Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Science

I recently purchased on eBay a lot of 40 back-issues of a certain French fashion magazine, called Numèro.

I did this because I have the idea that these magazines might be a good source material for painting beautiful women. But it's a little more involved than that, really, because it's not hard to find images of beautiful women online, or in Playboy or Penthouse magazines (I have quite a few of those). You see, I believe there's something fundamentally different about the attitude expressed by the women in fashion magazines from the attitude expressed by women in erotic media. 

I find myself quite interested in these subtleties. (In much the same way that I have, in the past, found myself interested in the subtleties of posture and style of dress in their capacities as means of communication - consciously or unconsciously - about who we are, who we want to be, and who we want to fit in with.)

In fact I was disappointed and perplexed when I tried to google variations of 'differences in facial expression porn vs. fashion magazines" and came up with nothing. This seems like a viable topic for a scholarly dissertation... to me anyway.

So here is my opening statement, my hypothesis, the assumption upon which I decided to purchase the Numèro magazines:

• The range of facial expressions, and posture for that matter, affected by women posing for erotic media tends strongly towards 'demure,' 'seductive,' and 'submissive.'
• In contrast, the range of facial expressions and posture affected by women posing for fashion tends more towards 'confrontational,' 'self-assured,' and sometimes even 'aggressive.'

One obvious observation to make here is that erotic magazines and fashion magazines have different target audiences. Erotic media is primarily targeted at men, presumably men who are interested in sexy women, and so it follows that female models who convey with their body language and facial expression that they 'want' to be with these men who make up the audience will help sell more magazines.
Conversely, fashion magazines are marketed to women, presumably with the idea of selling clothing and cosmetics to these women. And so what's being sold here is a fantasy of self-assertion, strength, and even beauty that the female audience might be able to attain by purchasing the items on sale therein.
Something interesting that follows from these points is that both magazines are selling fantasy; and that beautiful women are the locus, the vehicle, the blank canvas for that fantasy. It's all very aspirational, in a way that feels sort of private and personal and possibly a little bit shameful.

I believe that feminine beauty is a kind of mirror, reflecting back at us a lot of hidden data about the culture we live in as well as our own hidden psychologies.

Can you tell which of the following images came from fashion publications and which came from erotic media?













My guess is that you CAN tell. The facial expressions are fundamentally different. 
(Unfortunately, there are also a lot of other clues in these images which you may have consciously or unconsciously noted, and which made the determination easier. I tried to 'even the playing field' by only using fashion images in which the shoulders were bare.)

If I relax the requirement of having bare shoulders, the following images from fashion publications illustrate the point more clearly, I think.







These facial expressions, at the 'assertive' end of the spectrum, shall we say, are simply not found in mainstream erotic media.

So by now I have spent quite a bit of time thumbing through the Numèro magazines in search of interesting faces and interesting expressions, and I have some data on which to evaluate my original hypothesis. The truth is that the range of expressions on display is really very broad, and encompasses pretty much everything from angry or annoyed all the way to demure and seductive. At first glance, I find the inclusion of 'demure and seductive' to be a bit mystifying, but I might have a sense of why this is... a new hypothesis if you will. Perhaps it is the case that fashion magazines are presenting a broad and inclusive fantasy so that all women can see some version of themselves in that 'paper mirror,' whether they are feeling angry or assertive or romantic or submissive... albeit a better-dressed version of themselves.
Erotic media, for the most part, does not need to bother with this wide range of expression. Men are seeking out this type of media for a narrower set of reasons. (I imagine that there are dark corners in the landscape of erotic media catering to niche tastes, and that a broader range of facial expressions can be found if you look for them.)

So there is a lot more overlap between these types of media than I'd originally assumed, but if you're looking for images of beautiful women wearing any facial expression other than demure and seductive, high-end fashion magazines are a great place to start. I don't regret my purchase.

In a way, this entire 'experiment,' or 'inquiry,' really just serves to underscore the potency and importance of facial expression in terms of its ability to evoke a psychological or emotional response in the viewer. We humans have, after all, evolved over eons to respond sensitively to infinite subtleties in the faces of our peers.
Fashion media, erotic media, and many other kinds of media for that matter are just taking advantage of this instinctual human ability in order to engage us in a fantasy of one sort or another (depending on what sort of media we choose to engage with) and the type of face most often used to sell this fantasy is the face of the beautiful woman. Because, to (almost correctly) quote Peaches, "The girls want to be her, the boys want to be [with] her."

So what sort of facial expression do you respond to? And what does it say about your psychology? Are you looking for someone to show you a 'better' version of yourself? Or just to accept you? To nurture you? To protect you? Or to challenge you? No matter what it is, there's a facial expression just for you, and you can find it in a magazine.

For me, personally... I like the intense faces, the strong ones, the emotional ones. Long-time readers of this blog will already know that. And what does that say about my psychology? Well, I think I sorta kinda might know the answer to that, but hey... that's a bit personal, don't you think? If you want to 'read' my psychology, you'll just have to wait for my paintings.

And speaking of that... there is an interesting question floating in the ether which is "why will I not share images of my paintings in progress?"
The simple answer is that I do not want anyone's opinion, be it positive or negative or anywhere in between.
To once again quote the great painter Andrew Wyeth,
"People only make you swerve. I won’t show anybody anything I’m working on. If they hate it, it’s a bad thing, and if they like it, it’s a bad thing. An artist has to be ingrown to be any good."

*Very slight shift of topic... Another thing I really like about high-end fashion magazines is that some of the photo spreads can really reach the level of art. One can only assume that these magazines have decent budgets for these spreads, and in the hands of visionary photographers or production designers, these photos can be very interesting...









OK, there you go...
That's all I have to say!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Sorting Things Out

Let's see here... it's been almost 2 months since I've blogged and that is a long interval for me.
So, a lot has happened.


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Our main car broke down and was in the shop for almost a month, and so I pressed my old 1971 Datsun 240z into service, which sort of revived my love affair with that 49 year-old beauty. After the sensible family car came back from the mechanic I fixed the Datsun's speedometer, completely re-did the suspension and brakes, and then finally fixed the heater, making it a viable winter car. In fact, over the years I have fixed so many things on this car and really, the last major thing to do on it would be to paint it.... but... it's sort of perfect the way it is. It's like a 'stealth nice car,' a little sports car that is very nicely sorted out but looks like crap. Perfect for Taos.




I could write a whole blog post on my love for this car, but I think I would lose most of you along the way!


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Way back in November, Christina and Kodiak and I took a road trip to the Big Sur area of California for Thanksgiving. Wow, California has gotten expensive. But Big Sur is just as beautiful as ever. 



I used this trip to deliver Big Mother to the fellow in California who bought it. Woohoo, that's the third pice of art I've sold in my life! 

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And speaking of travel, I just got back from a 7-day meditation retreat in Crestone, Colorado, which is about a 2-hour drive from our home. Christina had attended this same retreat last year and had then done it again a few weeks ago, and she liked it very much so I gave it a shot. In the last year or so there have been some indications that I should perhaps take a good clear look at certain elements of myself and see if I could clear some things up, and a week of silence in the mountains seemed like a good place to try. The meditation aspect of the retreat (which is a really big part of it - sitting in silence for about 8 hours a day) did not really hit home for me, but ironically the experience turned out to be quite useful for me anyway because of a book I was reading and a conversation I had with a fellow retreat attendee which dovetailed nicely with the book. They say that one of the goals of a Buddhist meditation practice is to 'open up space' in your crowded head, to allow things to come up to the level of consciousness. Perhaps this did actually happen for me; perhaps the meditation served its purpose after all. In any case, completely checking out of your life, ditching your phone and laptop, and just sitting quietly for a week is bound to have benefits. I did find that I was drawing compulsively, which is something that I wish I did more of in daily life. The fucking internet is always getting in my way.





The thangkas in the meditation hall were spectacular. This is Ritrö Gonpö....





And this is Karakulla, protector of mothers, families, and children. 


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The last time I posted on this blog I wrote that I was feeling blocked about painting, specifically with regard to the topic of choosing subject matter to paint. Well after that blog post things opened up a bit for me. First I painted a small painting, the subject of which did mean something personal for me; in other words it was not strictly a technique exercise although of course it functioned in that way to a certain extent.

Then, I settled on an idea for my next painting which I'm really quite excited about. Being fairly large and incorporating multiple figures, it will be significantly more ambitious than anything I've painted yet. But then, for about a half-day, I again found myself feeling very frustrated and stuck because in order to start sketching for this painting I needed to take some photographs of some human models and that just seemed really daunting to arrange. But after a quick and helpful conversation with Christina I decided I would simply take photos of US, of her and me, and use artistic license and photoshop to tweak these images into what I needed them to be. What followed was about four or five days of drawing, as I made the preparatory sketch for the painting... which felt great. 

During this time I also prepared a 'canvas' to paint on. Actually I'm going to paint on hard board (masonite) as it has quite a few advantages over canvas. But this process of making my masonite 'canvas' was really a much bigger pain in the ass than I wish it was and this has everything to do with the fact that I don't have a proper place in which to paint. As I mentioned the masonite board is fairly large and I've needed to carry it back and forth between my crappy little studio (buried in the back of our home) and the metal shop, sometimes with wet paint on it, and that is a pain. So my determination to build a proper studio has increased dramatically. I'm currently weighing various options, ranging from a 'building within a building,' (or a separate structure within our existing shop) to building a free-standing studio from scratch to assembling a prefabricated 'shed'-type building, each of which comes with various advantages and disadvantages. 

So... just when I'd found a subject matter and finished a preparatory sketch that I was pretty inspired to get into, life conspired again to keep me from painting. An old friend from college called me out of the blue and hooked me up with a very well-paying mechanical design job, which threatens to keep me busy for a little while. Oh, sad irony! Well, it could be worse. The money from this job might just end up building my little painting studio, so I shouldn't complain. 

Meanwhile I continue to draw from live models every week... or almost every week. I think my drawings are actually getting better. 



This is my favorite one from the last few weeks.




Insert random image, unrelated to the balance of the blog post. 
(This is a poster that was wheat-pasted on the walls of a construction site in lower Manhattan when I visited a few months ago. When I saw it, I loved it. Man, I had to work hard to get that poster off the wall, cleaned, and transported back with me to Taos. But it was totally worth it.) 




and lastly... California, with my sweetie.

Ciao





Thursday, November 7, 2019

Paint Yourself Out of a Box

I want to try to keep this post quick... fast writing, fast reading.
Not sure why... just my mood, maybe. Maybe also because I know there's a lot to write about and I don't want to present you, my reader, with a book.

Apologies for the slightly hysterical tone of the last post.
I was feeling upset.

Ironically, that post got a lot of response, more than usual.
So, on one hand I’m inclined to apologize for it because it’s unseemly and uncouth to show that sort of emotion. On the other hand perhaps it is good to admit that I’m human, and certain readers seemed to respond sympathetically to that admission.

In any case, it’s all looking like it's probably a healthy turn of events, a cloud with a silver lining.

In a rather inspiring conversation with my pal Michael Lujan... 



we talked about the benefits of lightening up and working more freely.

See, here’s the thing. I think to some degree I’ve gotten into a bit of a rut in which I feel like the only way I can start something artistic is if it’s BIG, it’s been approved by a festival curator and given a generous budget. But that is a rut which, if you’re sitting around waiting for someone else’s approval to get you out of, you might never get out of.

A point made by certain responders to my last post was that I did not need to look at it as a permanent break from building the big stuff, just a stepping back. And not only do I think that this is an appropriate response to the situation, I think it might be just exactly what is needed. You see, when you are in that sort of rut, you become alienated from the self-motivated, autonomous mode of art production which is really special, really at the core of art-making, which we know because it is basically the only mode of art-making at the beginning of most artist’s careers. Making things because you want to. Because you believe in the idea. Because YOU believe in the idea. And… making things faster, on a lighter footing. Letting ideas fall out of you and evolve faster. This is one of the reasons I am attracted to the idea of painting. Not only would I like to become a good painter, ideally I’d like to become a good and fast painter. So that I could get the ideas out, and make room for new ones.


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I just got back from a week in NYC.
The week started with an opening of my old friend Rachel Feinstein at the Jewish Museum...



And ended with the baptism of my brother's son, Beowulf. (I am now a godfather!)



Between those bookends, there were *museums*, *galleries*, *book- and magazine stores*, and *thrift shopping*. I spent hours and hours looking at books and trying on clothes, but ended up buying nothing. Still, that's a lot of 'visual input,' of the kind that I love and I can't get in Taos. 


*Museums*

I visited the MoMA and the Frick. I've never been a huge fan of the MoMA because I think that abstract and conceptual art is a bit of a scam (more on that later). There were a few things I liked, however, including this painting...


by Faith Ringgold, and this bizarre piece...


by Hans Bellmer. But then, everything Hans Bellmer did was pretty bizarre.

The Frick was small by comparison, but full of impressive work. My favorite pieces were...


... this beautiful portrait of Julia, Lady Peel by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and...


...this amazing portrait of the Comtesse d'Haussonville by one of my favorites, Ingres.

*Galleries*

I wasn't truly blown away by very much that I saw in the galleries, but...


Rebecca Morgan's show 'Town and Country' (detail above) was quite funny, and...


the work of Kinki Texas was also funny and good.


I saw this painting....


 in a gallery which is dedicated to photo-realistic painting and observed that, even in these virtuoso canvases, if you get close enough...


... at some point the detail breaks down just a little bit. Still, it's pretty amazing.

But... photorealism. What is the point of it, really? We have cameras now, and large-format printing. I personally feel that painting should push reality... just a little... in some way. I'll probably expound on this idea later, at some point.

*Book and Magazine Stores*

I spent a hell of a lot of time at The Strand, trying to discover new art and artists that I like. My favorites were...



Ridley Howard, and...


Matthew Cerletti.

I also spent a lot of time in a particular magazine store near my brother's house, mostly because they have a huge stock of really bizarre fashion magazines. 



These are publications with names like Ligature, Faune, Black, and Hunger, all priced between $20 and $40. I find these publications fascinating; they are as thick as books and combine fashion with art with celebrity with nudity. 




The bizarre and often questionable content of these magazines suggests an industry that is running out of ideas and debasing itself, just to find something 'new.'

*Thrift Stores*

As I said, I went into a bunch of thrift stores but didn't buy anything. I did, however, fall madly and deeply in love with this jacket...



... and tried to convince myself to buy it, but at the end of the day it was too expensive and also the large amount of fur presented me with a mild moral conundrum. I may at some point make a replica, with either fake fur or vintage fur.

I did a hell of a lot of walking in New York, and... New York is spectacular. Long walks reward with unexpected delights, such as...



beautiful urban vistas, and...


fashion shoots.

Something I noticed that I thought was funny... big cities these days are full of people talking into little barely visible microphones attached to their phones, so a lot of times it just looks like people talking to themselves. But then, you've also got genuinely crazy people who really are talking to themselves. And then there are those that you can't quite figure out... they look a little crazy... but maybe they're just on a phone call? Do the really crazy ones get annoyed that they no longer have the monopoly on talking to themselves in public? Or are they confused by it?


I found myself having a conversation all week about abstract and conceptual art, both with myself and with others. My theory is this: the progression of art is like a long conversation taking place among artists, museum curators, gallerists, and art critics in which new and different ideas constantly float in and out. The general public isn't a meaningful participant in this conversation. Sometimes ideas will be introduced whose only real virtue is that they are new and different. These new ideas then give rise to even more ideas and so on and so on, but before you know it the art that's being made out of these ideas has become so esoteric and self-referential that it only makes sense to those people involved in the conversation; it becomes meaningless to anyone other than the cognoscenti who birthed it. This, in a nutshell, is how I feel about abstract and conceptual art. Similar to those fashion magazines above, it's the product of an in-crowd which has run out of ideas and is trying anything as long as it's new. It's hard not to see it also as a kind of in-joke among the in-crowd, a kind of trick they are playing on everyone. If enough of them say that "It's Amazing!" the rest of us are supposed to believe it too. If we don't 'get it,' we're allegedly just not cool enough.



This is in an extremely high-end gallery, the top of the top. The pretentiousness is staggering, in my opinion, and the work... meaningless.


And this is in the MoMA. Are you moved by this piece? These people apparently are (or maybe they're just dumbfounded, like me.)

If you've been reading this blog, you know I'm trying to paint. If you've really been paying attention you know that I've been talking about it more than I've been actually doing it. I have mental blocks. I think I have some good old-fashioned fear of failure. I've established that I can basically paint, but now I'm vaguely paralyzed about choosing my subject matter. I don't want to waste my time painting 'exercises.' Life is short. I want to choose wisely; I want to use my time wisely. To make matters worse, you can't just paint whatever you find on the internet, even though it's full of great subject matter. Most of it is copyrighted. 

But... today I settled on an image and started a painting. Thank the Lord Baby Jesus.

OK, everybody... back to work.




Thursday, October 24, 2019

Fuck It

Well I might be entering a time of transition, professionally speaking.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could see the trajectory of our own lives, objectively, from above or from some great perspective? Wouldn't it be nice if we could know what everything, every event, in our lives really meant? Then there would be no guessing. When something momentous or unusual happened you could just look at the timeline of your own life and understand the significance immediately. 
If this fantasy were true, then I would know what it all means... this time of challenges.

Warning: I'm going to ruminate in this post. I'm going to postulate and second-guess myself. I'm going to wonder what it all means, and it might make you feel uncomfortable. If you're the kind of person who feels creepy and voyeuristic when you read the personal ramblings and doubts of another person, then you can stop reading after the next sentence.

I'm no longer certain that big sculpture is the right avenue for my creative output, and I'm thinking that painting or smaller-scale sculpture might be a better vehicle for the the artistic ideas I seem to be having these days.

There. That pretty much sums it up. If you would rather not be voyeur to the tortured machinations that led me to that thesis sentence, you can stop now.

Goodbye.




































Oh, you're still here. Hello.

The last several proposals I've submitted to various festivals for funding consideration have been rejected. That hurts. They say that one has to have a thick skin to be an artist, or be freelance. My skin might not be thick enough. 

Here's the thing: I really believed in those proposals.

Or, at least I think I did.

My proposals are all too good for the festival scene, too meaningful, too personal. Or... I'm out-of-touch and my ideas all suck and my heart wasn't really in them anyway. I'm not sure. 

They say that as an artist you're supposed to build the kind of work that you want to see in the world. The proposals I've submitted are all works of art that I would absolutely love to see in the world. The world would be better with them in it. They are thought-provoking, challenging, beautiful, and they all have something to say. And yet, the people who hand out the money, the curators, don't seem to agree. 

Meanwhile... I sort of just want to paint. 

It's ironic; years ago I fleetingly thought about painting but wrote the idea off completely, thinking to myself: "I'm an object maker, not an image maker." But now I just want to make images. And the truth is that ideas for images are coming to me much faster these days than ideas for sculptures. 

And maybe... just maybe... those ideas that I've had for big sculptures would work just as well at a smaller scale, tailored more for the gallery world. I've just recently sold Big Mother, the third sculpture I've ever sold in my life. And the gallerist who sold it wants more stuff like it. 

So, fuck it. I think I'm going to change my focus for a while. It feels like a bit of a shame in a way, because I'm such a good metal fabricator, such a good builder of big interactive sculpture. And I really love building on a large scale. But, you know, when you need other people's money to build your vision, you're not really free. My dad always said: "Be your own boss." And I suppose that, compared to many folks out there in the working world, I am relatively close to being my own boss. But big sculptures require big budgets, and as long as I'm asking someone else to believe in my vision to fund my work, they have all the power.

On some level, I've just never gotten over the fact that ENDGAME wasn't funded. Interestingly, people close to me have confided in me that they didn't think it was such a strong proposal, or that it was too easy to understand and as such too easy to move past. But I just simply disagree. I think it is an extremely strong image, at least in part because it defies easy categorization, easy understanding. I think the common perception is that it's an environmentalist piece, and I guess that is one of various possible interpretations. But that's not even the most meaningful interpretation to me. To me the piece is about the futility of violence, the short-sightedness of aggression, the (sometimes surprisingly) reciprocal nature of all interpersonal (inter-species?) interactions, and karma. If ENDGAME was passed over because the curators felt it was a too-simple environmentalist piece, I think they missed the point. If it was passed over because it was deemed too dark, well then what can I say? That's the kind of work I want to see in the world. Maybe I should have given it a less ominous title. With the exception of The Flybrary and perhaps one or two other pieces, I think ENDGAME would have been the strongest piece out in the desert this year. Christina has recently pushed me to consider building it on a gallery scale and I might just do that. (Here, with ENDGAME, we can see one of my earlier points nicely illustrated; either my ideas are just too challenging, too personal, too weighty... or they suck. Or perhaps they're just not right for the festival world. Hard to know.)

Well now I will get a little meta, and devote the last part of this blog post to writing about this blog post. 
Why would I write all this? Why would I share these doubts, these thoughts, these uncertainties in such a public way? What could I hope to gain? Why not just leave it at that first sentence.. the one in red
On a certain level, I don't really know. 
Maybe I'm hoping for some feedback, confirming or debating some theory proposed herein.
Maybe it's a kind of catharsis by confession. 
Maybe I'm just creating a record for myself (although I could certainly just write a journal entry if that were my intention.)
Or maybe I imagine that this blog is, in and of itself, an art piece. And I'm painting a self-portrait with words. A self-portrait in a time of doubt, a time of transition. An emotional selfie, just like Amanda Palmer talks about in that old quote* about Nick Cave. *The quote is about half-way down that page
And, interestingly, my ideas for paintings are all much more in the 'emotional selfie' category than anything I've ever built out of metal. Maybe I'm onto something here...

At least there's something I want to do, in addition to building big metal stuff. Imagine if I didn't even want to do anything! But... lucky me... I usually do want to make art. And small- to medium-sized sculptures are great fun, too. They've just never been very lucrative for me. But I imagine that if I set my mind to it, I could change that too. 

Maybe one of these days I will have another idea for a big festival sculpture that hits the right balance of optimism, meaning, and beauty. Maybe.

I think I'll need 6-12 months to churn out a group of paintings, learning how to paint along the way.

So, fuck it. 
Here I go. 




My too-small studio
Oh, and I finished my still-life painting today
Yeehaw