End of Year Contemplations 2011

In one more day, we shall be bidding adieu to 2011. For me, the first day of this year began with art, as is my tradition, and the rest of the year offered many an opportunity to show work, to write, to make both commissions and anything else that my imagination led me to make. I spend these final days of the year in contemplation of my motives for making art. I tend to revisit this sort of question because I have always thought that it would be foolish and useless to do anything without knowing why. I am quite aware, of course, that there is a bit of mystery in the creation of a work of art; sometimes results are accidentally better than planned, sometimes a daydream can lead to a marvelous piece. My first serious oil painting was something I did quite out of the blue, after all; the whim of a summer's day led to a much more defined sense of purpose and self-awareness [above, a self-portrait from 2007] and a strong vocation. Even so, art can play a powerful role in society, and one must not wield it selfishly or thoughtlessly.

Why do I make art? Why do other artists make art? I personally am a reserved character, an observer, analytical, academic, sometimes a bit of a loner, and it is possible that I keep the bulk of whatever depth I posses to myself. . . but I care about humanity, very much, about creativity, about exploring possibilities and encouraging others to embrace possibility, wisdom, beauty-- it is only sensible to know life and to live as well and as fully as possible. In 2008, I wanted to explore the concept of creation, stand in awe at the cosmos, and illustrate my findings, whether they were about the life I knew in a small room in a small town or elsewhere. In 2009, in Montreal, and the time immediately following my move back to Huntsville, I wanted to make sure that making art did not slip out of my life, at any time, regardless of circumstances. When I first began this blog in 2010, I was particularly interested in depicting "internal realities". My work is still very much about "internal realities", but it has also continued to grow into more specific roles regarding learning, discovering, understanding or shaping culture. . . and I have considered deeply what it means to be genuine, to be human, to encourage thought.
I have a few plans and assumptions regarding where 2012 will take me and my work, but I will not rule out the possibility of many surprises along the way. Happy New Year to all!

A Christmas Commission

The turtle might seem a unusual symbol for love, but that is precisely what makes this commission so appropriate for Andy and Jamie Hoffman; its symbolism is as genuine, vibrant, and unique as they are. A surprise Christmas present from Jamie to Andy, The Happy Turtle [above] depicts Oliver, Jamie's own much-loved turtle, the corners of whose mouth always appear to be turned up in a tranquil smile. Surrounding her are organic abstractions based on the elaborate patterns of turtle shells, trees, and what I would imagine a turtle's most pleasant days in the grass to be. From the slow-but-steady tortoise who beat the hare to the mythical turtle carrying the Earth on its back to the real-life turtles that have lived over a century (or two), turtles have represented many things to many cultures. . . but it was their longevity, tenacity, and more or less peaceful nature that kept coming to mind as I made the above painting. I wanted it to be as joyful and straight-forward as a child's drawing, with the thick texture of a turtle's shell and skin. It brings a painter great joy to be entrusted to make such a personal Christmas commission. . . I hope that Jamie and Andy will enjoy it for decades to come.

On that note, I hope that everyone has had a warm and happy Christmas, and that the holidays of this season will continue to inspire and bring cheer to all!

Faits Accomplis!

The final two Organic Compositions having been completed [Above, VI, and Below, VII], I am already on to new projects, including a Christmas commission. Even so, it has always been my habit to look back and wonder about finished pieces, so I have also been asking myself what I have learned from this series, what influence it will have on future work. Certainly, producing this many similarly-themed and similarly-structured works in a short span of time made them so simple to paint that the last piece took no more than 40 minutes to finish, divided over two sessions.

To be honest, however, I am not exactly sure what the lasting influence of the series may be, though Claire de Lune [Below], completed alongside Organic Composition VII, might provide a bit of insight. This painting began as a follow-up to my Venetian-inspired portrait of Nik, but somehow it was never finished. It is unlike me to let a canvas sit for months in the corner, and I cannot even remember what led me to lose interest in it. I finally placed it with my stack of blank canvases, to be painted over and used for something else. Then, one morning as I regarded one of my Organic Compositions in-the-works, it caught my eye from the stack. I knew that it should be completed, and in a different way than I had anticipated, more in line of my newest series, yet with the glow of a Medieval stained-glass window and the remaining sense of legend and history which so often marks my work. Such is the magic of making art. . . there is a fine mix of experimentation, "magic", skill, deliberation, daydreams, philosophy, and promise in each piece, and so many pleasant surprises in the process!

[On yet another note, I would like to mention my most recent interview on the Huntsville Art Blog. In it, Little Green Store manager and Huntsville Alliance for Arts Education Director for Research, Advocacy, and Policy Tracey Chaplin discusses the importance of art to communities and many other interesting points. For the full interview, click here.


Organic Compositions III-V

It has been precisely one month
since I posted the first two pieces in the "Organic Composition" series. . . now, as November begins, five works have been completed [Above, we have Composition III, Below, Compositions IV and V respectively] and the final two are already in progress. Seeing the first five hanging together on the wall captivates me; some are very smooth and refined, some are quite raw, all are related, and yet each shows a slight tweak, a new development, a different ambiance. The vividness of these paintings is very much lost in these photos, as are the carefully placed traces of gold, silver, or copper paint that give some of them, especially the gray-scale piece, an unusual glow in various lighting conditions. I generally avoid metallic paints so as not to make my pieces look "cheap", but with this series, I have found subtle ways to use them to enhance certain aspects of the compositions.

In a sense, the series comprises a collection of thorough abstract color studies, but each continues to have a basis in basic scenes and landscapes as well: III was designed while looking at some of the Historic mansions of Madison, AL (particularly the fencing, wrought iron work, and vibrant foliage), and IV and V were sketched out during one of my many walks around the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Of course, the pieces are not meant to depict these things specifically, and I myself have infused atmospheres and textures into them that make them entirely new dreamscapes. At any rate, I find that the best way to look at them (and indeed, much of art in general) is not to worry about whether or not there is any specific concrete object to be seen in them. . . I often purposely leave "objects" obscure, after all. One should simply quiet one's internal monologue about the paintings, open oneself up, and let the images and colors do the talking. . .


Organic Composition Series

As I have
mentioned before, it has been almost four years since I have made paintings meant specifically as a "series". My work has most certainly revisited certain themes more than once, but I still tend to plan individual works rather than collections of work-- I suppose it allows me to cover a lot of ground quickly. Several months ago, however, I decided that it might be nice to focus on artistic themes a bit differently and began coming up with several ideas that would lend well to multiple, more closely-related works (without simply stagnating) . . . the first results of this line of thinking have finally taken shape on canvas with Organic Compositions I [above] and II [below]. The first is inspired directly from a supermarket floral department and the second from the pots and plants on my balcony, but both are united inasmuch as they take their geometric compositional patterns from the every-day world and develop them so as to reveal the underlying abstract reality in our familiar "natural reality". In addition to this, they are meant to emphasize the dynamic life, movement, and graceful order even of scenes that may seem rather still. . . they may be a direct offshoot of my past work, but they also build sensibly on it and are both a nod to the past and a sign of future evolution that will lead the way into a few other "series" ideas that have been working in my mind. . .


Periodic Contemplations on Current and Future Directions

It has been raining steadily today
-- a beautiful, soft rain with gentle, cool breezes. While Alabama heat will no doubt continue for at least another month and a half, nature is making it clear that another summer is drawing to a close. I have picked up my artworks from Lowe Mill and the Gallery on the Square (though a Unique Views retrospective is on display at the main Huntsville Art League gallery until the end of this month). Huntsville's summer schedule of art events is dwindling. It is this time of year when I begin to think most poignantly about where my art is going and where I want it to go, how to take it there, et cetera, all of these questions about creativity and growth and where I have been, road analogies included. These are important contemplations, I think, for most artists, and, after much pondering on my balcony, developing techniques, exploring concepts, and re-focusing myself are high priority activities for me at this point. I have already begun to move in these directions by returning to my #Draw365 project (something I had been taking a break from) and redefining my previous goals for it. I will no longer limit my medium to ballpoint pen, and instead of drawing "everyday" subjects, I would like to simply draw whatever comes to mind at the moment, whether it is a study of a masterpiece or something surreal that I imagined [above, Clockwork Woman]. I now want to use #Draw365 to explore my imagination a bit more freely, without concerning myself with "finished work".

My second way of responding to these thoughts has been to start transforming my figure drawings into gouache paintings
[above and below, Pretty Pin-Up #1 and #2], something that will develop patience and precision given that I rarely work with watercolors. Taking up acrylics has broadened my stylistic reach quite a bit, so it is logical that watercolors should also be added to my repertoire and analyzed thoroughly. Along the way, I am sure I will make plenty of technical "errors"-- I have not played with watercolors with any level of focus since middle school-- but I am already surprising myself with my results and the pleasure I am taking in the versatility of the paint. Once I open my mind to a new medium, I find that it has much to teach me.


Satin and Feathers

August's "Draw!" session
at Lowe Mill (I missed July's, having been in Chicago that weekend) began with a somber but elegant black vintage [above], then the theme dramatically (and colorfully) shifted when our lovely model Kelli stepped out in a bright blue burlesque outfit, complete with flowing feather bustle [below]. I always enjoy this type of shift. . . it is not only the pleasant surprise, but being able to go from depicting one mood to another back-to-back is a marvelous artistic exercise. . .


Rippling Commission

The first time Jamie and Andy Hoffman
commissioned a painting, giving me more or less free rein, the result was View from a Garching Window. When they returned for a new painting recently, they mentioned that they particularly enjoyed looking at the Japanese maple in their yard, pictured a scene with watery reflections, and would prefer that the palette be filled with blues and greens, but encouraged me, above all, to take their suggestions wherever my imagination led me. An artist could not ask for finer friends or a more liberating prompt!

My first instinct when beginning Maple Ripples [above] was to contemplate the characteristics of a Japanese maple-- the long, delicate leaves and the elegantly curving trunk. The Hoffman maple, specifically, has a double trunk that arches into an ellipse. It occurred to me that my abstract style would not allow for the details of every leaf, but that I could depict a few curling leaves at the corners of the canvas like rippling reflections and suggest the boldness and mystery of the tree, its essence, with a dramatic angular flare of leaf-like shapes over the trunks. I recalled from an article about the art of bonsai that the tree was often placed off to the side of its pot because the center symbolizes the meeting place between heaven an earth-- a place which should be left unoccupied. Though the center of my painting has been occupied by abstractions for aesthetic reasons, the basic notion of placing the tree far off-center remains. The Chinese advice to internalize a scene before painting it, not worrying so much about depicting it as it looks but about grasping its spirit in one's strokes, also came to the forefront of my thoughts.

In all, I wanted to present Jamie and Andy with a painting that was at once soothing and dramatic. . . a boldly harmonious balance of organic wonder, the abstraction that has become something of a signature for me, and a suggestion of Eastern philosophy. It is still drying at present, but I greatly look forward to sending it off to be enjoyed in its new home by the end of the week!

Unique Views of Huntsville 2011, Art On Display at Lowe Mill, and More. . .

Last night was a lively one at the Huntsville Art League's new Gallery On the Square; Unique Views of Huntsville 2011 opened with a packed reception [below], and though the show is not being held in the Museum of Art this year, it is just as elegant and high-profile as ever. Accompanying the many paintings on display, including my work At the Computer [contemplated by its subject, Nik, above], were catered dishes from Huntsville's Cafe Berlin, wine, and live jazz. As part of the Unique Views show, HAL is displaying even more artwork, including Life in the 60's, at its main gallery on L&N Drive. The show will remain up until the 28th of August.

[Of course, being so close to Big Spring Park, Nik and I followed the reception with a walk around the pond, below.]

In addition to the Unique Views show (and long-standing displays at Reflectives Frame and Art Gallery and Blu Healing Spa), Sherbrooke Street From the 17th Floor is being featured in an Ascribing Artists exhibit on the third floor of Lowe Mill [below] for the month of August.

Last but not least, I have posted a new discussion topic this month on the Escape Into Life Blog relating to the "paint and sip" trend. Click here to read the post and share your thoughts.


A Weekend in Chicago

The Windy City was where I spent the last days of July. I was there specifically to commemorate the life of Escape Into Life founder Chris Al-Aswad, celebrate the past and future of EIL, and meet fellow contributors to the online arts magazine that I am so proud to be affiliated with. I had known Chris only through Twitter and EIL, but even online, his intellect, taste, writing, and the way he was collecting an international team of contributors touched me deeply. His death had come as a terrible shock; when an invitation to Chicago arrived from his family, I knew I had to go.

In addition to the joy of meeting many wonderful people whom I had previously only known online, I was able to walk all over Chicago, fill my eyes with as much art as possible in two and a half days, and snap hundreds of pictures. . . it was a truly a remarkable weekend.

It's as if the 70's have returned!

One of the many rooms at the Chicago Art Institute

Lavazza-- a coffee worth drinking every morning.

The surreal beauty of the beach of Lake Michigan.

Sunset over the pier.

Aerial view of "The Bean".

Marilyn: it may be in somewhat poor taste, but the people keep coming in droves.

With EIL's Teia Pearson at the largest fountain I have ever seen.

Southern Commission

Mary K. Baxley is the sort of woman I can listen to for hours-- she is always so full of stories and practical know-how, whether the subject be education, sewing, literature, history, health and home remedies, or the culture of the Old South. It was her interest in Jane Austen that led her to start writing Pride and Prejudice sequels/variations with a distinctly Southern twist, and she has self-published three of these imaginative works already: The Cumberland Plataeu: A Pride and Prejudice Sequal, Dana Darcy, and The Mistress's Black Veil: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary. All this having been said, when she asked for something simple and bold with blossoms such as magnolias or dogwoods to add a bit more Southern Charm to the wall behind a quilt-covered bed, I wanted to make sure she would have a suitable work. At first, I had planned a more controlled rendering, but the loose brushstrokes of Impressionism seemed to present a better play of light and movement for the room, one that suggests a spring afternoon, a breeze to soften the harsh heat of Alabama, and the simple pleasure of a glass of lemonade and an afternoon of story-telling on the porch. This is, incidentally, one of the reasons I enjoy doing commissions-- because each person will require something very different, very specific to personal memories, lifestyles, and tastes, and finding a way to combine my artistic tendencies with theirs presents an interesting challenge. After the last stroke is applied, I feel a sense of cheerful anticipation, wondering what the reaction to the painting will be. . . and the words "It's beautiful, I love it!" are as sweet as the finest of pecan pies. . .

Thinking Big: Waltz of Impressions

So excited was I to obtain a five-foot wide, two-inch deep canvas at half price at the end of last year, I hurried it out of the art supply store without even realizing that it would not fit in the back of my Buick. I waited for a friend with a truck to meet me, help me take it home, and carry it up a flight of stairs. Over the next few months, I would dabble at the large canvas on my wall, then let it sit for weeks as I worked on other projects. Then, last week, upon accepting a new commission, I decided I should take the time to finish this large-scale painting properly before moving on with anything new.

Waltz of Impressions [above] began with the musing that the crepe myrtle branches and dappled shade outside my window reminded me of stained glass windows in a Gothic Cathedral. Said musing led me to imagine a sort of "Cathedral of Contemplation" in the woods, and pictured the lovely character from one of my figure drawings reposing there, listening to Chopin's waltzes, thinking about life and art, and watching the play of light. Naturally, I added the fountain that I see every day from my window in the background for good measure.
Once again, I have managed to create a painting that I find rather difficult to photograph, but the detail snapshot below is a fairly faithful representation of the finished work. I have been gazing at this piece quite a bit-- I had become so accustomed to seeing an enormous blank canvas on the wall that I feel an odd sort of wonder whenever I walk into the room and find a charming painting there instead. . .


Studio Snapshot: The Lady and the Sea Monster

The Lady and the Sea Monster [above]
arose from my thoughts on clashes between beauty, modern art, and classicism; I wanted to show the tension that often exists between inner and outer worlds, between abstraction and naturalism, but I did not want to make a painting so self-reflexive as to be gimmicky. And so, a mythology arose in my mind (I have always loved a good epic legend), and bold strokes converged into a sleek, stylized image with a smooth glossy finish. This is a rather large canvas, but due to its tall, narrow shape, it may not look quite right at smaller sizes. Be sure to click on the image for a larger view!

A Commission with a Personal Twist (and Fins)

As a teenager
, I did countless illustrations of classic cars. Sharpies, cheap markers, and colorful gel pens were my media of choice, and even my school notebooks and assignment books were not safe from finned cars and retro hot rod detailing. While my environmentalist tendencies leave me with concerns over how the American love of the automobile is shaping our landscapes and health, my fascination for outlandishly stylish and shiny classic cars, chrome, hot rods, and high-performance engines has never quite disappeared. This having been said, when my cousin in Upstate New York mentioned that he still had my Cubism-inspired marker drawing of his '55 Chevy on his wall and wanted another slightly abstract work depicting a '59 Cadillac and some of his favorite guitars (which I ended up working into the background shapes), I was quite enthusiastic. Of course, I have not drawn with markers for years, so I chose acrylics instead. . . and even though I used to draw finned cars all the time, I have never actually painted one before now.

My main goals for the painting were that it include my cousin's love of great cars and music, that it make reference to the style of the wildly-colored marker drawings I made as a teen, and that the car look solid and fairly well-delineated. . . after all, no matter how much I enjoy experimenting with transparent overlays of paint, a '59 Cadillac is a very concrete thing. After a few more days of curing and a quick trip through the mail, I am fairly sure that The Sound of Fins [above] will look rather interesting on my cousin's wall, near the "Cubist '55" I drew years ago. . .

Valentines in June

As it turns out, the last name of our beautiful model
at June's figure drawing session at Lowe Mill is actually Valentine. With her striking features, long, wild hair, and contemplative poses, sketching on a stormy Sunday afternoon was rather like a dream. Moreover, while I have always been fairly confident in my ability to draw, my drawings really do seem to have evolved over the past six months. (And, of course, analyzing the progression never ceases to strike me as fascinating!)


Meet and Greet at Sam and Greg's, June 24th

Friday night's reception began in a fairly mellow manner at Sam and Greg's, but as sunset approached, the crowds began to spill in. Pleasantly enough for me, many among these crowds were friends and family who had come to view my selection of 15 paintings and share a pizza (or two) with me. . . over the week, I have also gotten to know some of the staff members at Sam and Greg's a bit more, and they have been wonderfully friendly and quick to shower the paintings with compliments. Thanks so very much, all! Friday night was simply lovely. (If you were unable to attend the reception but would still like to see the show, it will be on display until August 8th.)

[The group begins to gather. . .]

[With my friends Sam and Varner.]

[With two of my high school friends, Kristen and Alexa.]

Now on Display at Sam and Greg's, Downtown Huntsville

My walls are a bit bare on this stormy night, but the empty spaces give me great joy, as the paintings that once hung there are currently on display at the Gallery at Sam and Greg's. Located directly on the square in downtown Huntsville, Sam and Greg's has been one of my favorite haunts for quite some time-- after all, not only do they serve wonderful coffee, gelato, and more, but the Huntsville Arts Council hangs a new high-profile exhibit on the walls every 4-8 weeks.

From now until August 8th, the gallery will be featuring 15 of my paintings, including Life in the 60's, The Art of Conversation, Entr'acte, At the Computer, and others (some of which, such as my portrait of my grandfather, are being displayed for the first time).

The reception for this exhibit will be held this Friday, June 24th, from 5-7pm; all are welcome to meet me in person, ask questions, and enjoy an evening of fine art and fine refreshments!


Life as an Artist: Activities and Current Directions

Between my work as a piano teacher and language tutor, recent festivals in the past few weeks, and an up-coming one-woman show in downtown Huntsville, I have been traveling all around my area lately. My myriad paintings and set-up materials have been organized based on what needs to go where and when. Some may ask whether I am not too busy to be thinking of new art, but I do not feel that way. I get fairly sleepy by the end of the day, naturally, but I feel energized, enthusiastic. Moreover, I find myself doing multiple sketches per day, sometimes even doing in-depth studies of sketches or illustrations I find in books, magazines, or on the internet (I remain fond of vintage pin-up art, particularly the work of Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren, as well as Art Nouveau images by Alphonse Mucha, whose graceful pencil line is a wonder of the world to me). Suddenly, I want to make paintings that require me to do much more research and preliminary work than I am used to doing before putting brush to canvas. . . and I want to finally do another series of works meant to be shown together. (I have not done a conscious "series" since the paintings of Birds that I did for my first show in 2007). My ideas have already reached the "preparation stages", in fact.

Even so, I do not want to go much further until I have finished the three paintings I have been working on simultaneously these days. The smallest one (8X10), Charleston Ruffles [above] I finished yesterday. The other two, of course, are much larger and have taken their time drying in the humid Alabama summertime, but they too shall soon be completed and varnished.

Simple Subject, Complex Connotations

Many of the people I know spend several hours per day at the computer, perhaps far more time than they would prefer, so as unexciting as a person seated at a computer may seem, it is a natural subject for a slice-of-life painting. Taken directly from one of my #Draw365 sketches [above], a painting of a young man at a computer might have been any number of things ("dull" comes to mind first, followed by "boring"). However, it was the fact that my sketch somehow reminded me of Picasso's Old Guitarist that led me to make a painting out of it.

I often think quite a bit about the artists of the past and what it might have been like for some of them to meet and collaborate, however unlikely. At the Computer [below] combines my suspicion that a Picasso of the 21st Century would have certainly included a depressed "gamer" in his Blue Period work with a subtle dose of Van Gogh's Starry Night (given the array of dazzling colors that screens project on walls and faces and the fact that many chronic computer-users are also chronic night owls). While I rather doubt that Picasso and Van Gogh would have gotten along well enough to agree to a full collaboration, I would have certainly enjoyed hearing an artistic dialogue between the two. . .


June Interview

This month on the Huntsville Art Blog, I had the great pleasure of talking to Ellen Pryor, the communications director for the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. In the interview, she talks about her love of the arts, Nashville's art scene, careers in the arts, and the many programs and exhibits that the Frist has to offer.

To read the feature in full, click here.

Can You Do the Can-Can?

With an outfit part 1920's Flapper and part French dancer, fellow Huntsville-based painter Amanda Lyle was a delight to draw at Sunday's figure drawing session at Lowe Mill. As in previous sessions, we were presented with two poses, but because Amanda did not change her outfit for the second pose, I felt encouraged to stylize the second drawing a bit more and was less concerned with trying to fit the entire figure on the page (since I had already created a more "complete" rendering of the outfit and figure). I was also able to scribble a quick #Draw365 cartoon in ballpoint at the end of the session-- it was not the most sophisticated of my daily pen drawings, to be sure, but it was surely interesting to suddenly shift media and styles during the session; it was almost a bit of a jolt, in fact, and perhaps an experience worth exploring more seriously. . .