Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Working on Two

It's a beautiful warm and sunny day here in New York and spring fever is kicking in, at least for me. What does this mean? The more sun and warmth there is the more motivated I am to complete some paintings. Currently working on two paintings. I usually only paint one at a time but when the mood is right I start one in the middle of another. I started applying some color to the recent onion painting, trying to get an emerald green background. For some reason I'm not good with green and it turned out to be too loud.
Last night I toned it down a bit by adding some Umber and Ochre to the mix. A little of Unbleached Titanium Pale as well. Tonight I'll be greying it down more in hopes of achieving a more subtle light earth green.

The second painting on my easel is this vertical still life, a format I don't usually work with. As you can see its on the very first rough stages. I already have the color scheme in mind but it's one thing to think about something and another to put it to practise.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Armory Show 2007

The New York art world was very busy this weekend with four major international art fairs happening. Pulse New York, the Art Show, Scope New York, and the Armory Show. It would have been nice to attend all, but it's almost impossible since you need a couple of hours in each show, and although this might not seem like a lot, looking at so much art in just one place is draining. I attended the Armory Show since it's the most important of them all. I have been planning on being part of this event since I found out about it a few months back. It's a good way to find out what contemporary artists are doing out there, and it's the best learning experience as well.
The first Armory Show took place in 1913 after a year of planning by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). As the first of its kind, the Armory show, officially called The International Exhibition of Modern Art, exposed the American public to the latest visual advances in European modern art. Four thousand guests witnessed the art of Cezanne, Picasso and other new cutting edge artists. The aesthetics of the show pushed the envelope and made people question the standards and values of art. The Armory Show of 1913, held in the 69th Regiment Armory building in New York City, housed works of art representing the different art movements to date such as Symbolism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Cubism. After the close of the show the American art world would never be the same. In recent years, 1999 to be exact, The Armory Show was revived, and in that same year it was held at the same place of the original; the 69th Regiment Armory. Since then it has become an annual event attracting galleries, dealers, collectors, artists and others from around the world.
Bjarne Melgaard, untitled, 2006, oil on canvas, 180 x 180 cm
Krinzinger Gallery, Vienna
A show of such magnitude is sure to overwhelm any visitor, including artists. And that's exactly the way I felt as soon as I walked right in. In front, to the left, and to the right were endless walkways flanked by hundreds of gallery booths. Where do you start? I'm not sure how I made that decision, but I needed to start somewhere and I just dove in. After looking through the endless selections of Post-Modernist art I came to this gorgeous painting. Nothing fancy, cute, or shocking about it. Just a beautifully, well painted piece of art. Bjarne Melgaard is a name I've never heard and I didn't care. His painting mesmerized me for a few minutes as I studied every brush struck. The space was well composed with thin and thick applications of paint that created a continuous flow through the canvas. Keeping art history in mind I knew this artist has been influenced by the New York School, or the Abstract Expressionist as they are commonly known. But the one artist Bjarne Melgaard seems to owe much of his style is to Philip Guston, at least in this painting. The use of pink in this work is accomplished in such a successful way that I, a pink hater, thought for a moment that maybe I should start to explore the possibilities of such color. After all, I was there to learn from other artists.
Natalie Frank, The Hang Man Has Gone to Wash, The Soldiers to Eat, We Are Left Alone With Our Feat, 2007, oil on canvas, 72 x 80 inches
Mitchell-Innes & Nash
Appropriation is not new to artists throughout history. The greatest artists that have ever lived "quoted" works by masters they admired, and Natalie Frank is no exception. This large powerful canvas, bursting with bold brush strokes and color was a crowd pleaser. A new take on the colorful two dimensional surfaces of Gauguin, this painting borrows and then kicks it up a notch with an almost three dimensional perspective. Full of energy and bravado this painting unleashes an array of pigment combinations, leaving the viewer to take it all in and feel some kind of an orgasmic sensation. The movement of strokes and juicy paint applications, along with the intensity of the colors represented, only add to the exoticness of the topless subject, reclining in her quarters enjoying a moment of peace and perhaps freedom.
Callum Innes, Exposed Painting Brilliant Orange, 2003, oil on canvas, 174.5 x 167.5 cm
Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
Unlike the first two artists mentioned above, painterly effects don't have to be obvious. Such is the case with Callum Innes. Presented to the viewer is a very minimalist painting, with not much going on. A naked canvas, if you will, that doesn't seem to say much about itself or the artist. This may be the take of some, but I on the other hand appreciated the subtlety and delicate effects of it. Maybe because I'm a painter I was able to respond to the exploitation of the painting support as a compositional element, a part of the color scheme. My admiration for the artist grew as I got closer to the canvas and realized that with such sensitivity he had applied a very transparent layer of orange paint on the right hand side of the piece. On the right hand side edges of the painting, the orange paint thinned out with a turpentine or mineral spirit of some sort, had collected in a bleeding formation and manifested itself as its chroma intensified.
Among the various styles of art, technology made its appearance in many different aesthetics. Video and lights set the modern feel of the show. Call it Avant-Gard Art, or anything else, these works usually tap into the "new" and "innovative" hunger of the contemporary art world. Some were very interesting and challenged the idea of what art is. Some video images played with the visual appeal and subject matter of paintings of the past. Some, like the image above, were all about cracking a joke. Forgive me for not taking note of the artist or tittle or the piece, but I could not help but to shake my head as I looked at people not knowing what to make of this female buttocks shaking and compressing as machine gun sounds came out of it. Some smiled, and yes I did too, mostly in disbelieve. I got the joke, but will I or any one else be able to connect to it in a deeper level at some other point in time. To me this was a good example of the watering down of art. A good example of "let's make money now and worry about the other more important issues later" attitude.
Taner Ceylan, Galaxy, 2007, oil on canvas, 115 x 180 cm
Galerist, Istanbul
In most cases I'm either for the piece presented in front of me, or against it. In the case of Galaxy, a painting of a young man staring out at the viewer as he reaches orgasm by Taner Ceylan, I was left torn. When I first saw the painting from many feet away I thought it represented a dead boy either in his death bed or coffin. As I got close I realized that he was very well alive and as I searched the painting for reasons of depiction I came to realized that he was pleasuring himself. Sex and art are not a good mix in my book, but this painting did a good job in hiding its real intention to later reveal to the viewer that he/she is being a voyeur. Maybe this is why the painting kept me standing in front of it longer than I should've.
Comedy in the past few decades has had a strong presence in the art world. As I looked around the show I couldn't help to notice some artists dealing with comical characters in costume. Some of the sculptures could be easily mistaken, if taken out of their gallery context, for toys. Art has a funny bone, and I was not sure if to laugh with it or to just keep walking. In search for meaningful experiences I kept on walking, but knowing that seeing such work does not offend me
Michael Borremans, The Hole, 2006, Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
On my way out of The Armory Show I was very happy to find this painting. My brain and eyes could not take any more of the crowds and art, and as I was walking out I looked back and saw this small painting hanging on a lonely wall next to a drawing by the same artist. It was evident this artist knows the physicality of paint. Thin and thick applications were there, and the very mute use of color was rich. Simple broad brush work building on itself created this gem of a painting. With this in mind, I was able to leave happy and tackle my own work.

For more images of The Armory Show click here.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Tangerine, 2007, oil on canvas, 6 x 8 inches
In the last couple of days I have been reading Hawthorne and have been inspired by his writing. His idea of placing different colors against each other, as opposed to modeling, to represent the subject is something that I was aware of thanks to Stephen Brown. But some how I lost that idea, and it was a nice eye opener to see it in print when I picked up Hawthorne on Painting. This morning I tried to put into practice his teaching, focusing on the color relationships as opposed to modeling and rendering. I approached this painting like as if I was new to oils, and just went with the flow. Since this is a study, it was not important for me to make a finished product, reason for not covering the whole canvas with paint. Besides, I like the way the unpainted areas look.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Starting Over

Good artists recognize their shortcomings and are willing, at all costs, to get the job done right. There's always a burning desire to get the painting finished correctly, to get the "masterpiece", if you will, in one shot. I'm one of those who will not settle for less, at least in my art. Like most artists I'm very hard on myself and to produce work that is not up to my standards is not an option. This is the case with this particular painting. Started as a tempera on a small panel a while back, it has now become an oil on canvas piece. Technical difficulties arose in the process and to make sure that the painting's longevity would not be compromised, sanding down the first paint layers was the right thing to do. Tempera layers removed, and a white background showing, I still was not happy with it. After looking and thinking about the painting, it came to me that it was all wrong. The format of the painting surface in relation to the subject (composition), and the scale, were all wrong. Some might keep going ahead since they had already started, but not I. A decision was made and a brand new painting of the same subject was started. I feel a lot better about it now. I like the almost square format of the canvas. Everything seems clear at the moment and all I have to do is bring the painting to life.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bosc Pear Study

Bosc Pear Study, 2007, oil on canvas, 8 x 6 inches
It finally happened! The first painting in my new place. It has taken a while to settle in and get used to a new routine, which is something I still haven't been able to figure out yet. Very late last night, after relaxing, having dinner and throwing out the garbage I set to work on this study. The other night after getting off the train, I went looking for a red pear. To my luck none of the markets in Astoria had one. Instead I found this Bosc Pear full of little freckles. A panel has been set aside for a more detailed painting, but before I work on it, it's best to get acquainted with the subject.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Scrape It!

First matter of business in the studio was to keep working on the onion I had started as a tempera painting in August. After many layers of egg and pigment I had enough and decided to work with oils on top. No big deal since this has been a common practice since the Renaissance. It became apparent to me that I will never be a tempera painter, the process is too slow, rigid, tedious and not juicy enough. There was too much tension between the medium and my body. Oil to the rescue I thought! But was it?
Something went wrong during the first layers of egg. The surface was a bit greasy but I didn't think much of it since the paint layers were fresh and to what I could remember from working in this medium years ago, that feel was normal. It wasn't after I had applied some glazes of oil on top when I noticed that there wasn't something right about the whole thing. After letting the oil dry I ran my fingers through the surface and to my astonishment pigment was coming right off, in the same way when you run your fingers through a dusty book. As many artists do, I freaked out. The more I rubbed the more pigment would collect on my fingers. I didn't know what to do. I knew the painting was heading on the wrong direction so I decided to stop and figure out what was I to do.
A few weeks ago I checked the surface again and it was still the same result. But this time the paint film was weak and still fresh. To my surprise, without any effort and with my finger nail, I was able to scratch the surface all the way down to the chalk ground. Paint was coming right off and I felt incompetent. This morning, after staring at the painting for a few minutes trying to come up with a game plan, I attacked it with a palette knife and started to scrape off the paint layers. I proceeded by sanding down the remains of the emerald green I was working with. I only removed the old paint from the background of the picture since this seemed to be the only problem area. Now it is time to do some more damage control with paint and try to bring it back to life.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Welcome to Astoria 11105

31st Street and Ditmars Blvd, last subway stop of the N & W

It is taking a little more time to settle than I originally thought. My studio is set up but not ready to start work yet. In the mean time I will share images of my neighborhood, Astoria. On my way to/from the train I walk trough a ten block strip on Ditmars Blvd full of restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, jewelries and gift shops. Ten blocks is a long way to walk in the cold winter days but it goes by fast if you window shop and people watch.
Restaurant Mezzo is a great place to eat if you want to stay in the neighborhood. I had dinner once before in this place and I thought the food was amazing and the atmosphere was great. What's cool about this place is that on one night of the week they offer belly dancing entertainment while you dine. Pretty cool right?
Taverna Kyclades the most popular place to eat in the strip. This Mediterranean seafood restaurant is sure to please your appetite and senses, that's if you are willing to wait the long lines in any day of the week, especially in the summer, when the place is hopping all day and night.
Crown Chemists in one of many independent pharmacies where you can get just about anything over the counter and prescriptions. During the December Holidays this place lights up the corner in red and green.
Martha's Country Bakery stole my heart away more than a year ago when I first moved to this area of Queens. This amazing bakery can't do wrong, pastries, cakes, coffee, ice coffee, ice cream, you name it. If it's sweet they got it. I love walking by the front of Martha's and inhaling the warm fresh aroma of their baked goods. I do have to control myself since eating too many of their treats might lead me to gain a number of pounds.
Sunshine Fruit & Vegetables is a small charming market devoted to fresh fruit and veggies. This place reminds me so much of the "verdulerias" you find in Peru, that's why when walking by I feel like I'm home. Sunshine is one of two places where you can find fresh veggies. Top Tomato, is another independent veggie place, in a much larger scale, that's open 24/7. I'm sure most of the still life painters would fall in love with both places. For other boxed and canned groceries there's another 24/7 market, Trade Fair, situated right in between both veggie places.

The Bagel House recently became my morning pit stop before heading to the train. This family owned business provides great friendly service to those of us who are running late to work. Their specialty is the bagel, but you can find other things like the Panini dello Chef, a sandwich with grilled chunks of steak, caramelized red onions, mozzarella cheese, and grilled peppers. One of the best steak sandwiches I've ever had, for sure!