Thursday, November 30, 2006

Face Off Time!

"A grassroots project bringing democracy to the world of art"

Thanks to my friend Scott Newcomb I found out about Art Face Off, an online competition open to artists world wide. People visit the site and rate your work on a scale from 1 to 10; I think. The site also holds monthly competitions between different artists to determine who's the best. Although this may sound competitive it's also a good way to get your name out there and meet different artists in your area and internationally. You may also come across future patrons, and that's something no artist should pass on. About more than 3,000 visitors voted during the first round of face offs, different blogs are writing about this online competition and Europeans are digging it as well. Last night I joined and my work is up ready to be rated by you. Everything is anonymous so you can be as honest as you like. On the home page click on the top tab "Vote Gallery" and then click on "search artists" on the left panel. Type in my name on the keyword area and then pick the work painting from the drop tag. You'll find me right away. Hope to see some of you in this site soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

When a Painting Goes Wrong

I've been working on this painting on and off for a while. I was very excited with it at the beginning but some how things turned and I couldn't seem to make any progress, no matter how much time I put into it. Picked it up again this week thinking maybe this is when everything will click and a moment of clarity would come that would let me see it through. But this is all in a land called perfect. Things are not that easy some times and a struggle is inevitable. But tonight I had enough of it and decided that it's time to start with a clean slate. I thought of striping the canvas off the stretchers and start working on a fresh canvas. At the last minute I decided to cover up the painting and start over on the same one.
I made a mixture of earth tones and some chalk so that I can get this new ground layer to be a little absorbent. I also needed to add chalk because the oil content was too high and needed to thicken it up.
I'm hoping with this new try things will work better, since I've taken note of many of my mistakes along the way. Now I'll have to focus on another piece until this canvas dries.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ghost of Paintings Past

It's a feeling that comes over me every time I open the door to my old bedroom. An uncomforting vive of happy and sad times spent in this room that no longer is mine, but then again it is. As I walk in, every holiday or special family gathering, I drop my bag and look around to see my work leaning against the walls of this bare room. Like abandoned children they stand facing me, looking for attention and wondering why I left them.
It's impossible that these canvases actually talk and have a personality, I know that. It's a mental trick that is triggered by my guilt. Why do I feel this way? Why do I have this guilt, and guilt for what? This is something I have never been able to explain. But it's always there like thick air engulfing me every time I walk into this room. I'm not sure how it is with other artists, but I develop a close connection to my paintings. I call them my babies, and not just as a term of endearment but as something more literal since I feel that I gave birth to them. Maybe I'm nuts but that's the honest truth. Is this close connection that makes me feel like crap when I see my most exiting work abandoned, collecting dust and cob webs.
I run my hands on the back and front of as many paintings as I can. As sick as this may sound, touching them is a way of letting them now that I still have love for them and that I haven't forgotten them. Every painting in this room is special. They were all painted during a period in my life when turmoil reigned supreme and a brush against a canvas was my escapeism. These colorful canvases were hopes of better things to come and they were my main reason for pushing forward. I always look back at that time with fondness, as hard as it may have been I'm thankful for it since it has shaped me into who I am today.
As I leave this old room I look back before closing the door and promise them that no matter where I go I still think of them as the best, and that one day I'll come back for them.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Brice Marden Retrospective

Brice Marden, Epitaph Painting 5, 1997-2001, oil on linen, 9' 1/2" x 8' 8", Collection of Richard and Betty Hedreen
I can't remember the day when I was introduced to Brice Marden's work, but what I do know is that from then on I was a follower. At first I thought his work was very similar to Pollock, both artists filling the surface of the picture with energetic, organic shapes that moved around the plane like dancing sneaks. But here is where the similarities end. Marden's work has a more natural and serene ambiance, something that seems very meditative. His compositions are calculated and executed in a calm and moving way, as opposed to arriving at them by chance and spontaneity. In the past recent years Brice Marden's work has received a lot of attention and the number of publications on the artist's paintings has increased at fast rate, raising my awareness and admiration for his abstractions.
Marden has been an active painter since the 1960's, and as recognition of his achievements the MoMA has mounted the first retrospective on his work, a show spanning over forty years of abstract painting. This ten gallery exhibit was the first time I got to experience Marden's work and I could not get enough. When walking through the first gallery you are greeted by a small room containing his one tone, oil and beeswax painting. Considering them minimalist is an unfair label, since the presence of the artist at work is evident in each piece. Within this group of paintings one can see at the bottom edge an area where tape had been removed, exposing some of the canvas, and then letting drips and flicks of paint fall over it.
Moving along through the exhibition the use of color is explored further, with paintings made of two or more panels, diptychs and triptychs, creating beautiful color harmonies reminiscent of Color Field painting. The main impact of the retrospective is Marden's "calligraphic" paintings with its early beginnings in 1971, after the artist visited and then moved to Hydra, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Inspired by the land and history of the setting, his new work became looser and poetic. The work from this period was setting him up for his new style, a visual language Marden has been utilizing and modifying through the 80's 90's and present.
Marden's use of color became more neutral as the paint applications became more transparent. Paintings like the Cold Mountain series were reminders of foggy days in the wilderness when the play between tree branches and clouds of fog mix together obscuring and clarifying things simultaneously between foreground and background. Marden is one of many abstract painters who draw their inspiration from light, atmosphere, and other natural elements. Some the his paintings make use of a soft golden yellows that look like sun light breaking through the fog after a rainy day.

Brice Marden, Dragons, 2000-2004, ink on paper, 40 1/2" x 29 1/4", Private collection

Marden unleashes his use of color even more in his recent work, with rich reds, purples, and oranges. What at one time seemed to be natural light has now been replaced with "color light." Paint layers are more opaque leaving saturated color to reflect light its own way, with no connections to landscape. Even though the newer paintings don't have the misty feel of earlier work, the idea of nature is still present. Some the most recent work deals with the imagery of rocks; not representative but inspired by their shapes. Marden has also been inspired by Asian culture, especially Asian art. Dragons, an ink drawing/painting is a perfect example of that.

On November 20, I had the privilege to attend an artist talk with Brice Marden at the Strand. This was a very informal gathering as the artist, after being introduced by the Co-owner of Strand, Marden opened up the discussion by taking questions. It is here when I get to find out the meaning of "rocks" in his work. According to the artist, rocks were used by Chinese scholars in their studios as way to remind them of nature. And as mentioned above, his work is based on nature, not as "depiction" but as capturing the feeling of being in it; and about free association of energies like the energies of water and land used in Asian landscape painting.

Here I am standing next to Brice Marden as he signs the catalog for his retrospective.

On this occasion I wrote down a few quotes by Mr. Marden that I thought were right on point:

"Nature is everything but us."

"You take this colored dirt and make magic." (Talking about pigments)

"Andy Warhol is over appreciated."

"A work of art is a renewable source of energy." (Marden here quotes one of his favorite writers.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Workbook Pages 2

In July I introduced my Workbook pages, a sketchbook devoted to abstract ink paintings. This project is still underway but because I have been more focused on the still lifes, work on this sketchbook has slowed down. The idea of the Workbook is to keep me active in the creation of abstract work, a visual language I hope to go back to soon. Different than a sketchbook, where ideas are jotted or sketched quickly to capture the essence of an idea, the Workbook functions as a series of more resolved images. In this workbook I am able to keep the spontaneity of a sketchbook but the presentation of it is more refined. The paintings are created with the idea that they could be hung on a wall and read as a finished product.
Fog, 2005, Kremer Shellac Ink on paper, 9.5 x 9 inches (image), 11 x 11 inches (paper)
In Fog I'm starting to explore further the use of line and atmosphere. My larger abstractions were headed on this direction just before my move to New York. I had completed a painting that dealt with the idea of using lines but in a much different way. My work had been influenced by Mark Rothko, and after working on a series of atmospheric paintings my teacher Stephen Brown suggested I should try to work with "atmospheric lines". I began work on a painting that was very different to what I had done at that point and the process and look of it intrigued me. In the painting above I'm trying to get reacquainted with this new found style in hopes that it moves on to something more complex.
Red Top, 2005, Kremer Shellac Ink on paper, 9.25 x 9 inches (image), 11 x 11 inches (paper)
No matter how hard I try to shed Rothko's influence it still manifests itself, and Red Top is no different. I think this is one of the very few paintings I've done where Rothko's influence is very visible. I was not looking to make something Rothko like when I started this painting, I was more interested in getting familiar with a new medium and scale. I was introduced to Kremer Pigments' Shellac inks and I was very excited to give them a try. Never had I seen inks so rich and full of body. What I enjoy the most about them is that I can layer multiple times without the previous layers reactivating and mixing into the top ones. Its the shellac in the inks that makes them dry water proof allowing me to work for long periods of time.
Orange Blast, 2005, Kremer Shellac Ink on paper, 9.25 x 9 inches (image), 11 x 11 inches (paper)

For Red Top the ink application was made up of thin washes, a common use of ink. But on Orange Blast the application becomes heavier. The good thing about Kremer's Shellac Ink is that they are so heavily pigmented that the pigment forms a buttery paste at the bottom of the jar, which you have to stir before using. But what I like about that is that I can take a small palette knife, scoop the color out and apply it just like oil or acrylic onto the paper. On Orange Blast the white specks of color were applied with heavy white ink using the bottom of my brush handle.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stay Loosey Goosey

Yellow Heirloom Tomato, 2006, oil on canvas panel, 6 x 8 inches
Late Wednesday night, after being lazy for most of the night I decided to give a shot at a painting. I have been wanting to paint this Heirloom Tomato for a while, as a matter of fact, that was the only reason why I spent a big buck for two of them at Dean & Deluca. Aside from the farmers market at Union Square, Dean & Deluca has the best produce and I stop there from time to time, when money allows to treat myself to high quality food. For this painting I knew I wanted to keep loose, trying to push myself a little more. I used a different brush made of Polecat hair, which is very soft and it blends the paint more. But the good thing about this brush is that it is strong enough to hold big piles of paint and working with this amount of paint was like sculpting with butter. An amazing feeling!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Study of Lemons

Study of Lemons, 2006, oil on canvas panel, 5 x 7 inches
Not quite happy with my first try painting a lemon, I decided that I should give it another shot and maybe this time get it right. I ended up painting two. This is my favorite oil sketch so far. I like the light and atmosphere in this study, as well as the contrast between the darks and lights. When starting this study I knew I wanted to show the first layer of color as much as possible. I like the effect of push and pull this gives to a painting, with the color ground receding and the top layers standing out. I'm starting to enjoy doing these daily sketches and hopefully I can keep this up.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kicking it Up a Notch!

Sliced Red Bartlett Pear, 2006, oil on canvas panel, 6 x 8 inches
It was time to try a more complicated composition for my one day painting. I have been painting single objects trying to get familiar with this new working method. After doing a few of those I took some courage and tried a painting with more than one element. At first it seemed like I was way over my head, to the point that I almost gave up in the beginning stages. But I'm stubborn, so I dared myself to finish it no matter what. Didn't matter if it came out good or not, just do it and learn from it. As many say, practice makes perfect. I'm not sure what will be the next subject but I'm hoping for it to be more challenging.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Year Long Obsession

I'm starting to breath easier now that the Steve in Yellow is almost done. I started this painting at the end of summer of 2005 and up until then it was the most ambitious painting I had started work on. Above, you can see me at work in my Queens studio in the very beginning stages of the painting. At that point things were looking good and everything seemed to be going on track. In October 2005 I claimed the picture finished and put it away. My family though that it looked like Steve, and they were right. But there was something missing. Something had missed and I couldn't put my finger on it.
Again I started to work on it. I changed the background, thinking that maybe that would do the trick. At that point the background was a flat grey white that was not working and after a few layers of color the background became more dynamic. But I was not happy. I had to rework the face.
I had asked for your opinions about some of the difficulties I was having, and I thank all of those who responded to my dilemma. You were all very helpful. But after reading through all the comments I decided that it was my job to figure things out on my own, after all it is my painting. I started adding thicker paint and things began to roll in the right direction. The face started to change for the better, and soon, I was changing the background again. I started using a Blue Ochre I had hand ground into oil and after covering the surface I thought I looked good. But two days later I decided to change that color and tone it down. As of today the painting is very close to completion and I can't wait to put it away for good.
This is the a detail of the portrait. There are some things I need to fine tune but I'm happy with it. For some reason my camera made it look too orange. This is just a small sneak peek to the final piece I'm hoping to finish by the weekend.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Orange Juice

Orange Juice, 2006, oil on canvas panel, 7 x 5 inches
It's funny how some things work out very unexpectedly. I was planning on cutting up the Red Bartlett Pear I painted the other day and do a second take on it. But as I was getting ready to paint, gathering my materials and moving around my paint box, I noticed my glass of O.J. and it hit me. I loved the way it looked, with the light hitting at a weird angle from above. I thought, "what the hell!" I sat down and started work on it, trying to capture the light and the sense of intimacy I saw in it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Red Bartlett Pear Study

Red Bartlett Pear, 2006, oil on canvas panel, 7 x 5 inches

As many can see, I have not been posting as often lately. I have been focused on a few personal things along with the large portrait of my roommate Steve. I almost became obsessed with this painting for great part of the week, trying to flesh him up. Thursday night was a lazy night, and at the very last minute, right before going to bed on the wee hours of Friday morning I decided to do a painting and try a new set up.
I bought this paint box many years ago but never had a good use for it. Only used it one semester for a painting class and it was left abandoned after that. After seeing Peter Yesis' set up with his paint box it made me realize that I could get a better use of this box. So I set my pear on the top step leading to my balcony and set the paint box, like an easel one step down and I sat on the floor on top of cushions. I felt like I was in some exotic land painting on top of big cushions. As you can see I started working on a failed attempt at a painting from early this week.
This was a nice change from sitting in front of the easel in my painting corner. It felt refreshing and I can't wait to use this new portable easel around my apartment. I'm dying to take it with me to Connecticut during my Thanksgiving break. There are so many little treasures in my parents' home I can't wait to try to paint!