Peggi answered the phone tonight and a guy asked to speak to Paul. I said, “Hello” and the man/boy voice said, “Fuck you” and hung up. I’m thinking it was the answer to the title of yesterday’s post.
As brutal an exercise as painting can be, it is as brutal an exercise for me to look at one of my paintings. Of course it is not entirely brutal, but close. I’m talking about looking at the finished painting and noting what goes through my mind on confronting it. Just what kind of a dialog do I have with this thing? In other words, why am I doing this?
I alone am responsible for expressing what is on the minds of these people and I need to enable them to hold up their end of an interesting conversation. The procedure for developing a painting is one part of this activity. The conversation with the finished thing is the other.
It is sort of interesting how little anyone who comes into our house has to say about these guys. If someone is not into a confrontation I completely respect that but I suspect the paintings are not speaking clearly enough yet. I think some people are afraid to look at them or they think they are so terrible they don’t want to be the position to have to comment on them so they look away. Maybe everybody has stuff like this in their living room.
I’m trying to pick a couple to enter in a show and I have a bunch of recent ones propped up in our living room. I’m leaning toward bottom left and third from left on the bottom. I’ve been adding to the group over the last month. I would like them to be more engaging.
I just finished “The Object Stares Back” by James Elkins. I fell asleep to it for the last few weeks and it surly is responsible for this entry. But he started to to piss me off because he tossed out too many ideas too quickly. I disagreed with many of his opening arguments and he didn’t take the time to defend them. On to the next entry.
You know how when you wander off a trail in the woods and you find yourself wallowing in the brush, ducking under low branches with prickers grabbing your clothing and the ground gets all mushy and wet and you’re thinking it might just be better to go back but then you’d be backtracking which is usually a bummer.
After knocking off some pretty quick paintings, I have been spending a lot of time trying to bring others with a good start to a close. There is no proper amount of time that a painting should take. It could happen in a flash or it could be a long struggle. Both are equally valid. It could take a lifetime to learn how to execute a perfect stroke. And in the end it is only the process that is rewarding. The paintings themselves are markers.
I have terrible time management skills and it is really easy for me to get off the path while painting so I am really interested in procedure. My painting teacher, Fred Lipp has very few rules. In fact he boasts that he can break any rule and get away with it.
One of these rules is: “Always address the worst first”. If there is a sore spot in the piece you are working on, fix it. Now. Well, how do you know what the worst area is? Another one of his rules helps here. “If the question comes up, the answer is yes.” If you are questioning whether something is wrong, it probably is. This works 99.9 per cent of the time.
While working on this last bunch of paintings I have to keep reminding myself to stay focused on making the “worst” better. I would rather be starting some new, fresh faces but I created these problems and I’m trying to clean them up. The procedural rules help and I am grateful for them.
In “The Object Stares Back” Ithaca author, James Elkins, makes a case for why it is so difficult to see something and paint it. You don’t simply see anything. You can’t. The act is wrapped up in an activity of give and take with what you are looking at. And of course it is quite a different experience for each individual.
My painting teacher always says, “Trust your eyes”. If you sense something is wrong, it probably is. If your eyes really like something you’ve painted, trust it and follow it up. Simple advice but a powerful guide. But getting to the nut of what you are seeing can be an illusive experience with all that Elkins brings to the table.
Elkins says, “Art is among the experiences I rely on to alter who I am”. I am down with that. He says, “Paintings seem to be exempt from the world, as if their frames were parenthesis letting the text of the world flow on around them, or little fences keeping the picture from straying into the world.” He describes the many ways seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. So this is a very fluid situation and art continues to nourish in circular ways.
There was a new guy in my painting class tonight. He is an architect by day. He asked me who these people were that I was painting and I said that they were from the CrimeStoppers page in the paper. He seemed really surprised but he smiled and said, “They have some attitude”.
The other day I read that one out every one hundred US citizens are in prison. I know at least a hundred people and I know someone who did time for printing twenties in his basement. And my brother did some time for weed but I don’t know anyone behind bars. I know my friend, Frank Paolo, visits a woman in prison.
I guess these crime faces are really pretty mainstream. I plan to to move on to some new subject manner as as soon as I can nail this “attitude” thing.
I brought a pile of paintings to class last week. I think I had eight that were near done but all needed more work. I’ve been having fun starting new ones and trying to grab the essence of these crime guys as quickly as possible without getting bogged down correcting all my mistakes. Fred, my painting teacher came around and said, “I’ll talk about these when you’re ready”. I said “I’m ready now. I’m getting tired of fussing with this one”. He said, “I don’t like the word fussing. I like struggling”. I guess it is a little more noble.
So this week I’ve spent a lot of time time “struggling”. It’s the perfect word for this activity. Someone has to do it. And if the word sounded any easier it wouldn’t come close to describing how difficult painting is. Like Fred says, “It’s supposed to be difficult. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
I loaded the cd player (shown to the left) with five Art Ensemble of Chicago cds and hoped some of their magic would rub off on me.
And I remembered another painting truism. The further back I stand from my painting, the better it looks. And I don’t mean just because I can’t see it as well. When I catch myself hunching over the canvas I know I am in trouble. I am better off hanging onto the end of a big brush and standing as far back as I can. This way I can keep the whole painting in view while I paint a small section. When I start obsessing on the parts I would be better off walking away. “Walking away” seems to be a useful technique as well. When I come back to it, I usually find a clearer picture of the real problems.
My father sets up next to me in painting class and last week Fred Lipp was making it clear to him that he will never get everything right in a painting. “No painting has everything right in it”. My ears were erect. At times I feel like I have everything wrong in a painting and then I will do something so right that the painting as a whole looks pretty good. But don’t the masters get it all right? “If you had everything right you would have the Midas touch and you don’t want that. I don’t want it and you don’t want it.” I kept painting but I was thinking I better get some clarification on this Midas bit. I thought it was a pretty cool thing.
I told Peggi about the discourse and she said, “Why don’t you ask him to follow up on it?” I looked “Midas Touch” up on Wikipedia and learned that the king’s food, wine and even his daughter turned to gold when he touched them and this was all kind of a drag. I think I may have known this story at one time.
This week I asked Fred why we wouldn’t want the Midas touch in our painting and he said, “If you assume that everything you touch is gold, you’re dead. Creativity is doubt and questioning”.
In painting class at the Creative Workshop in Rochester, we go about our business while Fred walks around the room and looks at the work. He stops at each person’s work area and looks at what you have on the easel or table. As a long time student, you know when he is behind you looking at your work and you know not to try to engage him with conversation first or any discourse on what you are working on or trying to do. He wants to look first. “No sales talk”. This is in keeping with his method. Forget about your plan. Let the painting talk to you. Address the worst first and and stop and evaluate it each time you make a move. When you have addressed all the bad, all you have left is good and of course, you are done. Staying open to surprises is part of the creative adventure. Executing a plan is “just busy work”.
Fred’s stops could last a minute or half an hour and the rest of the class can listen in on his critique. Most of what he says applies to all of us regardless of the medium or subject matter we are tackling. Leo does watercolor landscapes and I listened in while Fred was helping him with something last night. Fred was emphasizing the importance of not losing sight of the subject of the painting by putting extraneous elements in here. He used the example of painting a portrait. My ears perked up. Of course you don’t paint every hair on their head. You exclude things to focus on the subject.
The Toronto doctors who were probing around some guy’s brain when they triggered 30 year old memories by hitting a particular spot said some of the biggest scientific discoveries have been made serendipitously.
Francis Bacon said “I think that realism must be reinvented. It has to be continuously reinvented. In one of his letters van Gogh speaks of the necessity of making changes in reality that become lies that are truer than the pure truth. That is the only way a painter can recreate the intensity of the reality he attempts to capture. I think that reality in art is something profoundly artificial and that it has to be created anew, otherwise it would be merely an illustration for some purpose and thus in fact hearsay”.
I had this kid’s eye looking good. It captured perfectly the “oh god, what have I done look”, rolling back and not focused on anything but a thought. I stepped back to check it out and wondered if possibly the eye was too low on the face. I tried to talk myself out of it to no avail and so I scrubbed the whole thing out. I was reminded again of one of Fred Lipp’s rules for painting. Of course he has also said “show me a rule and I’ll show you that I can break it” but this rule is one you can almost bank on. “If the question comes up, the answer is almost always yes”.
“I’m in love with Arthur Dove”. Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan wrote a song with that title. Dove grew up in nearby Canandaigua, New York and this painting of Canandaigua Lake is entitled, “Ice and Clouds”. This is about the way things looked today – a little bit of snow mixed with bare ground, sunny with clouds. Dove was one of America’s first abstract painters and he nearly starved to death doing it. His parents owned a whole block of buildings in Geneva, NY so they threw him some support and Alfred Stieglitz and Duncan Phillips tried to champion his art. I love his work. I did a painting of him in my painters series. And like this quote from him, “Ideas are the only property worth having. Taxes are the penalty you pay for wanting things.”
I have noticed that the sloppier I get while painting, the better my painting looks. I don’t mean that the painting looks sloppy, it’s the floor around the easel. And I’m not aware that I am being sloppy until I look down. I drop paint and then step in it and walk around in it. I get paint on the handles of the brushes and then on my hands and my clothes. I wouldn’t think this is anything to aspire to. It is probably some sort of phase that I am going though. And speaking of phases, I feel as though I am stumbling along and proceeding as if that is a method. I don’t know exactly what to do next so I paint something, react to it, correct it by scraping it off or wiping it with a paper towel and then move on. My paintings look better to me and that is all that really counts.
Our friends and neighbors, Rick and Monica, invited us over for dinner last night. Monica made what she calls “comfort food”. The dish had biscuits and chicken and peas in a milky broth and it was delicious. I felt like we were back in Bloomington, Indiana having dinner at the Workingmans’ Cafe. After dinner we watched “Yo Soy Cuba”, a wild 1964 Russian made film about the Cuban Revolution. It reminded us of Sun Ra’s “Space Is The Place” with its unreal setting, exotic characters and otherworldly soundtrack.
Holland Cotter reviewing a Stuart Davis drawing show in the New York Times says, “We are a linear-thinking, line-making people, a nation of surveyors, measurers, calculators, plotters, mappers, dividers. To our forebears the fearful wilderness was something to build a straight road through. The horizon wasn’t some romantic Beyond; it was a goal to be reached in x number of days, months, years. Drawing anchors us in space, gives us coordinates and direction. It is the thread in the labyrinth, guiding us through.”
That reminds me. I have to do a site map for the Refrigerator.
Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones, is quoted as saying, “Usually the material we played was new to us in the studio. We would only do second takes for technical reasons, not because of the musical content”. And the only time he was given charts was for the “Africa Brass” album that John and Eric Dolphy arranged and scored. So all this amazing music was a first take. And Miles is quoted as saying, “There are no mistakes”. Easy for him to say.
I’ve been listening to “Africa Brass, The Complete Sessions” as I paint and I am completely taken by the alternate take of “Africa”. There are three takes of this song in this package so there must have been some technical problems and I am thankful for that. The bass playing is so strong it comes off as a lead instrument. The horn arrangements are unlike anything in jazz. Of course, Coltrane is superb. And Elvin Jones takes his sweet time developing his solo section. His playing is beautiful. He never loses sight of Coltrane’s melody and only heightens the impact when it returns.
I’m thinking about this first take approach as I make mistake after mistake with my paintings. I have been trying to roll with my mistakes, correct them and use them to develop my painting. I’m seeing how valuable my mistakes are. I know that I have to paint the parts with the melody or theme in mind and not lose sight of it.
In the early eighties when drum solos were way uncool someone slipped a note to our band, Personal Effects, that read, “Let the drummer take a ride”. Even if I could talk a good game, the proof is in the pudding.
Our NetFlix cue has reached the Sergio Leone clump that we stacked up a few months ago. We watched “For A Few Dollars More” last night and I was struck by how intriguing each character looked before they even uttered a word. The director sought a strong visual impact with the introduction of each figure even going overboard with a hunchback on Klaus Kinsky.
Which brings me to selecting faces to paint. I should probably have a “duh” category over to the right because this is so obvious. The more intriguing the source, the more likely the work will be of interest. I have mostly been trying to draw, to capture the essence of a pose and some snapshot of a personality from the source, and in the process I bring my own experience with people, the way I feel their presence, to the characters that I’m trying to draw. Why not help myself by choosing more animated sources, accentuate or even exaggerate the features? Why not give the few people that look at my paintings a break? Why should they have to look at these mundane characters? I prepared myself to be more discriminating in selecting source material instead of just trying to paint every mugshot on the Crimestoppers page. But I’m looking at the most recent version from the Democrat & Chronicle and every one of these photos has potential. Duh.
If you are a painter there is no downtime. This is the way it is. My painting class is in recess for the holidays but we will soon be back in the basement of the Memorial Art Gallery on Tuesday nights. And in the meantime, we paint or think about painting. Thinking about it heightens the moment when you are are standing in front of a blank canvas. “This time it will be different”, for why would you want to repeat yourself? This isn’t rock and roll.
I just posted some photos of paintings by people in my painting class. LorraineBohonos and Alice de Mauriac are two of my favorite painters and it is a joy to watch them paint. I think you will like their paintings.
This is one of my favorite paintings in the world. My flash shot does not do it justice. It is impossible to see the pencil drawing of me smiling behind the brown drum set. And the mic and floating keys above Peggi’s black keyboard are indiscernible here. But the expression reads. My niece did this when she was five. My sister would drop her off at our house when she had her hair done in the city. I babysat while I worked from home. At the time I was painting with house paint on the backs of billboard paper the I got from Dave Mahoney’s father. My niece wanted to do a painting so I suited her up in my paint clothes and rolled the sleeves way up and then the phone rang. She started painting with the brushes I had out and switched to mixing sticks when the brushes were dirty. I was on the phone for about twenty minutes and this painting was done when I got off. It’s about 4 feet wide and 5 feet tall and it’s hanging in our house today.
As oldest of seven I had a lot of babysitting experience in my own family and then when my sister started getting overbooked as a teenager I picked up her jobs and soon developed my own clients in the neighborhood. It was fifty cents an hour back then but there were all sorts of fringe benefits. I would go through the cupboards and refrigerator before the parents were out of the driveway. Hardest part was getting the little ones into bed before their parents came back. There were many times when I was unable to do this but I don’t remember ever losing any jobs over it.
When my sister was going through a long drawn out divorce I would ride my bike to her house in Webster and babysit for her three kids, my nieces, while she worked her job at a local restaurant. Divorce hits the kids the hardest and I witnessed the carnage. I would arrive and find ten kids smoking in one of the bedrooms or a group of kids on the roof of house. The scene was pretty much out of control but I did my best. There were fights, suspensions and a suicide attempt during this time but lots of fond memories. And then a nightmare when one of the kids developed an infection that went to her heart. She died while waiting for a heart transplant in Pittsburgh.
Peggi is on row 72 of a baby blanket that she is crocheting for the new son of one of these kids. And today I heard that the one who did this painting was sentenced to sixty days in an alcohol rehab facility for picking up two DWIs.
I’ve been painting heads lately but I imagine that this principle would apply to any subject. The source for the head is a start and after the first marks on the canvas I am finding that the painting should be leading the way instead of me. Listening to and reading the painting’s needs is a better way to proceed than doing what I had in mind. If I’m painting the lips on a head, the form of those lips should be talking to the whole. I should be painting the whole at all times and only the whole knows what it needs. I can’t just look at the lips as I paint them.
I am not able to do this but I owe the recognition of this principle to my painting teacher, Fritz Lipp. I apologize if I have misrepresented his direction.I read this quote from Elvin Jones on playing with John Coltrane. “I was more listening to him than trying to accompany as a drummer. I was just fascinated by this guy and the way he played. He had so many ideas. It seemed like he was sitting on a mountain of ideas, and they would just flake off every three or four seconds.” So he played like one of the greatest drummers by listening.
We went to the RoCo Members Show last night. Each member gets to submit one piece and it always manages to be a good show and a fun event. Anne Havens submitted a beautiful artist’s book and read it. We found a quote there attributed to E.D. (Emily Dickinson) that read, “Life is a spell so exquisite that everything conspires to break it”. Wow.
On the way over to RoCo we stopped at Book Smart Studio where two RIT students were showing their thesis work. I really loved Jessica Marquez’s “A Naturual History”. She took profile shots of her extended family and fine tuned them in Photoshop so the detail of the features remained in the silouetted images. She coated the balnk pages of old books with something that allowed her to print her photos on these pages. They look like something she found in an attic. They require close examination and are exquisite!
After the galleries we stopped by Bill and Geri’s to see their renovation project. We bought Molson Ice 40 ouncer for $3 at the Twelve Corners Quickstop and watched a Heart reunion in high def on VH1.
Someday I will get off this dime and paint something other that local crime faces. We had our last painting class until after the damn holidays. I finished the one below and I took another one over to the annual members show at Rochester Contemporary. That opening is Friday. The paint was still wet and I didn’t have a chance to photograph that one.
Margaret Explosion plays tonight at the Little Theatre Cafe. I haven’t touched my drums since our last gig.
I rode my bike to Target this afternoon and bought a pair of shoes to wear while painting. I try to paint a little bit everyday and yet it never gets easier. I might as well have some comfortable shoes. “It’s not supposed to be easy,” is one of my painting teacher’s favorite lines. It probably isn’t really one of his favorites. It’s just that he has occasion to use it often. I started another face from the Crimestoppers page tonight and thought I was off to a great start but every move I made after that compounded the problems. I have to remind myself to stop and look at the painting. And when I stop to look, I have to step back quite a ways. I have to be open to the possibility that the painting could go in a different direction or maybe be done before I planned. I have to listen to the painting. I need to continually address the problems as I see them. Fix them before doing anything else.
We watched a terrible murder mystery the other night called “Tenebre.” Tony Franciosa is a pulp fiction writer and one of his lines is, “If you cut out the boring bits and keep the rest, you’ve got a best seller.” “If you get rid of the bad in a painting, all you will have left is good.” That’s another one of Fritz Lipp’s sayings. I’ve taken his painting class for about ten years now and I still haven’t learned these simple rules.At a certain point, you have to serve the painting.