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Posts Tagged ‘visual art’

Surprised to hear from me again so soon? I was on hold with the employment office and thought, why not write a blog post? Funny what goes through your mind after listening to repeated pre-recorded messages and disturbing muzack for an hour. That’s right, an hour.

In my last post I sent links to the print-on-demand books The Theory and I created for Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly. Two of those books (One through Nine and The Observatory at Jaipur) documented exhibitions Lee had at his gallery in Portland.

The books contained:

  • Photographs of each piece in the exhibition, captioned with names and dimensions
  • Photographs of earlier pieces that are related in some way to the new work
  • Critical discussions of the new work
  • Brief introductions explaining why we thought a book was a good idea
  • Biographical information about the artist

I’m going to discuss each point in turn but right now let’s talk about why a book can be an important tool for an artist and another way to direct the messaging about your work.

Exhibition catalog
I’m not speaking for every commercial gallery, but here most galleries don’t produce exhibition catalogs for their artists. Public museums and collections often do, as a matter of course. But most of us wait years to be included in a major collection or even (gasp) get a career retrospective exhibition. So what happens while we wait? We mount important shows in commercial spaces, the work sells or it doesn’t, and a month later it’s as if the show never happened.

Documentation
You probably document your new work and exhibitions on your web site. A web site is the most important tool you possess because it contains everything and is easy to update. But speaking as a user, I know how quickly most people click through web sites. And getting people to read anything longer than a caption online? Whew!

Old tech like a printed book can place images in context with writing and give depth and insight into the artistic process. Or allow a critical thinker the ability to write about your work at length. And because the book is available online (through whichever online publisher you choose) you can buy copies of the book at cost to give away or provide a link so that people can buy it themselves. It’s always there.

Preserving a body of work or important period in an artist’s life
I was talking to my father about the book we wrote called One Through Nine which discussed an exhibition of paintings he did in 2013. It was his first exhibition of paintings on canvas since sometime in the 1960’s. He said, “I didn’t realize until I saw the book that the paintings all related to one another. Without the book, the paintings and the ideas would be gone.”

All that said, this is not a get rich quick scheme unless you are a genius self-promoter.

A book is another way to take control of the messaging and presentation of your work.

Next time I’ll try to channel The Theory about why having a smart guy or gal write about your work is a good idea.

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Jaipur cover_bogHello, everyone, I’m not dead. I’ve been… well, that’s a long story for another post. Right now I want to tell you that The Theory and I have put together three new books about Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly. Who is, coincidentally, my father.

Observatory at Jaipur
Catalog accompanying Lee’s show in October 2015 at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Full color, 86 pages. Get it here: Observatory at Jaipur

One through Nine_cover_blogLee Kelly: One through Nine
In 2013, Lee Kelly created a significant body of new work, a series of paintings entitled “One through Nine.” These nine paintings are oil on canvas, a medium the artist had largely abandoned in 1963. However, these new paintings do not represent a return to Kelly’s Abstract Expressionist past but emerged from his sculptural work of the last ten to 15 years. Full color, 68 pages. Get it here: Lee Kelly: One through Nine

A bog cover_blogBook of Gardens
A Book of Gardens was first published by Lee Kelly and Bonnie Bronson in 1987 as a study of garden designs from India, ancient Egypt and Japan. Hand-printed and illustrated by Lee Kelly, designed and spiral bound by Bonnie Bronson, this small book had a single release of fewer than fifty copies. This 2015 edition includes a facsimile reproduction of the original book and photographs from Lee’s sculptures as installed at his home in Oregon City. Get it here: A Book of Gardens

For the next week or so, I’ll send free pdfs to anyone interested in taking a look at the books. Leave me comment below and I’ll get back to you.

What’s next?
With these books in mind, I’m considering doing some posts about the process of putting together print-on-demand books for artists. In a world where exhibition catalogs can be expensive to produce, print-on-demand might be something for artists to consider. So more on that later. And hopefully another year doesn’t pass before I do these posts!

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This being the end of a long week here at Gulag Hive, I want to direct my thoughts and good wishes to Dublin where Niamh of Thislittlestudio is doing something truly egg-spirational. Just go there now and read her blog series. Don’t wait for me.

What the Big Egg Hunt is all about, from Niamh’s blog: “The Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation Charity here in Ireland is a very well-known charity, providing care and support for children with severe neurological development issues, they have run several successful campaigns over the years and do vital work for the families involved…..and they are the people behind the The Big Egg Hunt, Dublin…. The premise is to engage 100 artists to paint decorate and produce an Art egg for this great egg hunt.  The eggs will be hidden around Dublin City for 40 days and 40 nights in the run up to Easter and the public are invited to participate  in “The Big Egg Hunt” and win a prize – then the Eggs will be auctioned at a glittering Gala event and the monies raised will support this marvelous charity that does so much good work.  (for more detailed info go to http://www.jackandjill.ie or http://www.thebigegghunt.ie)”

Giant egg getting ready for wax. Note the anticipatory excitement in the egg's posture.

Giant egg in an artist’s studio. Note the anticipatory excitement in the egg’s posture.

Still here? <Big emotional sigh> I’m not having fun at my job this week. I know… lucky to be employed, even luckier to have a boss and co-workers whom I like a great deal. Luckier still that it’s a tiny commute, and almost everyone there has pests—er, pets. But there are times in everyone’s employed life that one feels as if one is trying to tunnel to safety past electrified fences and guard towers. And beyond that lie endless frozen wastelands lashed with toxic effluvia and Komodo dragons.

Here’s a little whimsy from the great age of decadence and excess, the Rococo. I too have a dog that I would like to give the boot, though not exactly in the spirit of fun. The Hive beast raided someone’s recycling bin last night and turned up at the door with a two-liter bottle of lemon soda in her slavering jaws. She scared us all witless.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. 1732-1806. Young Woman Playing with Dog.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. 1732-1806. Young Woman Playing with Dog.

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On Tuesday, November 1, 2011, a ragtag crew of sculptors, welders and students installed a public art project in downtown Oregon City. Created by Oregon sculptor, Lee Kelly, and called moontrap (lowercase m is intentional), this sculpture was commissioned by the Rotary Club of Oregon City and gifted to the citizens of Oregon City, past present and future.

Lee, father of this blog’s author, has lived in Oregon City since 1963. And despite his lengthy residency, moontrap is his first piece of public art  in his home town. Go anywhere else in the state and you’ll see quite a bit of Lee’s work.

Moontrap is located on Railroad Avenue and Eighth Street, anchored to the large concrete wall that separates the railroad tracks from the city.

Initial sketch of moontrap on a cocktail napkin. Winestock, Oregon City, February 2011.

The idea for moontrap was sketched on a paper napkin one evening at Winestock, our local wine stop, almost a year ago. The idea was to make a connection between the natural world of the basalt bluffs and Singer Creek above, and the human built world of industry and commerce. The title of the sculpture comes from Moontrap by Don Berry about the rowdy, raucus early days of Oregon City, and the compromises that had to be made in order to live with civilization.

At the dedication a few days later, Railroad Avenue was filled with citizens of Oregon City, members of the Rotary Club, Winestock folks, and friends from distant Portland, all celebrating a new work of public art in Oregon’s first city. Art and the rain—two good reasons to take shelter and create fellowship in this funny old town.

Here are some photos taken by The Theory on November 1, 2011:

Moontrap is made from type 304 stainless steel. It is 39' in length and 8' 9" in height.

Lee Kelly and D'Nita Carbone (at center) with moontrap installation crew, November 1, 2011.

Moontrap, looking north on Railroad Avenue, Oregon City.

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Here are scans of two new encaustic pieces done over the weekend. The text (which is visible despite my best efforts) is from my journal last summer. I did eight pieces like this. The one with pink chalk is slightly more successful. The other has a yellowish chalk that doesn’t scan well, but has kind of a nice opacity in real life. I have two or three pieces that don’t have any chalk and look good.

Kassandra Kelly. Distance. 2011. Mixed media on prepared board. 9" x 12"

Kassandra Kelly. Through Sleeping Air. 2011. Mixed media on prepared board. 9" x 11"

I think I’ll try this technique again and see what happens. I’m still not sure about the value of scraping off the wax–there’s something like revision in the process but the tool I’m using (lino cutter with a square chisel thing, I’m sure there’s a word for it) looks so much like whittling. Which it is, generally. Oh, well. Maybe I don’t always have to know why. Wow, there’s a concept!

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By now you are familiar with the bon mots of The Theory, my conscience, guide, and source for all things technical, art-theoretical, and comedical. For the next couple of Fridays, The Theory has offered to throw down what he does best–writing about art.

I asked him to “say something about Jasper Johns and encaustic”. I tossed this off during dinner one night (did I mention he cooks too?) and he said he’d think about it. Here are the results–complete with large format images for those of you who complain about my chintzy photos.

Part I
Thanks for the memories: Encaustics and time

Kassandra graciously offered a few installments on The Hive to share thoughts about painting and time, specifically how a painting, and a particular medium, can encode temporal experience.  And, eventually, I’m going to talk about two artists closely associated with encaustic – Brice Marden and Jasper Johns – but the foundation for that is a bit complicated.

I don’t just mean encoding a narrative in compositional, or pictorial, terms – like, say, the practice known as “continuous narrative,” in which a single work may depict more than one sequential moment.  No, I’m interested instead in how the process of the work might literally embody its making.

What does this mean in practice?  Consider a work such as Jackson Pollock’s Number 1 (Lavender Mist) from 1950.  We know, of course, that this elaborate tracery was the result of successive swaths of pourings and drippings, as attested by Hans Namuth’s famous photographs.

Jackson Pollock. Number 1 (Lavender Mist). 1950. Oil, enamel, and aluminum paint on canvas 87 in x 118 inches. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

It is obvious that a gesture – say, the dripping of a particular color – will obscure whatever is beneath it, which is as well to say, whatever came before it.  Put differently, if we imagine, as a thought experiment, Pollock creating Lavender Mist by applying colors in sequence, using each once only, the finished work would be a temporal map of its own creation, “readable” as a geologist might read layers of rock strata.

Reality, perhaps needless to say, is a good bit more complicated than our experiment, not least because Pollock was not constrained to use each color once and only once and, on an even more fundamental level, there is no necessary guarantee that the paths of any two colors will cross.

Well, I didn’t promise this would be easy.  But that’s one of the reasons why I like Pollock as an example.  It was easy to visualize, in part because the Namuth photographs are so well-known; another advantage is that, as a thought experiment, it almost works, but breaks down in an interesting way. Pollock provides a convenient way to think about not just what a process means, but how it means.

The art critic Harold Rosenberg is remembered for introducing the term “action painting” to describe (some) Abstract Expressionist painters.  Rosenberg’s basic idea was that the blank canvas was a kind of Existential theatre, and thus its own subject – the “action,” therefore, was the “act” of making.  This became the difference between, on the one hand, an emphasis on an open-ended process and, on the other, a concentration of attention on results.

A huge opposition, to be sure, and one familiar in a variety of guises, not least as the tension between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.  Peter Schjeldahl captures this perfectly:

“Those opposed qualities became the magnetic poles of Abstract Expressionism…and also the virtual battle stations of the movement’s great, mutually hostile critics, Harold Rosenberg (1906-78), who interpreted the new art rather exclusively in terms of existential drama, and Clement Greenberg (1909-94), who exalted formal invention as an end in itself. Rosenberg gravitated toward [Willem] de Kooning, Greenberg toward [Jackson] Pollock. They squared off over [Barnett] Newman’s smooth expanses of color inflected with vertical bands or lines – spiritual hierophancy to Rosenberg, aesthetic engineering to Greenberg.”

Barnett Newman. Vir Heroicus Sublimis. 1950-1. Oil on canvas 95.5 in. x 213.25 inches. Museum of Modern Art, New York

A careful reader, or perhaps just one still awake, might notice here that I was using Pollock not as Greenberg would have, but in a very Rosenbergian way. This is true. But in no event do I want to fight again that war (Green Mountain and Red Mountain, it used to be called) – I’d prefer to just reinforce Schjeldahl’s suggestion that it’s often far from evident, to say the least, how to actually apply such reductive categorizations to actual art, and may indeed finally be somewhat arbitrary.

This has been a lengthy curtain-raiser, but it helps us to ask some fundamental questions. And, in my next installment, when we look at the works of Jasper Johns and Brice Marden, to put these ideas within the specific context of encaustic.

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I’ve had a decadent couple of weeks! Walking, napping, baking and eating, and mostly staying out of trouble. I didn’t go to the Hive until yesterday—it’s been cold here—and when I did, I discovered Didi the Hive Beast had been using the place as party-dog central. As I cleaned up I sang a new song to the tune of Through with Love:

I’m through with dogs / No more dogs for me / Through with dogs / I’ll kill the next one I see.

There was another verse about guns and knives but that seems gratuitous for a family-oriented blog.

Didi the Hive Beast at rest. She's actually not dead in this photo, just napping with her eyes open on her ratty old chair. And, folks, she's not that cute.

Through with Art
While cleaning up, I asked myself why I hadn’t been in the studio since, like, December of last year. It wasn’t just Didi (though reason enough, right there). I wondered if I’d arrived at a stopping place with encaustic. In the last eighteen months, I’ve studied the material and the technique very closely and practiced good work habits, just like Dad would tell me to do. Some of the art is okay, and I have shown improvement. All good. And yet…I didn’t want to make art as I had been making it. I felt done.

What now?
I went back to my journal and found a couple of simple sentences, one from a post here on the blog and the other from an ages-old short story. I wrote them out on some French cold press paper and then added and removed wax. I have no images yet—the pieces aren’t done. But I have to say that for the first time in months, I felt meaning at the heart of this work.

Words at the Heart
What was this new meaning? Text. Until yesterday, I had been experiencing a sort of writer’s block, even though I was still writing all the time on stories and other projects. Visual art had become a wordless zone.

Many artists use words in their visual art. Think Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer, for instance. In my work, I don’t see words as a gesture, comment, or descriptor but as a sort of window that makes other kinds of thinking possible. For one thing, my handwriting isn’t as pretty as Kiefer’s. For another, what if I decide I don’t like those words…what if I want to change them later?

Cy Twombly, detail. From an exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute.

Writing process as meditation
Words are history as well as story, identity, and yes, even visual substance. But one thing writing doesn’t do is give you time to just exist. All those words want thinking about, editing and rearranging.  So why couldn’t my visual art use the same tools as writing, words for instance, and work them like objects that contain literal, visual and even temporal aspects?

Final word on words
So, I’m back where I started eighteen months ago. Writing, painting over, rewriting and revealing words.

Linda Womack
For a nice description of a similar artistic process, but with very different results, check out this post from wax legend Linda Womack.

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