Fred Lipp altered my drawing last night by strategically placing a small piece of white paper on top of part of the drawing. His collection of black, white and mostly grey paper is his primary teaching tool and it is incredibley effective. You use your eyes to see what he is talking about. My father was standing nearby and questioned something Fred said. Fred snapped back, “Forget about logic. We’re talking graphic.”
Fred Lipp wanted me to look at this etching by Matisse, a drawing really, and now I want to look at it, over and over. It’s a portrait of Baudelaire and, wow, does it look simple. Except that every line is absolutely perfect. None of the lines touch each other and they are all pretty much the same weight. They float in space while decribing physical form with supremely confident expression. There is so much volume in here and not one false move. You want to take each lines’ journey.
This white wooden block was screwed to the wall near the light switches in our painting class and someone stuck some blue tape on it. It looks like a Richard Tuttle piece.
Our class, with many regulars and a handful of newcomers, is so full that the moments of engagement with our teacher are compacted and all the more intense. There is no time to fart around and Fred Lipp rises to the challenge. The class description emphasizes honesty and he cuts right to the chase. He pointed to the way I laid in a neck on a pencil drawing and said, “You’re boring me.”
I didn’t say anything at first but when he left I thought, “thank you.”
After the Margaret Explosion gig on Wednesday I sat down with Jeff, a therapist and friend from high school and beyond, and we began talking about the painting/therapy nexus. Jeff felt there was a strong parallel between the two practices and why shouldn’t there be? This conversation was just getting going when we were interrupted but the topic has been kicking around in my head.
When my father started taking the painting class with me at the Creative Workshop he’d come out of class many times saying he felt like he was in therapy and I would laugh but I know exactly what he meant. Breaking old habits requires someone to point the detrimental habits out. Staying open and using your eyes instead of your brain, learning to trust your own eyes is tougher than would seem so why not accept help from a coach?
Recovering alcoholics all subscribe to the “one day at a time thing” just as painters in Fred Lipp’s class learn to “address the worst first.” “Always, get to the point!” “Painting is not supposed to be easy or everyone would do it.” The journey is the thing, not the plan or final piece, and the toughest lesson is learning to enjoy the struggle because that is where the magic is.
Painting class ended for the year, just in time to do some more painting. During the last class (i.e. “therapy session”) I overheard Fred explaining another one of painting’s conundrums to a fellow student. Tony was working on a big abstract, one with what he calls “pours” of pigment and medium, and he had a nice section at the bottom of his painting that I had complimented him on earlier in the evening. I was only listening as I worked on my own set of problems but I know Fred was covering up that section on Tony’s painting when he launched into a familiar rap.
“The minute something becomes precious, it is a liability. You’re going to dance around it, trying to protect it at the expense of your painting.”
These universal guides, always address the worst first, if the question comes up the answer is yes, get to the point and then shut up, work for the other abstract painters in the class. They work for the women who paints animals, the guy who does Maine landscapes, my father’s whimsical watercolors and my crime face paintings. The guides, of course, are bigger than painting and that’s why they are universal.
It was so much fun to watch Texas lose with the Bushes in the best seats. Tim Lincecum is on the mound for SF tonight and I like his haircut. We’ve had to endure some bad commercials though. Are bad commercials more effective than good ones? What is it? I know this much. The World Cup is a lot more exciting than the World Series.
I talked to Anne Havens this morning. She’s been having some computer problems. Anne closes up her studio and heads south for the winter pretty soon. She likes the sunshine. I don’t mind the sunshine but I can only handle so much heat. It takes the life out of me or it takes the edge off at least. We’re supposed to have our first frost tonight and I love it when the house gets cool. Perfect weather for art.
I’ve not had any time for art the last few months but I do manage to get to painting class each week. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to spend time with Fred Lipp and I’ve learned that I don’t have to bring in a pile of work to have an insightful conversation with him. I can just start working on something in class and Fred is off. In fact, the more on the line I am, the more cutting, right on and helpful the critique is.
I take the same photo over and over, it seems. I have to come up with creative names so I don’t overwrite older files. How many times have I photographed this marsh? I paint the same painting over and over too. I came home with a new batch of crime faces tonight, mugshots from the morning paper.
Our painting teacher came in with three quotes printed on a small pieces of paper. He gave one to each student first thing. And as much as we would like to think we are all painters, we are “students” in Fred Lipp’s presence. The first quote was from Juan Gris. “You are lost the minute you know what the result will be.” The second from Degas. “Only when he no longer knows what he is doing, does the painter do good work.” And the third one was from William Baziotes. “Each painting has its own way of evolving. . . when the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.
No wonder I have to take this class over and over.
I was in painting class last night, listening to Fred Lipp explain the principals of Cubism as first explored by Cezanne, when Warren came in from the office to say my father was on the phone. My father told me that Peggi had called him from her downtown fitness club to say her locker had been broken into while she was swimming and her clothes and car keys had been stolen. My father said he was going to swing by the gallery and pick me up so I could give Peggi my keys and check on the car. I walked out of painting class waited for my dad out on Goodman Street.
My father packed up some of my mother’s clothes and I passed them to Peggi who was wrapped in a towel. A few minutes later she came out of the women’s locker room with my mom’s clothes on and she confessed she wasn’t entirely certain which locker she had put her stuff in. There was only one locked locker in the area and it wouldn’t open with her combination. The lock did look like hers and she had become convinced that that maybe the lock was just acting up. The woman behind the desk suggested that they cut the lock off and see. She went in the back room and came out with big red bolt cutters and the two of them headed back into the women’s locker room.
They were unable to cut through the Master Lock so they cleared the women out of the room and I went in there. It took some doing but I popped the lock and there were Peggi’s clothes and her lock was in her gym bag! All she can think is that she picked up someone else’s lock last week, put it in her bag with hers and then put that lock on her locker when she went in to the pool.
Peggi dropped me back at class picked up the Cubist discussion where we had left off.
“You’re having fun with this” Fred said when he worked his way around the class to get to my spot. “I am?,” I said. I actually felt like I was pulling my hair out all week, full of doubt that I was able to put the head on the paper. I want to physically place the severed head in this artificial construct of a space but I’m left with the realization that I cannot.
I expressed these concerns to Fred in less graphic terms and a rather long discussion took place. Of course Picasso, Matisse and Guston were all in there as examples of artists who made it their life’s work to describe form.
“What is the point of these paintings,” he asked. “To convey the expression,” I offered. He looked down at my recent watercolors (click on photo above for example). “Well, you’ve got it.” he countered. He argued that my frustration comes from my compulsion to get form down when it is not the point. “If the intent is to convey form, you should work on that.” True to form I said, “But I would like more form.” And true to his teacher form he said, “You could do it with less!” “If something doesn’t add to the expression you’re after, don’t paint it. You gotta know when to shut up.”
Used to be we had two painting sessions, “Fall” and “Spring” for lack of better descriptors. And then the Creative Workshop of the Memorial Art Gallery divided the Spring session in two which I guess you could call pre Easter and post Easter. They keep dropping weeks too so the Fall session starts later and finishes earlier and the Spring session doesn’t start until mid January and of course the price keeps inching up. But I try to block all that out.
I show up to confront painting issues and our painting teacher, Fred Lipp, is always ready to ratchet it up a notch. I know that I am a better painter than I was ten years ago and I know I have a long way to go. If I felt that Fred was not able to help me get better I would not be taking his class each week. The situation is pretty clear for me and the price is worth it. The interesting thing about all this is how Fred is always there like Sly Stone to take you higher.
In painting class last week our teacher, Fred Lipp, was discussing his painting that was recently on display in the faculty show. It is a tour de force and it was a pleasure to hear him discuss it. He talked about his approach to creating this work and coincidentally it overlapped with the way he teaches us to think about our work.
Fred guides us by constantly reminding us to address the worst first and the whole trick is to be able to identify the “the worst.”. And if you don’t start a piece by throwing down a whole lot of “worst” you will have a lot less headaches. It is important to consider the space, the white rectangle, the whole, right from the onset.
Fred strives to achieve maximum results from minimal information so that very first mark must work with the space. “Always address the whole”. Fred says he knows what he is after but he doesn’t know how he will do it. That is the adventure. And he has the confidence to know he can pull it off. He thrives on improvisation and each move is a dialog with the whole.
The Little Theater has a promo display of free New Yorker magazines and I grabbed one between sets at last night’s Margaret Explosion gig. Peter Schjeldahl reviewed a retrospective of the Flemish artist, Luc Tuymans, on display in Columbus, Ohio. Although I had never hear of him, Schjeldahl described him as “the most challenging painter in the recent history of the art.” Tuymans was quoted as saying, “untill I get to the middle of the process — its horific. It’s like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know how to do it, and it’s very strange.” Schjeldahl says this, “— uncertain ends, confident means is as good a general definition of creativity as I know.
The telephone company had their trucks out back all day yesterday but we were too busy to go down and see what was going on. They showed up again this morning and woke us up. So right after coffee we headed down the hill to investigate. The guy up in the ladder figured a truck pulled down the wires where they crossed the road. Just as I was wondering whether our neighbors were without phone service one of them drove by smiling and talking on his cell phone.
Only have two more painting classes this year before summer break. Our painting teacher, Fred, told me I was on a roll. I looked unsure and he asked if I was aware of that. I said, I feel like I have improved by a small margin and I held my thumb and forefinger close together. He said, “But you are enjoying the problem solving.” And damn if I don’t keep missing the big picture.
When I showed up for class at the Creative Workshop I found this message on the board. I have an interest in the two disciplines. I know Fred Lipp has a day class on Tuesdays and I wondered if he might have posted these notes. The only time I remember him addressing the class with chalk in hand was when he drew a diagram of his winter accident. He is not the demonstration kind of teacher.
When he showed up last for class (he is that kind of teacher) I asked him if he wrote the note. He said no and and asked if there was something I wanted to add. I said, “Improvisation”, and he wrote that on the board.
Fred Lipp, my painting teacher, has been trying to make me more aware of the different forms on the two sides of a head when the face is even slightly turned. Most of my recent paintings are mugshots and the photos I paint from were taken pretty much straight on but there is usually something I can pick up to make the structure more interesting. I working on that.
And then along come this painting of a horse by a fifth grader currently on view at the Shweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn. This girl made the dead-on sing.
Latest “Crime Face painting. Painted from photo on Crimestoppers page of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Rome Celli did his annual client appreciation night at the Little Theatre tonight so we had our choice of five movies. We chose “Slumdog Millionaire, “Nixon & Frost” and “The Wrestler” in that order thinking it might be crowded and we might need aback up plan. We got into Slumdog and it was kinda predicable and corny but we really enjoyed it.
Rome had cookies and coffee for everyone after the movie and we ran into a couple we sort of know. They asked how I liked the movie and I said “I loved it”. (Peggi was in the bathroom). They said they were shocked at how bad it was. I said “Really? It wasn’t great but I liked it”. Then it became clear to to me by something they said that they were really affected by how bad the situation was for the kids in India. Peggi came back from the bathroom and said, “Wasn’t that a great movie?” These people were almost crying.
Across the room I saw a woman come in who, the last time I saw her, had asked me why I painted these people who had caused some much trouble in our community. I did not really want to have another discussion with her.
My painting teacher, Fred Lipp, went down to New York to see the Marlene Dumas show at the Modern. About half my class saw that show. Fred bought he book and brought it into class and my father said “I think Marlene is a disturbed individual” (based on her subject matter).
I am beginning to question whether I too spend too much time looking at the dark side. I already knew there was some incredible poverty in India. I thought that was a pretty light movie. And that Bollywood dance number certainly had nothing on “West Side Story”. I told Kathy Palokoff that I was going to start painting babies and she said, “Please don’t”.
I realized a long time ago that Fred’s Lipp’s rules for painting can be applied to just about anything you do in life. There aren’t that many rules but just as you learn them, there are other rules to learn. Tonight I started with “draw the thing that you respond to” and that has opened up some doors.
OK, how many fundamentals are there anyway?
There is a drawing show at the Memorial Art Gallery now. Margaret Explosion played the opening. We scanned the show during our break and intend to get back over there before it leaves. I take a painting class with Fred Lipp at the Creative Workshop in the basement of the gallery. They have just put up a drawing show of students and teacher work. The kids drawings are the best.
I had a class last night and came away with another one of Fred Lipp’s fundamentals. Fred suggested that I start with what attracted me to the piece.
He asked, “What about the source material makes you want to paint it?” I didn’t have time to reply. He said, “I’m assuming you don’t just paint them because they are there”. I’m not entirely sure about that assumption. I have a high tolerance for the mundane. He was suggesting that I paint what it is that attracts me to the source. “Start with what it is that attracts you to this subject. Get that down first. And then ask what it is that the painting needs.”
This might be obvious to some people but I know I don’t do that. I ususlly start by trying to place the head on the page in the right proportions. And I certainly am not attarcted to a source because it has the right proportions. Turns out I’m getting in the way of my own paintings.
Jeff Munson dropped off an Amaryllis plant for us this morning. Peggi added it to her centerpiece on our table.We helped him set up Skype for his trip to Mexico. He also gave me a beautiful shot of the “84 Lumber” sign out on Scottsville Road. I plan to add that to the sign section someday.
I spent most of the day in the basement painting. I was geared up to start a new painting and it hit me (again) how it is always a new beginning. Something never done before unless you are determined to repeat your same mistakes. Learning to see and identify your mistakes as such allows you have that redundant new beginning.
But how long does it take to learn Fred Lipp’s proceedural rules? Look at the painting as a whole at every stage and do the fucking worst first.
I have been too busy over the holidays to paint or even check in here. Been hanging with our nephew mostly. Peggi and I found an iPod Touch under the tree and our nephew, coincidentally, just posted his recommended apps for the new device on his site. His laptop is crazy glued to his fingers and he hunches over it, hiding his activities under a mop of hair.
It took us three NetFlix sessions to watch a sixty minute documentary called,”Directors: Robert Altman”. Altman reminded us of Martin’s dad, Kenneth Edic. Altman described how he wanted his movies to be adventures. And it was important to him that the actors that he chose be open to an adventure as well. This is what my painting teacher (Fred Lipp) says all the time. “Painting is an adventure. It’s not the execution of a plan.”
But sadly they are no longer either one. Donuts Delite went out of business years ago and the pink Art Deco building on Culver Road is still still up for sale. My family used to head down there after church and Peggi and I used to stop in there all the time for a fried cake and the best cup of coffee in town. I stopped by yesterday for sentimental reasons and walked around the building. The place has possibilities for dreamers.
I think I overheard Fred Lipp right last night in painting class. I think I heard him say, “How can I make this job easier – for myself?”. If I didn’t catch this completely out of context, I’d say he was explaining how he came up with his teaching methods. His methods are directional and purposeful and efficient and clear. They can take a long time to digest and put into practice mostly because there is so much unlearning to dispense with. His rules are concise. “Get to the subject. Address the worst first. Trust your eye.” These are so powerful that it makes perfect sense that they would also be the right tools to make his job (teaching people how to see) easier.
Fred continued moving across the room and stopped next door at the table where my father was working on his watercolor of the UofR regatta. My father was saying something about what he planned on doing in this painting. Fred was saying, “Painting is a visual adventure, a delight for the eyes. You have to learn to trust your eye. If your eye questions something, pay attention to it and address it”.
Your eye knows more than you give it credit for.