Oh boy, I have been gone for some time, haven't I? In November, our family moved to the Denver area, and in January we moved into our new, absolutely darling new home in Arvada, Colorado. I plan on staying here for a very long time. Moving sucks.
One of the most wonderful things about returning to Colorful Colorado is that I've been able to spend time with many old friends from college and earlier. One of these lovely classmates, Royce Roeswood, cohosts (with comedian and all-around neat person JD Lopez) a monthly live edition of the podcast Left Hand Right Brain. The year-old podcast is a light-hearted discussion with local creative types, and Royce asked if I would be the guest for February's live recording. I said yes! Now you can listen to me talk to other humans about art and other things.
I think that JD might regret telling me "don't feel like you are talking too much. That's what we are here for, to promote you" before recording--I just talked and talked and talked.
Mountainous landscapes come into my works often--doubtlessly due to growing up on the Rocky Mountain foothills in Colorado--and two recent visits back to those familiar peaks greatly inspired my use of texture and composition in my latest work, Ancient Story. I find the stacking of elements in atmospheric perspective so interesting, and it is a beauty wholly missed here in flatland Florida (although there are, of course, other wonders of loveliness). Seeing a valley, then hills, then the clustered monoliths of city architecture, then a mountain range, all staggered up to the sky is such an expansive and finite experience.
I have often used my technique of applying heavy texture in other pieces, but this is the first time I have used such sculptural elements in a work of such a large scale. Because of the size, I applied the texture (which was created using flexible moulding paste) in enormous piles using a large bamboo spoon and my hands. This new technique of application added greatly to the organic nature of my shapes, and it allowed for larger areas of texture which could then be chased with smaller tools. The result is striking when viewed from a distance, but it also holds enchanting details of metallics and eroding color when examined at nose's length.
Red paint always enchants me--the color seem to change so drastically as the eye adjusts to the intensity of it, and the minute complexities between tones seem to emerge from deep within the work. Slight alterations, hints of contrasts, color context, and layered washes heighten the red's playfulness with the eye.
I've been doing a few little experiments and studies with mixed medias lately in hopes of discovering weird new ways to combine materials. Sometimes the studies turn into piles of mushy garbage art. Sometimes they come out pretty cool.
These studies aren't really regimented or thought-out--when boredom strikes and I am trying to procrastinate cleaning the house, I go hang out in my studio and start grabbing things from a pile of project scraps next to my desk. There were a lot of fun-sized mat board bits hanging around from matting some pictures. Aching to stay away from sweeping and vacuuming, I began tossing a bunch of different media onto the boards.
These three studies are all efforts to explore ways to control the textural medium, enhance a sense of depth with the texture, and to use colored pencil, marker, and pen to add interest and color on top of the acrylic paint.
Vast experimentation with alternative and unconventional mediums helped to achieve the sense of depth in the details of my latest painting, Salt Fingers. Made up of four 14"x14" canvases, this tetraptych features heavy texture, translucent layering, metallics, interference colors, sheen variety, and eroding swaths of color.
I first studied reliquaries from the standpoint of Art History, and since then the concept consistently pops up in my artwork. They are fascinating vessels, elaborately decorated with gold and gemstones to house objects of supposed religious significance (like the remains of saints, cloth from the robe of Mary, etc.). The whole concept of "relic" is vexing and intoxicating to me--the construction of a garish house for something as simple and as lovely as a piece of bone seems like such a very human activity. We like to take humble things and cover them in wealth.
In the midst of the big ball of good-crazy happening to us right now (so much to tell and so very soon!), I wanted to throw a new little painting your way for some weekend art happiness.
My college professor of acrylic painting encouraged us to "sketch" in watercolor, but as I was a sort of a slacker and self-proclaimed "college poor", I preferred to hit the canvass with as little plan as possible and just go for it.
Recently I've been playing around with watercolors for the first time. Here is my favorite so far:
This piece is a mix of watercolor, acrylic medium, acrylic, and ink. I also messed up and split the layers of watercolor paper somehow, so I ripped a bunch of it off and kept going. It was quite a happy mistake--the large purple-gray field in the center is the result, and I love how messy the edges turned out.
I've been experimenting with encaustic paints the past few days, and let me tell you, learning a new medium is frustrating. I find myself trying to use the paints in the same ways I use acrylics instead of embracing the material and allowing myself to discover its strengths and limitations.
Encaustic paints are made of beeswax and pigment (oil paint). To use them, the paint must be melted and applied while hot. My initial attraction to this material is the ability to create a sense of depth through the layering of translucent and semi-transparent waxes; I also like that items can be embedded in the surface of the wax. Last year I began adding feathers, leaves, bones, insects, and other dead things into my paintings by suspending each object in clear epoxy, but it was difficult to visually integrate the shiny, smooth surface of the epoxy with my rather grungy paintings. I think the wax could be a better way to incorporate these kinds of elements.
I read a book on encaustic techniques, but in the end I did what I normally do--I jumped in without really have any clue of what to do. So, no surprise, my first attempt was a huge failure. I ended up making a small painting that looked sort of like what I normally would do with acrylics, except way worse. It was a waxtastrophe.
One incredible thing about these paints are that if you mess up, you can take the wax right off of your painting surface and melt the encaustic medium back down and use it again. I grabbed a knife, scraped all of the wax off of my failure painting and into a pancake griddle, melted it all back together, mixed in some oil paint for color, and started making monoprints. A lot of monoprints. Enjoy.
Every summer in Boulder, CO, artists across the city would open their studios to the community and share their work space with anyone who was interested. My mom and dad would get a catalog and map of participating artists from the local library, and we would spend entire days watching painters create new works (and munching on the endless array of free pretzels and cookies).
Many artists created in their homes, but the most exciting stops were huge warehouses with studio space for rent. Here dozens of artists pinned paperworks to the walls or straddled a massive canvass across two easels, each person's space separated with standard gray pop-up tables spattered in color and brushes. I had never seen such a large workspace or such large paintings before, and I wanted to make some too.
I still remember certain artists from those studios (which I visited over eight years ago). Even then the pieces that struck me were the color-driven, abstract, atmospheric canvasses set as welcoming arms for a collapsing spirit--the type that when you stand before the work in flat-footed attention, several paces from the canvass, the tip of your nose seems to involuntarily inch towards the paint as if to draw ever-so-near to the energy of color.*
My aspirations have always been in huge-scale color-field work, but my "studio space" (random house corner, kitchen floor, desk, spare room, etc.) has limited me to small and mid-scale works. Recently I've been tacking pieces of unstretched canvass on the wall of our apartment (on top of a bunch of tacked-up garbage bags of course) and just going to town on it. These two new works are the next step of my adventure towards making massive works.
I love painting in this scale. The frugal woman in me takes over some times and laments the cost of supplies to create these larger works, but my artist "side" is much stronger and always wins out (with a bit of compromise--some of the background colors are from a dumpster full of finger paint). My gestures and lines can be so much more expressive and loose, and I can still crawl into detailed texture and layering without the effect being the focal point; this is an issue I struggled with when working on a small scale with textural elements.
In my Siostra Adelphos project the scale of the works were so small that the textures became a focal point, and I enjoy achieving the opposite in the larger pieces I'm creating now. The textural elements are more cohesive to the whole and complement the composition rather than instructing it.
Another large painting is on the wall now and will be completed soon.
* Footnote: years later in Pittsburgh, when coming face-to-face with my first Motherwell and, fixed on the adjacent wall, my first Clyfford Still, this sensation of magnetism through the work collided with me like a freighter, and in my memory this event occurred with an actual physical shockwave and stumble backward from my eyes treading on such sacred visual ground; this surely is not the case, and in the reality of that moment I believe that I began to cry, and as my family entered the room I was embarrassed by my sudden emotional reaction to the vision of God in these two paintings. I quickly made off with a sarcastic comment and snarky smile at my younger brother, and we continued through the collection. This remains one of the most spiritual experiences in my life.
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