s Cathedral” and see how many iterations he did of the same theme). If Claude can do it, so can I (that’s my reasoning). And honestly, when I try a new thematic idea and it works, when I have gone back and rework it, the new one always turns out better.

The cost of a commissioning a painting?

I never charge more for a commission. It’s exactly the same price as it would be if I just did it to hang on my studio wall and tried to sell it here.

Is a commissioned painting inferior to a piece that “came from the artists’ heart”?

No. Bottom line is that I just love painting. I don’t care what I paint. And commissioned pieces honestly have always been the most fun because I get to paint ALL SORTS OF THINGS I’d never be able to sell here in my Asheville art studio. For commissions, I’ve painted scenes from Scotland, Canada, the Swiss Alps, New Zealand, the canals of Venice, underwater fish “cyclone”, even a sunset over Antarctica. I absolutely love it when someone says something like “I have probably a crazy idea for a painting…” Right there, they have me hooked. Something new and try!

I hope my studio visitor comes back sometime and sees something he likes. But I would really get excited if he said, “okay, I don’t see exactly what I want so let me try to explain it and see if you can do it.”

I can do it, and I promise I’ll have a blast.

Only North Carolina?

“El Capitan” circa 2013

“El Capitan” circa 2013

A few years ago (before I moved to my current studio on Depot Street, I was in the Wedge Building in Asheville’s River Arts District. At that time, I was painting mostly local Western North Carolina mountain scenes — places that were within an hour or two drive from Asheville. I was beginning to sell well (much better than I’d ever thought I would or could) and I was really excited about what I was doing. I was selling artwork to people from the north as far as Maine and south as far as Florida, and from the east coast to the west coast.

Because my clients were from all over North America, the thought occurred to me that maybe I was unnecessarily limiting myself in my subject matter. My musings at the time went like this… “Since my art buyers are coming from literally all over the country, maybe I shouldn’t JUST paint local Western North Carolina landscapes. Maybe I should I branch out and paint some of the iconic scenes from all over the country.” ???

So I spent several months painting some of the most amazing landscapes this country has to offer. The painting I’m featuring on this blog post “El Capitan” is from that series. What I found though was that my sales shriveled to a small fraction of what they were before. Because I am dependent on making the most people happy as possible with my artwork, I gave up painting anything but generic or local North Carolina landscapes and…my sales went back to where they were before my little theme-based experiment. I learned something from that, although I confess I wish I could make a living painting more than JUST my own backyard. I love this part of the country, but this country is so huge and so beautiful — as an artist, I’d love to be able to paint all of it. But as a homeowner, I need to sell my artwork so I can pay my mortgage. So that has been my quandary.

So I write this blog post to ask for the opinions of anyone out there that might feel inclined to share…

1) Would you like to see at least some paintings that were not “North Carolina themed” and, if you could, would you be more inclined to purchase them than local themed paintings?

2) If you answered yes to question 1…What part of the country would you love to see depicted?

3) Do you have a favorite place in your own state that you would love to have depicted in a painting? Or have you visited somewhere in your travels that would make an awesome piece of art?

If the only artwork I can sell here in Asheville is North Carolina themed and generic landscapes, I’m content with that. I’m just wondering if I chose the wrong photos to work from or if the paintings I did back then just weren’t all that great (I hope I’m a better artist now than I was six years ago!). But I’d love your input. I really do listen. So thank you ahead of time for any opinion you have on the matter!

Thoughts on New Directions, New Possibilities

I'm an oil painter in the River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina. I love our spot in the Blue Ridge mountains. It's really a fun, dynamic and sometimes crazy little city here in Western North Carolina. I've been painting in a studio in the arts district for almost eight years now and in my current studio for three years this month. It's been amazing. I get to paint and talk to people interested in artwork all day long, five days a week.

It is very much in my personality (maybe it's a basic human tendency??) to think "this will last forever". I love to "pigeon-hole" things so that life looks organized. And as much as I love change, there is something almost intoxicating about the idea of stasis, you know? Predictability can be comforting. The trick for a person with an artistic-adventurous spirit like me to find the line between predictability and unplanned adventure. The balance between predictability and adventure, comfort and fun -- that is the goal.

Sometimes though, so many things can change so very quickly. This season I am entering looks like one of those seasons of change, and from where I sit, it all (thankfully) looks like very good change. There are possibilities of new interesting painting commissions here in Asheville, new painting themes, expansion of my technique with a variety of finishes on my work, expansion of my market with international art galleries and the development of a new part-time art studio in the Dallas area (where three of our four kids live).

So over the next few months, I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures (if they work out) and maybe some disappointments (if my expectations do not work out) but it may be a pretty interesting next several months. In the mean time, I will keep painting, keep my studio doors wide open and totally enjoy the fall season (traditionally the busiest time of our year).

 

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

A New Opportunity -- A New Idea

"Azure Spirals"

"Azure Spirals"

"Azure Spirals" close up

"Azure Spirals" close up

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, Tony Morton, connected me to 30a Home, an incredibly cool company in Oklahoma City that is both an interior design warehouse (furniture and furnishings) as well as top notch interior design resource, working with builders, designers, architects, and one on one clients, providing ideas and resources for both residential and commercial projects.

Their headquarters / showroom is in Oklahoma City and it is beautiful. My assignment was to come up with several new abstract and installation pieces that would fit into this contemporary space, because 30a Home agreed to represent me. So...where to start?

In the middle of the night a couple weeks ago, the idea came to me (I don't know why this always seems to happen at 2:30 AM but that's pretty common for me). So I came up with a brand new way of creating an abstract oil painting. I am still (and always) painting on top of aluminum leaf (which reflects light back through the oil paint, creating vibrant color), but I figured out a way to leave some of that leaf raw (no paint at all), creating a painting that almost reminds me of batik -- with glimmering silver lines between fields of color. When the paint is all applied, then I cover the whole piece with solar-resistant resin.

I'm including photo examples of the first two pieces I did, "Azure Spirals" and "Aqua Matrix", but I have two more pieces nearly done, as well as a large triptych which is well underway. So...more photos will follow. The abstracts will be delivered to 30a Home in July, and a large installation piece scheduled for an October delivery.

I'm excited. People visiting my studio often ask me "When did you invent this type of artwork?" and I always laugh. I'M STILL INVENTING IT. That's what makes this job so much fun. Always dreaming, scheming and playing. Sometimes the results are awesome. And then...sometimes those ideas do not work at all. But photos of those bungles don't end up on this blog. :)

"Aqua Matrix"

"Aqua Matrix"

National Geographic?!?

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My day began like any other day: I woke up, showered, had my coffee and walked the three miles to my art studio/gallery in Asheville, North Carolina's River Arts District. Little did I know this day could change my life...possibly forever*.

Back story: As a kid, I grew up totally addicted to any National Geographic television specials. These productions would take me away from my life of drudgery (as a second grader) and to far off, exotic places like Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania or the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Peru. I would be immersed into the fascinating (and usually tragic) life of the wildebeest, gazelle or the giant sea iguana and forget I still had to practice for my spelling test in the morning. It was bliss.

"Little did I know this day could change my life ... possibly forever"

So back to yesterday at my art studio...I began working on my next series of oil paintings (which consist of a totally new and ultra cool form of abstract art, and I'm totally excited about that but...I digress). Around 1:00 PM, a nice young woman came into my studio and asked me if I would mind being filmed for a new National Geographic special called "Asheville Rising". Mind? Are you kidding?! You're asking if I want to be IN a National Geographic television special? (Do I get to go to Tanzania? Do I need an agent? Can I wear cool TV star sunglasses now? But I digress again.)

Obviously, I said yes. My gosh, the crew was super nice and I really enjoyed having them all in my studio. Basically, the segment was of just me painting (no wildebeests or gazelles). I have no idea if they'll really use any of the footage, but still -- National Geographic?! The show is supposed to air in October I think, but I'll keep you posted. Any NatGeo special about Asheville is bound to be great whether or not I make my TV debut. Whatever.

*Just kidding about changing my life forever. But then again....who knows?

World View #6: Modernism

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In our basic survey of world views and how they influence the arts and culture, we have looked at five: Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism and Existentialism (that's a lot of isms to consider!). We have considered the basic "life premises" promoted by these world views and their affect on culture and specifically upon art. We noted that the basic assumption of theism is that "God is here". This world view asserts that the Creator is present and wants relationship with us. Deism asserts that God is "out there somewhere" (but not here). He, she or it exists (order we see in the universe would suggest that) but that God is distant and a personal "relationship" with him/her/it is not possible. Naturalism states that to debate whether or not God exists is pointless, because the only way to determine the truth of something is to be able to prove it scientifically (hypothesize, predict, test, repeat). Nihilism argues that if the propositions of naturalism are true, then the whole notion of God is dead, and that as a result, human existence is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Existentialism states that "well, yes God is dead, but we don't need him/her/it  to determine truth or real meaning...we do that ourselves.

Understand that at about this time, a lot of "culture shapers" in western society were to the point of saying (and I paraphrase): “Ah, all you philosophers are taking this 'meaning  and truth' thing all too seriously. You're totally depressing us!  At this point in history, we no longer NEED your religion or philosophy to explain or advance life and culture...we have technology…we can do SO MUCH to help the species progress, and isn't that what it's all about?"

Enter Modernism.

Modernism is the world view which preaches that human beings have the power to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge and  technology. It encourages us to re-examine every aspect of life, and use science and technology to find better ways of doing everything.

Modernism basically sets aside the theology and philosophy that lead us to this point. Or rather, it actually coops theology and philosophy to strengthen itself as "the" legit world view. Let me explain.

Rather than glorify a deity that is here, there or nowhere at all, modernism glorifies technology as the key to our thriving as a species. In a sense, technology becomes the new god. In the early 1900's, there was a phrase that summed up the thought of the time: "Every day in every way, we keep getting better and better!"  This was real cultural optimism brought about by a new and fresh faith in technology. Finally, humans were finally on the brink of utopia (in 1900, they didn't know about the two world wars on the horizon).

The idea of solving human problems with design and technology was very long-lived and even exists today.  But the optimism preached by the proponents of modernism was based on technology alone, not on human emotional satisfaction or fullness. Traces of human emotions were being stripped from art and design at breakneck speed. Consider the profound effect on architecture. Prior to modernism, buildings were ornamented. Details and hand-crafted elements were important. With modernism though, ornamentation was distained as unnecessary. Everything was stripped down to the bare essentials. That is all we need. Anything else was viewed as superfluous. “Less is more” was the mantra that guided architecture from the early 1900's until the 1980's (look at Soviet era housing for a grand example of this…)  

But...consider this. The art produced by modernism was becoming less and less "human". Architecture and design was looking more fit for robots rather than humans. Metal and glass, absence of vibrant color or intricate design is cold and mechanistic, with no "personality".  Human beings are fleshly and emotional -- warm, soft and full of feelings, (not cold and metallic and impersonal).  So, this leaves human beings with some cool looking art and architecture, but also leaves society with having to live in a very cold, mechanistic world with no personal identity.

Until the 1960's changed all that, but that's for the next blog.

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Carving Mountains from Scratch

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Having recently completed a set of six new paintings for the gallery that represents me in Charleston, SC (Mitchell-Hill Gallery), I decided I wanted to search for a gallery somewhere in the Rocky Mountain states. There are several ways to hunt down a gallery to represent you, but most of those ways do not work very well. The most common way is to send them an email and ask. But galleries can get over a hundred emails a month from artists and I would assume they just delete most of those emails as they get them. Some galleries actually state on their website what they ask from an artist that wants representation, and an artist following those requests is respectful, and that's a good way to start a relationship.

There are several ways to hunt down a gallery...but most of those ways do not work VERY well.

The other way though is for an artist to enter their work in regional shows, because gallery owners often go to shows to check out the art and shop for new artists to represent. Because my work is so hard to explain in a photo (they are dimensional and reflective), this last route is the way for me to go I think. So I am looking for key shows out west that I can enter a body of work into that would "fit" into that region. So for instance, I am looking to paint more rugged mountains that our Appalachians and Blue Ridge. These new paintings should like like somewhere out west (think Rocky Mountains) rather than western North Carolina or the Asheville vicinity. And I LOVE that challenge. I love painting new themes because that keeps my work fresh and my brain entertained!

So here is the beginning of a painting of Dream Lake (just southwest of Estes Park, Colorado). This is a quintessential Rocky Mountain lake scene, so it's perfect for my purposes. I just began applying modeling compound with my palette knife yesterday, building and carving the scene on my canvas. This is now about ready for the next step (applying aluminum leaf), then painting.

I'm really excited about painting this new body of work. We'll see where it goes! 

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