oil painting

So then...

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Since the writing of my last blog post, “What if…” I’ve done some experimenting. In short, those experiments have gone really well (!) so I’ve entitled “So then…” That doesn’t always happen, but so far with this particular idea, it has.

See, a couple weeks ago, I woke up (at 2:17 AM) picturing a new type of artwork than I’ve ever done before, and all the tests and experiments I’ve done are remarkably encouraging. I think I’m onto something. Let me explain a bit more at this point…

I’m an oil painter and (not surprisingly) all my paintings are painted on a flat surface. Go to any of the art studios in Asheville’s River Arts District and notice what the painters are painting on. They are painting on flat surfaces. Go to an art museum and notice what all those framed oil paintings are painted on: flat surfaces. Noticing a trend?

But I’m going to paint on a flexible surface that can be bent in an arc shape. I have a furniture maker friend of mine (thank you Asheville Wood!) that is experimenting with me on this project. They are working on the wood runners (think cherry, black walnut, pecan, bamboo) that will be mounted to the wall (no visible attachments) and that will receive the panels of my artwork and keep them in tension, forming an arc out from the wall. That’s what I’m thinking, and so far, it’s working. I’m going now to the next step and actually fabricating a full size panel (rather than a small sample). I’ll cover the panel with flexible texture, Italian aluminum leaf, oil paint and resin. Resin is flexible? Yep. Turns out one or two layers are perfectly flexible and will provide brilliant color.

In theory, the colors I will apply to the panels will alter greatly because the angle of light will vary over the entire piece (because it’s bent in an arc). What’s in my head (and slowly coming to fruition) is a dynamic piece of artwork that can span many feet (either vertically or horizontally).

I’m excited!

People ask me all the time “when did you come up with this type of art?” and I always laugh and tell them I’m still coming up with it! I feel like I’m half artist and half mad scientist, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just too much fun.

The next post on this subject will be photos of the prototype. Fingers crossed!

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. :)

Steps Involved with a Painting Commission

Yesterday morning, I was in my “happy place”, finishing up a landscape painting I’m working on featuring the meadows and mountains for western North Carolina. My art studio had had several visitors poking in, looking at the completed artwork I have displayed on my walls and stopping to talk with me while I was working.

Around mid-morning, three women arrived and I remembered two of them from a previous visit. They had come in to talk about steps involved with commissioning a painting. Luckily, they had a laptop filled with some really beautiful photos.

These clients live in beautiful home near the eastern tip of Long Island and their home overlooks a bit of wetland and then a bay (Wickham Creek). They showed me photos of their home and some shots of where the painting would be eventually installed. And then we perused photos of their amazing view during each of the seasons.

So the first question to answer was “what is the subject matter for this piece?”. Over the course of the conversation, they decided on a view of the bay with the foreground being a mix of cattails and various wetland foliage. The problem was that there are trees in the way of the view they desired, but I assured them that that was an easy problem to remedy as an artist (I’ll just remove the trees in the artwork!). And this time of year, with leaves nearly all off the trees, they can just give me a good shot through the trees and that will give me the mid-ground and background for the composition.

Then we discussed time of year to be depicted. Their walls are a “golden retriever yellow, so a sundown would be too warm and winter would be too cool. We decided that a late September view (before the cattails were pruned off) would work great. Blue sky with some clouds maybe? Lush green wetland in the foreground with some early autumn rusts and golds (which tie in with the wall color).

It’s so much fun to sit down and talk through what the client is looking for.

The only thing left to decide was the size, but they were thinking something around 4’ x 6’ or maybe 3’ x 5’, as it is to be a real “statement piece”, hanging above the couch. As soon as they get home, they’ll measure their couch, and then get back to me. In the mean time, I did a little research and found that the average three-cushion couch is 84” long, and based on that, I did the following three plans:

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I’ll forward the photos to them today, so they can start thinking about the proportions that would work best for them. Then we will be ready to start, and about eight weeks later, the painting will be delivered to it’s new Long Island home!

This is how I generally work a commission. It’s so much fun to sit down and talk through what the client is looking for. Sometimes people know exactly what they want, and sometimes we need to talk it through. Either way, it’s really a lot of fun for me as I begin to imagine the completed work. As we talk, the painting begins coming together as we nail down the plan: theme, colors, time of year, time of day, angle of the shot, best size for the space. All of that is great fun for me and I think my clients really enjoyed it too. The result of all that fun will be an awesome piece of art. That’s not bragging — it’s just really hard to go wrong with painting the view of the bay they were showing me. It’s going to be amazing.

As the plans come together and the piece is started, I’ll document the progress here for anyone interested in following along. Cheers!

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.

"Trigger Warning"

St.Claire mountain landscape (full view)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 1)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 2)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 3)

After the school shootings at Parkland, Florida and after watching a horrid video (that hit really close to home) showing a black man being totally brutalized by a local white police officer, several of my artist friends were talking and trying to process our grief and rage. This should not be normal. None of this should be normal. As the conversation progressed, we decided we needed to use our artistic voice to challenge our society to call that society to think and reason. This has turned into a multi-venue exhibition of art called "Trigger Warning".

As I said in my earlier blog about this, I wondered what I could do (as a landscape painter) to say something strong about this whole subject (because that's what it deserves). I really felt completely perplexed. But then in the early hours of the morning, the idea regarding what I had to do came to me.

Rather than wax on about what I wanted to say with this, I would like very much to know how it affects you, the reader/viewer. I have not titled this piece. What would you title it? Does this piece bring up any thoughts, emotions or questions? I'd really, seriously like to know. This was one of the most difficult paintings I've ever done (knowing what I was going to do to it to make it say what I wanted it to say). I would be very curious what exactly it's saying to you. Sincere thanks!

World View #5: Existentialism

As an artist who usually just paints local landscape paintings, I don't usually think about my "world view". Most people don't give their own world view any thought at all but that view affects how we interpret EVERYTHING here on this planet. So, because we want (I assume) to understand art, we really need to consider the world view of the artist so that we can accurately interpret (and maybe even enjoy!) a piece of artwork. 

The previous world view we looked at was the "abyss" of Nihilism. Because the ramifications of this view are so dark, it gave way to the next: Existentialism. 

I think Existentialism is interesting. In some sense, it is a "softening" of Nihilism. Again, Nihilism asserts that we are all here by chance and in a few billion years when the sun explodes there will be no trace we ever existed and so nothing anyone does ultimately matters at all. In Nihilism, concepts like "fair and unfair", "good and evil", "right and wrong", "meaningful and meaningless" are not based in reality at all and therefore are technically baseless philosophical constructs.  The results of a strict nihilistic world view left a lot of people pretty depressed because like it or not, most people intuitively desire some sort of transcendent meaning in life. Human beings like to at least feel like some things really do matter, and nihilism gives no basis for that assertion.

Enter Existentialism

Existentialism showing up on the scene when it did brings to mind an analogy. Imagine the world is at God's funeral -- people everywhere are quiet, weeping, downcast. As the pipe organ is finishing up the dirge, Stephen Colbert steps up to the podium and starts cracking jokes. Soon, everyone is laughing hysterically.

Existentialism is the joke-teller at a funeral.

Existentialism asserts that yes (as per nihilism) there’s no God but…good news! We don’t NEED a God! We’re free! We can do whatever we want! We can be who and what we want.

Existentialism asserts that we’re not accountable or dependant on a grumpy deity out there somewhere. Individuals are free to create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to deities or authorities creating it for them.

In existentialism, like it’s predecesor Nihilism, there is no true truth. There is no right right or wrong wrong. But existentialism deals with our penchant to at least “feel” like there are propositions that are true and false, right and wrong. This world view deals with that “desire for truth” by asserting that a belief can "become" true to you when you act on it.  This allows people to basically come up with “boutique truths”, customizable truth for every person on earth.

Let's look at the effects of existentialism on art. The poet, Tom Greening, wrote a poem which I think beautifully captures the ramifications of existentialism on a human life:

No Time to Feel (Tom Greening)

The way that I've arranged my life,
I've left no time to feel.
This anesthetic works so well
I never do reveal
my feelings even to myself
or to those close to me.
By keeping busy all the time
I act like I am free,
and if I have some time to spare
I fill it up real fast,
and pray this numbing sedative
is somehow going to last.
When nosey people question me
I hasten to explain
this is my plan to get through life
by minimizing pain,
and yet at times I lie awake
obsessed by sudden doubt—
I worry that I'm just a fool
and somehow missing out.
I do not hope to really live
but merely to survive,
but will I mourn when I'm near death
not having been alive?

So I have a question.  What’s your reaction to this poem?

Next, I’d like also to take a look at a sculpture named “Three Men Walking” by Alberto Giacometti (below)

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Take a look at it. What do you notice? Any thoughts?

 

 

Mountain Top Experiences

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I'd heard of Roan Mountain for a long time. It's one of those "you have to hike this trial!" sort of places you hear about. I feel a bit like I've cheated myself because I've lived in Asheville, North Carolina for almost ten years and Joy and I have hiked countless trails, but we had not tackled Roan Mountain. And it's kind of odd that we waited so long, because as a landscape painter in the River Arts District, I paint local mountain scenes all the time. Every hike we take, I've got my camera ready and when I get back to my art studio, I start composing the next painting based on the best of the best photos. So hiking and photos go hand-in-hand for me, and they are both a very big part of what I end up painting. So, why did it take this long to discover Roan Mountain for myself? I have no excuses.

It turns out Roan Mountain isn't just a peak (i.e. it's not a singular mountain) but a whole range of bald peaks (no trees on the top) morphing into each other as you walk along Appalachian Trail heading north. So with our hiking poles, Camelbak's and lunch sacks in hand, we trekked from Carver's Gap north. The day was unusually clear and comfortable (I guess that's sort of unusual for that location) and we made good time -- even with all my stops to take photos. Finally, we reached the monument at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald and honestly, this afforded the most spectacular view I'd seen in Western North Carolina. Look one way, and you gaze about a hundred miles into North Carolina. Turn your head to the left, and you gaze about a hundred miles into Tennessee. Absolutely spectacular.

That hike gave me ideas for several paintings for the coming year. What kind of awesome job do I have anyway!? I just realized I can take my gas expenses as a tax write-off!

For more info on Roan Mountain, here's a great link.

Angsty or Terrified?

So last week, as I said in an earlier entry, a husband and wife breezed through my Asheville art studio/gallery without saying a word to me and then left, sitting down on the chairs right outside my door (which was open -- with me working just inside said door). At that point, the man said (loud enough for me to hear) "well I know, but it's ridiculous! I wouldn't pay half what he's asking for that!"

To that man, I would like to say "thank you for your rudeness. You gave me something  to write about in my blog!" Because of that encounter, I began thinking about how best to respond to critique and I am taking this platform to share my thoughts to anyone interested. I have already addressed what I call the "angsty" artist who doesn't care WHAT anyone thinks about their craft (whether it's painting, writing, music or whatever). They do not digest criticism because they immediately deflect it.

The other type of artist I know is not angsty at all. They are frightened and completely insecure, not wanting ANYONE to see their artwork.  Putting their art out there for people to actually see absolutely terrifies them. I tried to teach art students who were the "terrified" type, but found them just as difficult to teach as the arrogant students who would not listen to my advice or instruction. I remember a young woman that was in the class I was teaching. She was working hard on a painting, but when I walked over to her desk to see how it was coming along, she swept it up and hid it from me. "Please don't look! It's a mess! Yours is so much better!" If you can relate to this woman,  may I gently suggest that the "terrified" artist is not that much different from the "angsty" artist? See, neither the angsty or terrified person them allows any criticism or correction -- they just take different emotional roads to the very same end.  Whichever side we fall on, we can be categorized as arrogant.

"Arrogant?" I hear the terrified artist type cry. "I'm not arrogant!" (The angsty artist doesn't see themselves as arrogant either.)

Well, follow me here. The angsty type doesn't listen to any criticism and neither do you. In my opinion, whichever side we fall on, we all think far too much of ourselves. The terrified artists (I was one of you  at once point) think we have to be perfect at what we do and critique is crushing and to be avoided. The angsty artist thinks he's already perfect, and critique is pointless and unnecessary in his mind and is to be avoided. So what's the difference?

Both the angsty and terrified artist (or whatever) types need critique. We need to be okay with correction and advice. When I finish what I think was a great idea and no one pays any attention to it, I may have to conclude that the idea may be great to me, but if the people purchasing art do not agree, I won't be selling that piece. If this is repeated with all my work, then I'm out of a job.

A professional artist has to listen to critique and adjust sometimes. Hopefully as we mature, we begin to know the difference between a good critique and someone just being rude. I think we need to feel the freedom to toss what we think is bad advice. I also think we need to feel the freedom to accept advice with humility, and that's admittedly really hard to do sometimes.

To the "Angsty" Artist...

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Note: This is a continuation of my last entry. I would advise the reader to take a look at that first.

Have you have seen that Food Channel show "Master Chef"? My wife and I are kind of addicted to it and especially the first few weeks are really interesting. The show depicts all these home cooks that are vying for the Master Chef title, which is supposed to mean they are the very best home cook in the country. In the first few weeks though, you inevitably watch some cook who thinks they are God's gift to the culinary world. They innately know it all. It becomes very apparent that they are not listening to Gordon Ramsay's instructions and they will outright argue with him sometimes (I would personally never recommend arguing with Gordon Ramsay). So inevitably, you watch them proudly present what they are convinced is awesome gourmet fare and Chef Ramsay will look at it, look at the cook, look at the dish again and yell "ARE...YOU...KIDDING ME? This looks like a dog vomited up his dinner on this plate!!!" And you can't help but think "YES! Put this guy in his place Gordon!"

See, no one likes an arrogant man or woman and it's refreshing to see them taken down off the pedestal they created in their own mind. But the guy probably has no idea he is arrogant. In his eyes, he's not arrogant, he's just right and Gordon Ramsay is obviously a jerk and everyone who watches the show shakes their head in disgust and embarrassment for people like that.  It's probably wrong to be so entertained by that but I confess, it is entertaining.

What's this have to do with artwork? Well see, if we're the angsty artist type, I think we can learn a lot from this illustration, because if we're in that camp, we can be very much like the arrogant cook who refuses to listen to the instructions and advice of the professional chefs on the show and everyone sees the insecure arrogance (except the arrogant chef, or in our case, the artist).

"But what if we're not that "angsty artist type"? What if we're more the "I'm completely terrified of anyone seeing my creative work" type? Really glad you asked. Read the next entry for my thoughts on that.