Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Surfacing at the Next II Gallery in New Orleans.  Back in 2004 my friend, former mentor, and fellow artist Karen Blomme, and her husband Ross Haecker moved to New Orleans so Karen could work on her Masters Degree (MFA). I helped them with their move.  The relocating process was a conga line of misadventure piled upon misadventure.  Karen ultimately got her MFA (after relocating back to Iowa and finishing her degree at the University of Iowa).  During this time she had a show at The Peanut Gallery of her work born out of this chaos.  Here is a link to a review that I wrote about that show for The River Cities' Reader (and a quick description of the turmoil throughout that time period) http://www.rcreader.com/art/chaos-leads-to-simplicity-karen/.

While down in New Orleans, Karen and Ross opened up the Next II Gallery (since it was 'next to' the St. Roch Seafood market (their 99 cent stuffed crabs made me very happy)).  They had rented a house that had a large space attached to it (imagine a neighborhood grocery store on the front side of a two-story house and you'd be pretty close to envisioning this place).  They turned that large space into a studio/gallery space.  Another 'thing' about their gallery was that it was located in a bad neighborhood http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-20057964.html?pageNum=3&tag=contentMain;contentBody.  (read the brief part about St. Roch on page 3). It was the kind of bad where they couldn't get pizza delivery after dark.

Don't get me wrong, the neighborhood also had alot of charm, it was close walking distance to the French Quarter, near great music, and also Popeye's Chicken (and their mashed potatoes.....).

During Mardi Gras of 2005 I had a solo show at the Next II Gallery called Surfacing.  It was a collection of recent work that I hauled down there in a rented truck which fortunately only crapped out once I got within city limits (it could no longer go faster than 35 miles per hour).

Here are some pictures from the show.

This is Peter Nu and Rajah who performed during the 'sparsely' attended opening (apparently it wasn't only the pizza delivery guys who avoided the neighborhood after dark).  Behind them you can see a good example of one of my Beta-Type motifs that periodically shows up in one of my painted constructions.  The general idea behind the interlocking heads is that along the 'spectrum of personality types' there are the 'Alpha' types who are positive, inquisitive, and are for or about things, ideas, people, places, music, etc.  At the other end of the spectrum, are the 'Beta' types.  They don't define themselves by their likes and passions, instead they let themselves be defined by other things.  Visually, what that boils down to is the heads are defined by the other heads around them (almost like an undulating brick wall motif).

This is the impressive spread for the opening and Karen talking with Rajah.  At least 6 of the pieces you can see in this image didn't survive Hurricane Katrina.

I am taking a quick break from installing the show.  I had obviously saved the world from a full-on 'Cheeseburger Assault' not too long ago.  No need to thank me America, I was just doing my job...

And here are Dr. Becci Noren, Fitz (the guy who whipped up the food for the opening), and Claudia.

I haven't had the ability to show these next images before, and they are actually the reason why I put in this little nugget of history on Punching Holes In The Rah-Rah.  Here is some of my work floating around in the gallery after the levees broke.

Later that Fall (a few months after Katrina) we went back down to New Orleans to salvage what we could from the flood.  I lost a little over 18K worth of artwork.  I can't even begin to describe all that Karen and Ross lost.  I did create a painted construction called An Evening at Smitty's to chronicle our post-flood salvage trip back to New Orleans.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Toy Pieces/Swan Dive Bomber.  An earlier branch of my studio work is a group of works that I imaginatively called 'Toy Pieces'.  How did I come up with a name that is so concise, yet eloquent and poetic?  Hard to say.

They were a collection of toys, cultural detritus, and small sculptural elements that I merged into one, loosely narrative, composition.  Here are two examples from that body of work:

This is Tree (of Life).  It was the image I used for my invitation to the B.M.O.C. and Nitzles show at The Peanut Gallery in Rock Island back in 2003 (r.i.p. Peanut Gallery. You are still missed!).

Here is an excellent review from artist/art enthusiast Judith Malone describing her take on the show: http://www.rcreader.com/art/prayers-for-a-miracle/.  I can't even begin to explain/describe here what the Peanut Gallery meant to this area.  However, back in 2007, I wrote an article for the River Cities' Reader describing the state of the 'art scene' in the Quad Cities.  For you insomniacs, here is a link to that: http://www.rcreader.com/art/no-boundaries-loss-of-alternative/ .

Another 'Toy Piece', in fact my first in the series, came shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001.  The title came to me almost directly from a sign of a local doughnut shop.  It seemed to me that we, as a country, were struggling with shock and grief, and wanted to display our condolences and also some solidarity, yet were unsure how to do that.  Many business put things like 'God Bless America' or 'We Will Never Forget' on their advertising signs.  Some businesses couldn't totally divorce themselves from using their signs for business purposes, so there ended up being some strange hybrid signs expressing grief, outrage, and great bargains.  Behold! God Still Rains Pumkin Donuts.  (Originally 'God Still Reigns' on one line, and 'Pumkin Donuts' directly underneath).

God Still Rains Pumkin Donuts 2001.  Also, a few detail shots so you can catch all of that hot toy-on-toy action!

Most of the 'Toy Pieces' received one last hurrah for the 2009 collaborative show 'The Dusty World and The Dewy New Moon', which was a collaboration between Terry Rathje, William Campbell, Elizabeth Sallak, and I.  In a future post, I will include some more 'Toy Piece' images and shots from that show.

One of the pieces I am kicking around for the upcoming Merican-Tastic! is Swan Dive Bomber, which is at least three different canvases combined into a new piece.  The oldest 'component canvas' was started back in 1999 while I was still living in Texas and using my 3rd floor deck as my studio.  The base image/canvas is actually The Three Faces of Mr. Wonderful in Cha-Cha Mode (2000) which was one of the first pieces I started when I moved back to the Midwest.

The base image.

Now with the addition of an old piece called Topia (1999) and a fragment of a different piece, Ant Farm (2000).

Sprinkle in the original Swan Dive Bomber....

I added a layer of painted imagery with the expectation that I would have to add at least on more layer on top of that.  However, when I saw how well the colors are interacting with the previous layers on the piece, I decided I might finish this layer and let the piece sit for a while before I committed to more (or even thinking about adding more).

Swan Dive Bomber rounding third and going for home? or just on Second Base?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nerd Alert!!  I have spent the last 48 hours in the studio (taking the necessary breaks for food, sleep, and ripping out my neighbor's carpet of unspeakable evil...) making the beginnings of a larger than human-sized Twinkie the Kid  for Merican-Tastic! (and my general amusement).

Basically, I have created the under-structure/scaffolding and will create the shell for 'The Kid' later.  Shall we take a peek?

Let's start with the base....

I actually spent a wee bit of time attaching the legs to the base (which is currently a piece of of plywood which will be added to to look more substantial closer to completion) so I won't be eating this sculpture later when it gets more weight added to it.  The boots are actually some kind of paper mache boot that I snagged at Hobby Lobby back in 1997 when I lived in Texas.  At the time I spent money I couldn't afford to spend, to buy paper boots which I ultimately wouldn't use for another 14 years.  More proof that my parents may, or may not, have gotten their money's worth on my fancy book-learnin'.

Here are a couple more images as I work my way up the piece.  On the black wall is a quick glimpse at another piece in progress called The Transitive Property of Yesterday -more on that piece and its carved frame in a future post.

A few shots of the wooden structure before I add chicken wire.

Now it's time to add some chicken wire. Mmmm, scratchy lacerations.

I included a before/after cropping shot to give a sense of the visual mayhem that exists in the studio, from time to time.  Mr. Twinkie will have three layers of chicken wire on him before I start to fabricate the 'skin'.

This is the first in a new series of sculptural projects I'm planning on making.  Recently, I caught an article regarding the quiet 'retiring' of product mascots by companies not wishing to appear to be marketing their products solely to children.  Soon, Fruit Pie the Magician, Ronald McDonald, the Frito Bandito and more will be hazy memories whispered in hushed tones around campfires -or eulogized on the internet.  Either way, it has motivated me to expand my repertoire ever so slightly...

Friday, February 17, 2012

A little more about EX-CH-AN-GE.  In order to get an appreciation for the upcoming piece swap between Heidi Hernandez and me for Merican-Tastic!, I want to show ya a few pieces from the EX-CH-AN-GE show we had back in 2008 (we being: Jeff Tady, Heidi Hernandez, Terry Rathje and myself).

We each started 8 canvases and then gave two to each of the other artists in exchange for two of their 'starts'.  We also kept two of our original eight pieces to serve as 'compass points' within the exchange.  The idea was to help pull each other into that no-man's land between our ways of working.

Perhaps it was the other three getting revenge on me for initiating the whole project, or maybe the planets aligned just right, but it seemed like each artist took just a little too much pleasure in throwing each other a playful curve ball.  Terry gave each of us a 4'x4' piece of plywood with something stuck smack-dab in the center.  Which, on a compositional level, is a tough hole to dig out of -and a general 'no-no' that all Freshman Introduction to Design students are warned about.  Heidi gave each of us two long rectangular pieces with a combination of stitching and painting.  In its own right, an elongated rectangle is difficult to deal with because you have to establish multiple triangles to move the eye around without appearing too contrived with your triangles.  Jeff Tady rounded out the abuse by giving each of us a minimally painted canvas with just a 'portrait' oval in the center.  All of my whining aside, this abuse is exactly why I brought these people together.

The bulk of our pieces from that show can be found at: http://www.theartfeed.com/profile/show/35.  However, I was rooting around in some of my old files and found a few detail shots and some pieces 'in progress' that never made it on to theartfeed.

Here are some detail shots from Terry Rathje's and Heidi Hernandez's piece Nearly Pure.

To be extra devious, Heidi only painted half of the canvas.  The cool part was that it caused Terry Rathje to break out his leather carving tools (a lucrative skill and a medium he was pretty much content to leave in the past) to answer the challenge.

Terry also did some pretty fancy ink pen work. 

Here is a detail of the detail shot (kind of a mind-scramble isn't it?).  And below is a detail from EAT, which showcases Terry's affinity for printed advertising and painted signs.

If you find yourself digging this stuff, there is a whole world of visual and conceptual goodness waiting for you at: http://www.terryrathje.com/ .  In fact, this piece, EAT, was our promotional image for the postcard sent out by Quad City Arts.

Here are a couple of images from Ziggurat II: Game of Chance which was one of those smack-dab-in-the-middle pieces that terry handed out.  The image I have on theartfeed doesn't really give a good sense of what Terry brought to the party on this one.  He actually made a hollow pyramid with arched openings at the bottom, a peep hole at the top, and a mirror inside the base of the pyramid, -so when you looked inside, you saw yourself staring back at you.

It is difficult to capture three-dimensional experiences with a two-dimensional medium.  I did find this lower angled shot to give a better sense of the pyramid.

My contribution was the 'game board' aspect surrounding the pyramid.  I have for years (literally since 1999) been batting-around a board game motif that plays off of the actual board game Life.  My guess is when I am finally successful at pulling that off, I will move on.  So far, I haven't had to worry about moving on.

Here are a few examples from pieces Heidi gave me.  Unfortunately, I am too much of a dough-head to have photographed these as soon as I got them from Heidi, so some of my contributions are already on the piece.

An early glimpse into Creature Feature.  Heidi had the rocking chair and the embroidered cat.  Somehow, the cat made me think of the nursery rhyme 'Hey Diddle-diddle', and it was long before I added the 'spoon' to run away with fork.  The spoon became a spork, and then I started thinking about things that could be eaten.  Then a line from the movie Planet Terror popped into my head, 'I'm going to eat your brains and gain your knowledge!'.  It was all pretty much downhill from there.....

The show opened before I could finish this piece to my total satisfaction.  Someday, I will take a few studio-days and finish this sucker off by adding some more graphic/linear elements surrounding the relief brain on the lower half of the canvas.

She also gave me a piece with rabbits on it.  'Little Bunny Foo-foo' was embedded into my mental short-playlist before I could even mount an adequate defense.  The part where Little Bunny Foo-foo was turned into a 'goon' made me think of a game we used to play while walking to school back in the late 1970s (oh yeah!).

I will get a more thorough description of the 'VFEE Game' on theartfeed site. But let me sum it up by saying that: the danger was sudden, the leaps where mighty, and the consequences were severe!

Of course, you can't have a sidewalk game without accidentally stepping on a crack or two.  And as any child of the early 1980s who knows their Devo, stepping on a crack can have negative consequences to their mother's back.  It is a tough world we live in.  I don't know how we survived Big Wheels, Fire Crackers, Lawn Darts, and sugar in our soda..... Behold!  The Transitive Property of Little Bunny Foo-foo.

Here are a few more examples from EX-CH-AN-GE.

This is a piece that is nearly impossible to photograph.  The funky painting of the merchant dude of 'days of yore' washed up on my shore from another artist friend of mine Naomi Kamla (who used to have her studio in my current studio space).  I think she picked it out of somebody's trash.  She didn't know what to do with it, so she gave it to me.  After years of staring at it stupidly -and without any inspiration, I scraped it off on Terry Rathje (are you still following this?).  In turn, Terry built a cabinet for it and then also 'mounted' the 'crap-ass merchant dude painting' onto a thin sheet of wood and then he 're-gifted' it to me for the EX-CH-AN-GE show (which meant I was finally forced to do something with it -thanks, Terry...).  He cut out the head and upper collar and made it into a hinged door.  When you open up the door, there is a shaped box with a Nightingale mounted on it.

It is currently hiding in my studio.  In the near future, I will try to post images of the outside of the box, plus what it looks like when it is open and you can see the Nightingale.

Part of why I brought Jeff Tady into the mixture was his ability to work with nuance and innuendo in a minimal and thoughtful fashion.  What he does is at the limits of my visual vocabulary and challenged me greatly.  He gave me a black small canvas with just a stenciled figure and the work 'music'.

After staring at the figure and the phrase for hours, I finally performed a canvas-endectomy and stitched his piece onto another image I had been working on.  This is only partway done compared to the final piece.  Jeff's other start (which is titled Underworld and is at: http://www.theartfeed.com/profile/show/35 ) was even more of a challenge, and I had to get out a hand saw to hack into a canvas to make room for his oval canvas.

This should give you a better idea of what all happens with a piece exchange.  Heidi and I should be swapping pieces any day now.....

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Studio Work/Antiquing.  A while back Terry Rathje introduced me to 'antiquing' metallic surfacers.  Not to make this a product endorsement or anything, but the stuff he showed me is called Sophisticated Finishes and you can get them at Triangle Coatings (tricoatstore) http://www.tricoatstore.com/home.php?cat=251.  I have been fantastically happy with the results I have had.  Check it out.

This first set of images is the copper patina I put on a mask panel that I made (you can see it on my first Merican-Tastic! entry on the Cool Fools Dool Gools 4 Jools piece).

The mask itself was constructed from cardboard, fabric, and Spackle.  I primed it with several coats of paint so I could seal up the fabric base material.  Once it was completely dry, I added two coats of the copper base (Copper Metallic Surfacer).

While the second coat of the copper was still barely moist to the touch, I applied the antiquing solution.  You can already begin to see a patina forming on the 'mask'.

After the antiquing solution has a while to hang out on the surface, you get closer to this kind of look for your piece.  I like the overall look, and I am in the process of constructing 'narrative panels' for other pieces that will have a similar surface treatment.

Another one of the surfacers I've used is their Iron Metallic Surfacer.  I applied it to the 'Pharaoh' piece for my upcoming Merican-Tastic! show (It is going to be one of the not-optional pieces I am giving to Heidi Hernandez to work on).

This is the second coat of the Iron Metallic Surfacer being applied to the sarcophagus 'lid' fragment.  Much like the copper skull above, I primed this with several coats of paint first so the comparatively expensive surfacer doesn't get absorbed by the unsealed fabric (and in this case, cement as well).

Unlike the copper surfacer, you are supposed to wait until the iron surfacer is dry before you hit it with the antiquing solution.  You should wait roughly 24 hours between each application of antiquing solution (it's kinda cool to watch the piece change over the course of the day as the iron in the paint starts to rust).  The image above is what it looks like immediately after I applied the first coat.

Two coats of antiquing solution (and 48 hours) later, and POW! you have a rusty sarcophagus lid!

This gives you an idea of what I am passing off to Heidi to work on.  The canvas is 3 feet wide and 6 feet tall.  I am in the process of making a carved frame for this piece as well (which will increase the overall dimensions to roughly 52" x 88").  In some upcoming posts I will show several different carved frames as they move from sketches on paper, to layouts on wood, to the actual carving stage, and then painting.

Finally, for my Artifice, Artifact, and Allegory show, I used the Iron Metallic Surfacer to give Trojan Horse its rusted look.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Evolution of Pieces. Part I.  Although much of my work comes about through the layering of images and objects, very little of it is planned out.  This allows me to capitalize on any kind of spontaneity that may arise, and usually, my 'plans' aren't that stunning to begin with.  If I have a plan that I slavishly stick to, the resulting piece is almost always a disaster (an optimist would see that as just another layer waiting to be obscured...).

Back in 2000, I was the Night Auditor at a motel down in Texas.  I had about 3 hours of work sandwiched into an 8 hours shift.  So, although I was stuck at the front desk baby-sitting the hotel, the paranoid druggies, the loquacious insomniacs, the weary travelers, and the not-so-subtle adulterers, I had plenty of free time to doodle.  The overwhelming majority of these drawings were outright crap.  But, if 'misery loves company', then crap 'really, really loves company' (I know, not quite as eloquent).  I found that when I combined these bad drawings/doodles into larger compositions, they took on a life of their own.  Their crappiness wasn't so much of a limitation, as it was an intriguing conceptual point-of-entry into the artwork.

Here are a few examples of pieces that are comprised of multiple layers of images and/or objects.  Frequently, as is the case for Domain, a piece may have had several 'lives' over the years and even been shown in one, or even several incarnations at various shows.

This is the third layer for Domain (image layer, obscuring layer, and then another image layer).  The base layer (the interlocking green and brown faces/masks) is one of my 'beta-type' layers.  I will explain more of the ideas behind that in a future blog when I have a better image of what the 'beta-type' part looks like.  The beta-type layer was painted back in 2001 or 2002.

The next layer with all of the little figures, masks, and symbols was laid down in 2006.  Some of the images (masks in particular) are from drawings I made of some of my now destroyed/defunct masks and figures.  Each area (or domain) is protected by its own dotted line force field.  The sameness in the size of the figures (or the lack of dominant figures) coupled with the drab color scheme pretty much insured that this would not be the final layer for Domain.

 Domain sat in the corner of my studio for nearly two years before I was excited enough about an idea for the next layer to be applied.  I didn't want to massively ramp-up the color palette -nor the contrast, but just tweak it enough so it wasn't as bland as the first two levels.

Although this image shows Domain with a carved frame, it existed for nearly two years without one.  Since the carved frames are very time consuming and the process of making them is pretty much a one-way trip (it is hard to 'uncarve' wood), I usually commit to making one of those once I am fairly satisfied the painting is 'done'.

I usually kick around a few sketches for each frame.  Picking, choosing, adding, deleting and, rearranging various ideas, motifs, objects, images and characters, until I get something that is A) interesting to look at, B) interesting to carve (carving is a pretty mind-numbing endeavor to begin with and carving something boring makes it nearly excruciating) C) and either adds to what is going on in the piece, or acts as a counter-point to what is happening.

This is not a great image from my sketch book (which is just a spiral notebook, not your typical hard-bound, archival paper, 'nice' artist sketch book), but it gives you and idea of a prep sketch for a frame.  Note: I took some aspects of the images/masks/characters from the partially obscured second layer of the painting, and reintroduced them on the frame.

Some other examples:

This is an earlier incarnation of what ultimately became Dialog: Hot Dog Variation.  This piece was called eee-KWAY-shun and was shown at my Funky Aftertaste show at the Morissey Gallery at Saint Ambrose University here in Davenport.  Before this piece was converted into its current existence, several elements were removed from the canvas and are either 'waiting' to be reused (as is the case for the dangling 'french fries' and 'onion rings') or have already found a new home (as in the life raft (lower center) which is now part of a piece called Nursery Rhyme).

A couple years later I added the Hot Dog (the 3rd in the 'Dialog Series') relief image to the canvas formerly known as eee-KWAY-shun (you can still see some parts peek through).

This is an earlier version of Dialog: Dipped Cone Variation (also part of the Funky Aftertaste show in 2008).

Within a year, I began to expand from not only 'hazing-out' the underlying layers, but to more aggressively painting them out.  So by 2009, I had reworked the color scheme of the 'dialog squares' and also changed how I approached painting the 'image layers'.  The dipped cone was my first in the Dialog Series -I hadn't yet decided to switch from the silhouette to compartmentalizing the sections within the Pop culture 'Goodie'.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Merican-Tastic!.  Many years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Italy and see great artworks, classic sculptures, cultural ruins, architectural wonders, Florentian gelato-slingers (you had me at gelato...), Venetian glass-blowers (you had me at molten...), and Neopolitan 'Working Girls' (you had me at...well maybe not.).  One of the unofficial/'non-art' things that I saw -which kinda blew me away, were the ancient walls with all of their cracks and layers of paint and weathered posters, and......history.

On just a visual/textural level there were so many eloquent 'passages' on the walls, that many of them were works of art just waiting to be 'proclaimed' as such.  In addition to the crusty textural feel, another idea that I took from the walls was the layering of 'history' (one poster slapped on top of the next with little or no regard for what was underneath it).  Surely, the Etruscans weren't thinking 'Hey, we should make this road extra nifty because our next-door neighbors the Romans will like totally appreciate all of our extra effort when they take us over.'  Of course not, they built it for themselves.

What that translates to in regard to how I make alot of my work (especially the painted constructions) is that each layer I create is an entire composition.  Whenever possible, I try not to think of what the finished piece will be, or even how many layers of images I will eventually end up painting.  I also try -with varying degrees of success, not let my attachment to the previous layer affect my compositional decisions for the subsequent layers.  Basically, nothing is too precious that it can't be painted over.

My fellow artist/friend Terry Rathje has asked me on several occasions how often I paint over 'good bits' and shouldn't I save them, and does it bother me to do so.  My answers to those questions would be: I terrorize my good bits, they probably shouldn't be saved since I learn more working with/developing the 'bad bits', and it doesn't bother me if the final piece turns out to my liking.  If I don't like the 'final' piece, I usually let the canvas hang around for a year or two in the studio and then hit it with another layer.  Few things make a piece of work un-precious like tripping over it in your studio for a few years!

However, I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't say that I frequently paint over, or at least partially obscure, some nice passages and I wish I had a 'venue' to showcase those. 'Punching Holes in The Rah-Rah' is that venue.  Introducing: Tragecomedy In 3 Parts.....

Tragecomedy In 3 Parts is a triptych that I am developing for Merican-Tastic!  I am currently starting on the third layer of painting (image layer, white-out layer, and now more images).  These shots show you the line work, and then some close-ups so you can see the overall effect.  Feel free to set your brain to 'stun'....

The detail shot.

Next panel...

The detail shot.

The final panel.

The detail shot.

This whole mess needs to be 'colored in'.  Which has much more in common with a paint-by-numbers set with four colors, than the actual call-and-response process of painting.  My pieces are painted, they may or may not (based on individual definitions) be 'paintings'.

Anyway, each of these panels is also going to receive what I am calling a 'narrative panel' which will be a sculptural relief panel attached to the surface of the canvas.  Unlike the partially translucent layering of paint, these narrative panels will just outright obscure whatever lies underneath.  Que lastima! (My Spanish teachers would be so proud of me...).  The image above is the start of one of the narrative panels.  It is a long way from being complete, but I already have about 5 hours of time into fabricating just the one panel.