Here’s an link to my monthly newsletter for July. This one is all about some of my adventures in Italy!
Moments and Remnants in the Studio
I have always loved going into other artist’s studios. Without seeming too effusive, they seem like a magical space; something different from the everyday world happens there. And now, that the digital world is bringing more and more onto our screens, with myriad devices everywhere, I’m grateful to see so many studios these days!
So, I decided to start taking and posting more studio shots from the inevitable aftermath of time spent there with my beloved cat Lilly, an abundance of materials, piles that seem to build both vertically and horizontally, happenchance overlaps of cascading papers, and palettes that move between both peaceful forays and challenging battles of mixing colors and other concoctions with oil paint.
The patina of studio ‘stuff’ that has built up over the last twenty-two years echoes some of the ideas, meaning and processes in the relative adventure behind making the paintings. Usually there is at least a tenuous relationship between how much mess is left in my tracks and how fearlessly I am approaching a piece. In a way, it’s not unlike those gorgeous walls in Italy I am so enamored with where many unpredictable overlapping phenomenon slowly build a palimpsested surface. Here are some moments and remnants shot walking around my studio over a few days this late September.
DRAWING BOX: 2013
It has a page on Facebook without which it could not be what it is.
Soon after her return from her residency in India, Diane Henshaw together with Andrew Crane, John Crabtree, and Patil Rajendra, started the first Drawing Box that opened in Mumbai (2013). Then it travelled to Belfast (Crescent Arts Centre, April 2013), Enniskillen (The Higher Bridges Gallery, May 2013) and Dublin (Ranelagh Arts Centre July-August 2013). Some future venues are planned in Malaysia, Philippines, Berlin, Lithuania, Slovakia, South Africa, USA, England and Italy.
DB exists because artists love to draw, are prepared to pay the postage, and the hosts are taking on full responsibility for occupying the space offered by the venue. Not in a small way, it exists because of Facebook’s capacity to revitalise the idea of mail art. Drawing Box differs from the Mail Art of the 1970s and 1980s not only due to new technology, but also the governing rules: each artist may submit only five drawings in one format (A5) and can either let the once made choice travel from venue to venue, or submit new work, especially if there was a sale. Moreover, artists may submit their drawings on the Drawing Box Facebook page only, without posting them to exhibitions organised by volunteering hosts in all or any of the listed venues.
Drawing Box further differs from the earlier Mail Art by not having a militant attitude to institutions. Rather, it follows Joseph Beuys’s advice to artists to learn to use any available resources. Northern Ireland has a respectable tradition of this strategy. The earliest were Available Resources in June-July 1991 in Derry-Londonderry, then 25 years ago started Catalyst Arts Belfast which is still vibrant and strong, and more recently Delawab, Satis House and Household yearly event.
Drawing Box puts its trust into the artworks availability to different audiences.
It has no one curator and one venue. It is engaged in enhancing freedom for artist’s determining what they exhibit and where. Its digital (Facebook) branch allows for spontaneous comments of viewers, in some cases a hundred about one work of art. That luxury is denied in the established models. Yes, the weakness is that visitors of the Facebook page respond to a reproduction, their experience is nevertheless real. I have no scientific evidence about the influence of lens based media on the visual perception, nevertheless, films, video, television, newsprint, photo print are forging quantitatively greater part of our experience with visual art and visual thinking than do encounters with the originals in galleries and museums. I am not proposing that one can replace the other, rather I sense a complementary relationship between them.
The DB hosts at Mumbai (Feb-March 2013) published a handsome catalogue, displayed each artist’s submission on a board, and generally instilled the exquisite sensual beauty of attention to detail, material and atmosphere. The subsequent versions were documented online only. Let me introduce the four artists who hatched the idea.
Patil Rajendra is a painter, teacher and philosopher. I have noticed, in his paintings, the scale of hues like Indian spices, saturating the surface to the highest possible temperature while avoiding any agitation.
Generously, he regularly feeds his new work onto his Facebook page (Patil Rajendra Mumbai Maharashtra India) offering continuity of thought and comparison. Recent images prefer a dramatic state of mind, incisive conflict of motifs, at times observed, at times invented, floating in front of the abstract ground. Rajendra does not give titles, dates and sizes.
Andrew Crane trained in graphic design and now allows his paintings and drawings to remember that by embracing fragmented letters and numbers over an abstract ground.
He wrote “ I see my paintings as ‘philosophical ramblings’ in paint and cement” He refers to the method that he developed using cement over canvas as a ground cherishing the material’s character, its stubborn refusal to be as smooth as plaster or gesso.
Crane compares his images to koans – puzzles that inspire meditative state of mind.
Diane Henshaw was a devotee of paper and line ever since I met her during her Master Degree study at the University of Ulster in Belfast.
Anchoring drawings in music, musical notation included,
she invites interpretative attention to her images as compositions of full and empty motifs, of linear and curvilinear, of contrasting hues or a hue modulated by gradual tonality.
Each composition offers several states of mind at once. Strongly defined motifs insist on their visual supremacy refusing to submit to any story telling. Indeed like music. Kandinsky used to envy that freedom from narratives.
John Crabtree explores variations on a theme, as if shadowing the master of the Fugue.
Without intending it, he shares with J S Bach exactitude of a scale which gets almost simultaneously dissolved in a torrent of passion governed by chance and instinct. It is the art of John Cage and Morton Feldman that invites Crabtree to feel free, to be free, to follow deeply held beliefs. Cherishing the power of ambiguity the space is defined yet not understandable. He wrote: “I paint to dis-arm myself”. Amazingly, the indetermined characters of blobs, squiggles, signs, imprints, collage etc unconditionally direct the viewing to what he surrended to.
The latest statistics sent to me by Diane Henshaw lists 108 artists actively taking part in Drawing Box. I struggle to characterised it: it is free of the power of curatorship, of ideology, of celebrities, of the pressures and advantages of dealerships, grants, subsidies etc. It is freely supported by the artists from all over the globe with quiet confidence and mute enthusiasm that art will find its audience in direct encounters as well as in the mediated ones. The spirit of Facebook forges gentle positive connections without pressure of competitiveness.
Drawing Box is like a diligent pollinator evoking a change from isolation to an exchange capable of forming an encounter based on free will. Good fortune!
Grateful for a Triad of Influence
For the last couple of years, I have been keenly aware and super appreciative of what I now think of as a Triad of Influence.
For about two and a half years I have been working almost exclusively in abstraction with an oil painting medium I have come to love like no other. I am known to many as a materials junky, and I know that I will use other media in my day, but there is something about cold wax/mixed media and its endless willingness to be coerced into all kinds of surfaces and textures that keeps me coming back. There have been three distinct, but also very interrelated, influences on the paintings I find myself making today. This triad of influence includes two great painters and teachers, the phenomenon of facebook and my trips to Italy in the summer. I dedicate this humble gesture of gratitude to all of these great pleasures in my life!
Through an interesting convergence of events, I met two artists a couple of years ago who to this day continue to inspire me.
I met Tad Spurgeon via the wonders of the web in the fall of 2009. We have stayed connected all this time in myriad ways including an endless trail of (mostly) art related emails back and forth, me editing the very first drafts of his now legendary book on materials – called the Living Craft: A Painter’s Process, and his stellar dedication to researching and experimenting with and then sharing his deep passion for making materials. Tad has become a once in a lifetime type of connection with a fellow painter, and I owe a lot to his perseverance with not only his depth of knowledge about painting and its materials but also his amazing willingness to share his findings with other artists. For a true treasure trove of painting information, check out his fantastic website that is a work of art in itself.
Here is the testimonial I wrote about Tad’s book.
“I am eternally grateful to the alignment of the stars leading me to Tad Spurgeon. I have spent decades painting and teaching art at the university level. Tad’s intellectual depth, sprightly wit, inspired research, and generosity of spirit in sharing his knowledge with fellow painters has greatly enhanced my artistic processes like a fortuitous gift from the muses. ‘The Living Craft’ offers a unique and brilliant treatise on everything imaginable related to oil painting. It is a modern day masterpiece and an absolute must read for an integrated studio practice that embraces a deep and personal connection to materials and making.”
I met Rebecca Crowell in 2011 when I drove to Osseo to take her famous and much loved cold wax workshop in a spacious studio at the end of an icy spring. She was another wonderful catalyst that greatly changed my life! I had been dabbling off and on in (hot wax) encaustic for a number of years. Although my background was way more in the realm of painterly realism (with some little glimmers of my love of abstraction to come…) I did work abstractly when making encaustic paintings. At least in my hands, encaustic wanted to be abstract and I let it have its way. So, my trek towards more abstract work had begun years back, but somehow meeting Rebecca completely accelerated that excursion in ways I would have never imagined! Just like Tad, Rebecca embodies the best of what I call ‘generosity of spirit’ in all realms and I totally treasure our friendship. Rebecca has quite the following and an expansive web presence and if you are not already familiar with this acclaimed master of cold wax, you will find tons of information written by and about Rebecca on materials and other fascinating artistic content at these websites:
Secondly, I can say, without any reservation, and endless daily concrete examples of a virtual realm impacting the physical world, that facebook has also changed my life! I absolutely love connecting with fellow artists from all over the world everyday. My love of research and obsessive nature has linked into this digital space with a passion I would have never dreamed possible. This year alone, facebook has directly opened doors to new terrain for me having: three group drawing shows in Ireland (and one coming in Malaysia, and then Berlin in fall), an exhibition with twenty nine other artists in New York City, two new wonderful galleries in the south (Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta and Atelier Gallery in Charleston), painting sales, and endless inspirational hours of researching amazing art being made all over the planet. I love that for many of us, there is merely a few keyboard clicks between what’s being made in our studios and happening in our lives and what is posted on our facebook walls. I greatly appreciate the new and ongoing friendships, artistic connections, virtual studio visits, art opportunities, the abundant stream of heartfelt comments and insightful feedback. I thank you All!
Lastly, but perhaps with the most visceral and conceptual resonance impacting my days in the studio, I want acknowledge how grateful I am to the universe (and everyone involved) going back to Florence to teach and travel every summer. What an artistic adventure that has changed my life and art in endless ways!
This year marks the seventh in a row teaching at the world-class Santa Reparta International School of Art! I adore the people that run this school and its like returning to beloved family every summer.
Here is an excerpt from a recent artist statement about the influence of Italy on my work:
Traces and vestiges that reveal the constancy of change fascinate me. The original ideas for my abstract paintings might come from faded frescoes, worn walls, gestural marks, or the random patinas that evolve as a myriad of elements alter surfaces. There is an endless story embedded in residual fragments that commemorate the passage of time. I want to suggest evocative dreamlike spaces that hold feeling and a sense of history.
Everyday, I experience an abundant palimpsest of imagery. In the span of one day, I see remnants of color in the architecture, decorative patterns, figurative elements, and sun parched graffiti sprawled walls juxtaposed with world-class art treasures. These experiences, intertwined with memory and invention, continue to feed my studio processes when I return home. My paintings celebrate the interplay of past and present, imagined and tangible, that which is lost and what remains.
There are, of course, endless other people and events that weave together the artistic life that I feel so blessed to be living (my amazing husband Bobby, dear family, other treasured friends and two wonderful cats, Fleece and Lilly, to name a few…) But this particular post is dedicated to my Triad of Influence, and to all of you that are part of this ever-expanding sphere! For you, I am eternally grateful!
Art & Design faculty Allison B. Cooke showing 5 drawings in Ireland gallery show
The Drawing Box is an experimental socionomic drawing project connecting artists from all over the world. The Drawing box is a social network / facebook (secret group) founded on the 27th December 2012. The group was formed by Outland arts member Diane Henshaw to create an open ‘but private by invite only’ forum for circulatory discussion about contemporary drawing with artists Andrew Crane, John Crabtree and Patil Rajendra, all of which had a collective synergy within their artistic practice. Quickly the group grew to a membership through word of mouth of close to 100+ artists.
The group decided to experiment with a spontaneous drawing exhibition plan and many of its newly formed membership are now creating five new works each scaled to A5 and participating in this inaugural mail art project under the auspices of the Drawing Box, in whatever mode of drawing that might be.
Opens: May 16 from 8pm. Continues to June 4, 2013.
10am – 4pm Monday to Friday and 11am – 3pm Saturdays
The Higher Bridges Gallery
Clinton Centre, Belmore Street
Co. Fermanagh BT74 7BA
Throwing Caution to the Wind
Late last week, a wonderful facebook friend of mine, Lorna Crane, encouraged me to participate in a drawing show opportunity in Ireland opening next month. At the last possible hour, I decided to go for it even though this meant temporarily setting aside my painting, moving into a back room in my attic studio and digging out myriad drawing materials with just three days to finish the work. I love to draw, however what surprised me was just how challenging, but also fascinating, this process proved to be in opening up new ideas about marking making and abstraction.
Throwing caution to the wind, and jumping into somewhat unfamiliar waters, I embarked a on a messy three day extravaganza with sumi ink, acrylic, graphite, charcoal and pastel. Everyone in “The Drawing Box Belfast” show is sending five drawings to Ireland at an A5 scale – a humble 8.3 x 5.8 inches. This guideline coerced me into working quickly and intuitively. I tried to move freely back and forth from one to the next and made about twenty mixed media pieces in three days. When something wasn’t working, I added more layers, turned it upside down, scraped away or started another one. Some of the drawings were made to scale and sometimes I worked slightly larger, looked at compositional possibilities and cut them to size. When I did the latter, I often worked back into them a little after they were cropped.
It was a pleasure to play with a constantly shifting palimpsested surface. I worked on seven or eight at a time striving for and finding relationships between them. As working in a series tends to do, the drawings started influencing each other. This kind of call and response between works happens with paintings in the studio as well, but the expediency of this project meant everything happened much faster and perhaps with more happenchance and unpredictability.
Both light and shadow are the dance of love.
I have been experimenting with the ways in which the fluidity of manipulating digital images shifts my perspective while in the process of creating paintings. When I see my works, constructed through many layers of color, change into black, white and grays with a touch of a computer option, it gives me a brand new insight into the space and design of the work. I am not sure why they sometimes look better to me in grays than they do in color. Maybe it’s just the fascination with seeing them so differently when altered into a grayscale mode via the never-ending wonders of Adobe Photoshop!
As much as I love color, I have also always been drawn to works reduced to more neutral and monochromatic values. Artists such as Cy Twombly, Antoni Tapies, and Stephen Croeser, a few favorites that come to mind, exude a visual strength through a limited palette in many of their works. While I often respond to the seduction and allure of color, I respect the restraint and elegance of less.
Sometimes people make a distinction between ‘value painters’ and ‘color painters.’I’ve worked for decades sitting comfortably in the latter camp. When thinking about visual opposites, I lean more towards warm and cool than light and dark. However, I find myself yearning to at least explore the other side where value shifts rein, if only to learn more about how color is functioning in a painting.
I am working from the premise that if the value range is wider, or at least more considered, the color is stronger. So, in the spirit of learning from what is unfamiliar, I have been using this photo manipulation tool in the midst of creating, in order to view the work through both an achromatic and chromatic lens. I appreciate seeing the same work in a new manner, and I am learning more about incorporating this process midstream to inform the next stages of layering paint.
I explore this shift back and forth in a few different ways. At times I start a piece, even one destined for full color, in a monochromatic values in the initial layers. In other paintings,
I document varying stages of works in process and look at them in both color and black and white versions that feeds ideas for the next layers. Also, actually looking at a grayscale and color versions side by side, I can compare both in relationship to one another. This interplay has enhanced my understanding and I appreciate its potential to chart visual and conceptual maps while making a painting.
My recent paintings are all made on panel with oil paint, cold wax, and other mixed media such as powdered marble, chalk, plaster, dry pigment, and gold leaf. Many unpredictable layers are developed through intuition, experimentation and chance. The process includes adding and subtracting paint, erasing, excavating, scraping, and improvisational mark making. Ultimately, I want these paintings to represent the beauty that is found in objects and places that are continuously shifting within the transformation of time.
Opening Reception: December 7, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.Our annual holiday exhibition features artists familiar
and new, with work in a variety of subject, styles, media, and sizes.