Saturday, June 3, 2017

Time to Work

Sometimes I publish a blog post only to find in the ensuing days that the ideas expressed therein were not complete, or have been leading on to other ideas. Such is the case with the last one or two posts. It's like I am having a conversation with myself (which we all do, all the time, don't we?) and writing it all down in this blog, hoping, in the way that all writers do I guess, that the act of writing it will make it more real, or maybe even reach someone.

As I said in the Venice post, reactions to art are highly personal. I think that in much the same way as our underlying psychologies inform our choices of mate and our political leanings, that same underlying psychology probably has much to do with what art / media we respond to. What follows is a snapshot of the current state of my thoughts about art, subject to change without prior notice from the management.

I personally am a person who is not particularly in touch with my emotional side. I am ruled by my intellect to the degree that basic core emotions are often parsed and intellectualized by some pre-conscious editor before even rising to the level of conscious experience. As such, I'm often only dimly aware that an emotion "happened," and figuring out what I actually feel, as opposed to think, can seem like detective work.

It seems too far fetched to imagine that this psychological underlayment would not be related to the fact that, for me, art which inspires an emotional reaction is the holy grail. Any piece of art which can jerk me out of the rational, which can pierce that controlled intellectual narrative, can actually affect me, is something I like and something I remember. By extension, I imagine that those who are ruled by their emotional side might well be attracted to art and media that presents a more intellectual experience, but this is only a guess.

For me, music is the art form which most consistently elicits this kind of reaction (barring movies of course, which A) can yank your emotions around like nothing else, and B) I just don't watch that much). Maybe it's a song I haven't heard in years that I used to love, maybe it's a soaring orchestral part, maybe it's a movingly personal lyric. In my experience, the visual arts have a much harder time managing this, yet that's where my interests lie.

I believe that getting the heart racing through fear or through a thrilling experience hits the same target of jerking you out of the rational, and this is why motorcycle riding, roller coasters, and robot performances can be so fun. But fear / thrill is also probably the easiest reaction to elicit, at least among positive reactions (disgust or anger might be easier to foster, but you're likely going into debased territory if you're aiming for those). How do you tease out those subtler emotions, like sadness, joy, reverie, transcendence, or ecstasy? There are no clear answers here; this is the challenge of making this kind of work.

There's a quote I like very much from an article Amanda Palmer wrote about Nick Cave for the Guardian. I go back and read it every few months...
"But fundamentally this is what we – as artists – have always done. We take our pain and we transform it into some kind of narrative, some show or story, something … else. We frame our trauma as best we can, and we offer it up. At best, it’s a gift; at worst, it’s a product. And the amount of enduring respect we bestow on our artists seems to be directly proportionate to how well, how authentically, how selflessly, they can take and deliver an emotional selfie like this."

Does Damien Hirst fit into this at all? Or Jassans? Well, if we use "jerking you out of the rational" as the target, there are lots of ways to get there. I think that work which inspires thoughts about larger, deeper issues which by their nature defy easy intellectualization, such as love, beauty, mortality, loss, and similar concepts is capable of inspiring similar reactions to that which brings out a purely emotional response. And beauty itself, when it is undeniable... when it hits you hard because it stands apart so clearly from everything around it... can bring you there too.

These observations go some way towards describing why I have no love for abstract art, or art about art. Mondrian or Jackson Pollock might be interesting when viewed from within the framework of the flow of art history, but they don't say anything and don't seem to mean anything, at least not to me. Maybe one day I will think differently.

These are all from Niccolo dell'Arca's amazing Compianto Sul Cristo Morto

Two of my favorite Francis Bacon images

Last weekend I met a fellow artist through a play-date for Kodiak. He'd taken a 10-year hiatus from art-making, but recently come back to it with a new sense of purpose, one example of which is a commitment to finish a new piece every week (he's working with media in which that is a more feasible proposal than it would be in sculpture). I was inspired by this meeting to try increase my focus and increase my production. As such I spent four out of five days this week sculpting, either at class or at home.

These are pictures of my full-figure piece at class. These show the more-or-less finished result; she is actually a bit advanced now from when these pictures were taken, but the changes are slight.

 This is the portrait I just started. For reference, I've got about 6-7 hours into this one by now.

This is the plasticene (non-hardening, oil-based clay) piece I've been working on at home. It sat for quite a few weeks recently with no work done, but I'm newly motivated to finish it. The boobs need to get a bit smaller, she needs ears and hair, and a few other things, but I'm pretty happy with her. I've decided to mold and cast her, because... why not. Otherwise plasticene sculptures are destined for the trash-bin, sooner or later... they don't hold up. I continue to find the pose and expression quite compelling. 

Here is something I built from cardboard, hot glue, syringes, rubber tubing, and wood bits. It's a mask with kinetic elements, operated by simple syringe-based water hydraulics. The glove means I can make it operate wherever, whenever, while walking around. It still needs a bit of surface treatment, as in finishing the paint job and maybe some tiki-style design work on the face. Here is a 20-second video.

I keep saying that I am going to talk about the passage of time, and the perception of it. I'll keep it quick and get to the point. As an adult, I feel that time moves so fast, and I have very little sense of it. Memory isn't what it used to be, and so much of daily life is unremarkable and not really worthy of logging in to the memory banks anyway. What did I eat for dinner 2 nights ago? Or even last night? Who knows. One needs landmarks to understand the passage of time, and for me the important landmarks are the milestones of Kodiak's life (which will happen on their own), and my own work (which I need to be focused on in order to make happen). This sense of time flying by is just another reason to kick myself in the ass and get to work. One neat thing about sculpture is that it will continue to exist even after I no longer exist. But only if I make it.


  1. So great to see the sculptures from class ......the full figured woman is very " Jassans " and beautiful ....the portrait is wild and terrific and very unexpected !! Bravo !

  2. Thanks mom- the portrait is only as "wild" as the model... but he is pretty great looking!