Thursday, March 01, 2007

Now, Where was I?

This saga of my life goes on a bit more, dear reader, so I hope that I am not boring you. I know that it has been interesting for me to revisit my own history and look back over my old work. As the old saying goes, if you fail to learn from history then you are doomed to repeat it. It is also hard to know where you are going if you don’t know (or remember) where you have been.

I really like abstract art. I enjoy looking at it and I enjoyed making it. What I did not enjoy was constantly being asked, “What is it?” or “What does it mean? Or especially, “My kid could do that!” I got tired of explaining myself. I had to use too many words to explain a non-verbal form of communication, i.e., painting. It was way too easy to think that people didn’t understand because they were illiterate about art. As the artist, I am the one responsible for communicating. I am the one responsible for making the viewer understand. For me to believe otherwise would be for me to agree with those artists who only created for the critics or the art intelligentsia. I am way too blue collar (and perhaps too pedestrian) for that to happen. I wanted to find a way to combine what I liked about abstract art with what the average viewer might be able to appreciate.

I also had a need to prove to myself that I really did have the skills and abilities to be able to draw and paint what I saw. This is one of the stumbling blocks of my disability (OCD) that I have to constantly recheck, reaffirm, and reprove everything. I had also remembered a book that I read about the artist, Henri Matisse. I remember it saying that after he had been declared the FAUVIST, the wild beast that he had set up his own school. The story goes on to say that many students were disappointed because he had them doing academic studies first before he would permit them to go onto more free style work. The basic attitude being that you had to know how to do it correctly before you could do it in a distorted manner. This is echoed in a story that I heard about the American artist, Frank Stella, having a conversation with the British artist, David Hockney. The story goes on to say that Stella expressed regret that he never learned to draw and that he was limited in his art because of it. True or not it is a great lesson. True or not, it is something that I have obsessed over ever since then.

The obsession is how do I combine the best of both of these worlds, abstraction and representationalism? This is the path that I have set myself on. I do realize that it may be a fool’s errand but it doesn’t seem to matter to me. Part of it becomes to find the sacred in the everyday ordinary things. I remember the movie, American Beauty, where there is a scene of the young videographer, showing a bag endlessly caught in the swirls and eddies of the breeze. This is a scene of the common place being recognized as a moment of poetic beauty.

When I look at my paintings of silent prayer I ask, can I find the same thing or theme in the world around me? I believe that I can do this. For me, the landscape has become a metaphor. In the landscape there is a metaphor of the spiritual and all things living. The common place that shows itself to be more than what it really is, or to be more than what I think it may be. There may be a brief moment when the light shines on an ordinary object, like a pear, and the shapes and colors come alive in a way that I have never noticed before. That in these simple things I become aware of something that is eternally true yet hidden in plain sight. I am not sure of what it is that I am looking for I just hope that I will recognize it when I see it. My life seems to be more subtractive than additive. I don’t know what it is that I am looking for but I know what it isn’t. So, I have to keep trying things out until I finally get it right.

These are all pieces from the last 10-25 years. The first two are portraits of my wife, and her dog, shortly after we got married. I was re-exploring my love of Matisse and the Fauvists. They are both oil on gessoed watercolor paper. The others are soft pastel on prepared paper. I needed to prove to myself that I still had drawing skills. Looking at the works of Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatte, and Wayne Thiebaud influenced the use of the pastel.


Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Ah, beautiful post, beautiful renderings, beautiful spark behind the glowing embers.

11:29 PM  
Blogger jafabrit said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog entry, very insightful and beautifully written.

Just want to say, I am so sorry about your dog. I love my doggie and know how much they become a part of your family and life.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

I think you raise a very interesting philosophical point about the issue of abstract art and needing to explain it. I have been thinking about this since I read your post and I will write again with a fuller comment when I have collected my thoughts on this and chewed them over some more! It will perhaps be interesting to debate this point with you(and others).

1:49 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

BTW -- the portrait of your wife and the portrait of her dog put me a bit in mind of Alex Katz's work -- only your work looks a little more whole/holy and a lot less "flat affect" than his work.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

As I said the other day I have been reflecting on what you said about getting tired of the need to explain abstract work. You also said that you had also concluded that the responsibility lies with the artist to communicate and that it is way too easy to think that people didn’t understand because they are illiterate about art.

On the whole I agree – I certainly see myself as a blue collar painter (I like that term!) and fully understand where you are coming from on this. I have to say though that I believe being illiterate about art is part of a much wider of issue of illiteracy. One could easily say the same about politics. Must everything be turned into sound bites for the sake of universal consumption? I contend that the education system is to blame for a general illiteracy. It seems largely devoted to churning out functionaries to work for organisations which are not interested in engaging their staff’s imagination or using the ability of people to think conceptually. How often are people asked for their ideas or opinions in the work place. In the end people often reach retirement thinking they have no imagination - not recognising that it has been suppressed for most of their adult life. Everyone starts life with a very healthy imagination and I think it is more than a little sad that it is so under valued in the masses and over valued in the few.

Having said that I do think that there is an onus on people to continue learning throughout life. For example, if I wanted to learn another language now I would have to go for lessons and make a real effort to learn and understand. So I am not sure the artist is there to make their work understandable to all. It is not as if abstract art is rocket science and usually a little explanation goes a long way to help understanding. I fully accept that the art world hasn’t helped in this by making the whole thing exclusive rather than inclusive and I am, as I believe you are also, for making it inclusive. I hope (?) I have written my own blog that way.

I think we are coming at this issue from slightly different directions and I think it would be possible to write a book on this! My underlying and enduring concern is that the suppression of creativity and imagination is one of the many causes of stress and depression is society although I have no way of proving this. For my part though, I am determined to carry on. If anyone wants to understand my language then I am quite happy to explain. And I promise to do it in non-art speak! That’s as far as I go.

As a separate issue, I wanted to say how much I like the portrait of your wife. I enlarged the photo and could see right into her eyes.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Philip makes a number of good points here, which are near and dear to my heart. I will make his comments the subject of my next post.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

I look forward to reading this Ed!

2:42 AM  

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