Sunday, January 21, 2007

From The Beginning

As far back as I can remember I have always had an interest in art. As a child I was always drawing and coloring. I could go into my own world and be happy and safe. It was a protective cocoon. Childhood was not an especially happy time for me. My mother was verbally, emotionally, and psychologically abusive to me. She really didn’t know any better since this was the way that she was brought up. Add to this the fact that in the 1950’s I went to Catholic parochial school through fourth grade and you have the perfect mix for a psychotic or an artist.

All through school art was my best subject probably because it was my identity. Up until high school it was all the normal stuff that you would get in most any school. In high school I could finally take real art classes. This meant all the basics like form and composition, design, learning how to render, and even a smattering of color theory. Later, when I first started college, it seemed like more of the same. I spent a year at a community college. This was a pretty good experience. The most important thing that I learned was that I didn’t want to go to a traditional 4-year state college. I wanted to go to an art school. In order to achieve this, I quit school for a year and worked 2 jobs (one full time and one part time) in order to get the money to go back to school.

I went to the San Francisco Art Institute since the major emphasis of the school was fine arts not that commercial stuff that could actually earn you a living. This was back in the late 1960’s and there was an incredible energy in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Art Institute had a reputation for being very avant-garde and experimental.

Like any other beginning student I started off somewhat conservative, trying to show that I did have certain basic skills. I started off doing paintings that were somewhat surrealistic but quickly let my environment change me as I experienced this new art scene. I was also pretty eager to show my instructors that I was not just the average, run of the mill, student. In the 60’s and 70’s the art scene in NY was dominated by large abstract color field paintings. As a young student I wanted to emulate the modern day masters. I wanted to be an urban painter on the cutting edge of the art scene so I started to experiment. I was going to make art for the sake of art.

San Francisco in the late 60’s was a pretty vibrant place. It was the new center of rock music and the counter culture was growing by the day. On the weekends free concerts were the norm in Golden Gate Park. Experimental theater and Alan Ginsberg doing poetry readings at the City Lights bookstore. There was student unrest at SF State and Cal Berkeley. The time was ripe for change. The art scene in SF had gained national notoriety with the New Figure movement headed by Richard Dibenkorne, Elmer Bischof, and David Parks. The ceramic artist and sculptor, Peter Volkous, gave new direction to an old craft. Sound was being used to create sculptures that could not be seen but heard and felt. Art and technology were partnering up.

California has always been on the cutting edge of technology and this carried over to the arts. The instructor that taught me how to use airbrushes and spray guns learned his craft doing custom paint jobs on cars and motorcycles as a low-rider in the 50’s. He also taught me about automotive lacquers and synthetic paints. Another instructor was using epoxy paint on surfaces built up dimensionally with strips of aluminum and fiberglass. It was very easy to be influenced by all of this.

Eventually a core idea took root in my mind and working abstractly seemed to be the logical direction to head. This early direction is still the basis for my artist statement. I wanted to create large fields of color, of what appeared to be a single color but was made up of many different colors and shades. I wanted to create paintings that seemed simple on the surface but really had a complicated understructure. Even back then color was the most important element for me. To help the color become more intense, more vibrant I would use industrial materials and techniques. In some cases I would use a dark, almost black ground and then spatter bright intense colors over it, the dark intensifying the bright. Other times I would lay down a base coat of gold or silver metallic paint and use transparent glazes of lacquers over it in a spattered effect so that the ground and the top coats would both show. These paintings were created in a very physical way like the abstract action painters of the late 50’s. The act of painting was almost like a dance, as I would move around the painting lying on the studio floor.

These paintings are all from 1971 and part of my final student portfolio. They all measure 96” X 96” and are done on plywood. The paint is a mixture of acrylics, lacquers, synthetics and metal powders. I apologize for the quality of the images. The slides are old and have not been well cared for and my slide scanner doesn’t work so I had to improvise. Hopefully, they still show the general idea.


Blogger Philip said...

Thanks for this very fascinating article Ed. I feel a great deal of emotion in reading it because it reflects many of my own feelings and toughts. The difference is that you were lucky enough to be part of something happening in San Francisco - where I was born and raised it was (and still is)a cultural desert. Many of the things you were actually doing were things that I could only dream of and I am still trying to realise now in much later life.

I hope it's OK to ask some questions - hope they are not too personal:

What happened to all the work? It doesn't sound as though you have any of this around you now.

What made the transition to where you are now in terms of your current style of painting?

Did you exhaust this style of work or do you feel you might go back to it some day?

If you have the time I would love to read more about your life story

1:17 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Philip, thanks for your interest, I am very flattered. Most of the work has been destroyed. I did not have the money or space to store it indefinitly. I am not troubled by that. It has always been the creative act that was, and still is, the most important to me. Transition is change and all living things need to change in order to grow. I will get into that more in the next posting. I don't think that I exhausted this style of work, rather it reached a state of incompletion. I find that things move like a spiral in my life. I will eventually cycle back to it and pick it up, seeing it with new eyes. This is a thread that I will continue in future postings. Again, thank you very much for your interest.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

Not all Ed - it is me who is grateful for your time and effort in writing this. It is a very interesting story - well written and very human.

11:21 AM  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Hi Ed--

Thought I would take a look at some of Lori's friends, and this seems the perfect moment--you've gone "back to the beginning." Very interesting piece. Art is, I think, a means of redeeming the childhood wound.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Hi Marly, thanks for stopping by. yes, art does indeed help to redeem the wounds and brokeness not only of childhood but also of life in general.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Hey Ed -- taking a respite from the road warrior work thing, and redeeming my work laptop for art in the process. :-)

Thanks for giving me a grin about 'puters -- they are angels or devils, but never anything in between.

I am tremendously excited about this post. The nascent feeling "this is me," the work that reflects others as a vibrant starting path...

On the plane flight out here, I was sketching fellow passengers and thinking about paintings. I'm very drawn to Rothko (understatement of the year) because of his emotional content, and because he gets it there without making a "picture of something." (A pet peeve of mine about many photographers' work.) But I love bravura illusion-craft -- Holbein, Zurbaran, Ingres, Velasquez -- if for no other reason than its sensual quality. So where to begin?

Ahhh. I could go on, and will off-blog, as you've really stirred something here.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Hi Ed, I came to ask a few questions and it turns out that Philip asked almost exactly the same questions I had plus a few more good ones.

I do have a rather nosy question, but you have been so open about your ocd and depression, so I thought I'd ask. Do you think your use of those materials, lacquers, enamels, solvents etc. (in fairly unventilated situations, I am guessing) affected you as far as those things go? I have heard quite a few stories by artists who have had to stop working with some materials as it caused or worsened depression etc.

Anyway, I just wanted to add that I think it is fascinating that you were able to be in art school in SF during the late 60's. I am green with envy!

1:43 PM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Good Question, Tracy, and you are not being nosy. OCD is a chemical imbalance in the brain, much the same way that diabetes is a chemical imbalance in the body. Doctors know that it is a condition that one is born with and may lie dormant until a traumatic event occurs. In my case it is inherited and my traumatic event was my childhood abuse. I have had OCD as far back as I can remember.

I knew as far back as art school that turpentine was a depressant. It was not uncommon for artists in the 1800's to suffer from fatigue and depression from long days in the studio. In my school days I also met artists (Ron Davis comes to mind) that seemed to have fried their brains from prolonged fume exposure. I always used ventilated areas and wore a respirator. But even eliminating toxic materials, when I only did pen and ink work, working with acrylics, or even just doing pencil drawings, the OCD and depression have always been a part of my life. The big difference now, as I get older (58 on my next birthday) is that my energy levels are diminishing. I still need the same amount of energy to keep my OCD and depression in check but have less overall energy to maintain other activities. Thanks for asking.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

I have read your entire blog now Ed and it seems to me that you have come to terms very well with your illnesses and how they affect your art and life in general. I don't think that there is anything I could say that might be any use to you - except perhaps to suggest reading the work of John o'Donohue (link to his site in my blog) if you are not already familiar with him. I found his work a great help in coming to terms with people, the world in general and most of all, myslef. His writing style is not easy but it is worth persevering with. He is a former Catholic priest turned poet and philosopher and has a unique way of looking at things that seem to make such perfect sense(IMO). He speaks of things we all think but rarely say.

9:49 AM  

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