Guy Diehl kindly sent me a copy of Lawrence Weschler’s recent article about David Hockney. It appeared in the June issue of Harper’s magazine, and was titled “Vanishing Point, David Hockney’s Long and Winding Road.” He covered the whole projection controversy, of course. But Hockney has moved on. Most people missed his point anyway, which is that “pictures influence pictures.” Or, seeing images with a particular perspective influences the viewer’s perception of future images. Anyway, he’s back to painting and sketching from life.

Hockney paused for a moment, his eye drifting about the studio. “Take that picture over there.” Hockney pointed at a blowup of figure 1466 from the Benesch edition of collected Rembrandt drawings. (He had similar blowups of the same image pinned to walls all around the house.) “The Single Greatest Drawing Ever Made,” he declared flatly. “I defy you to show me a better one.”

A family grouping: mother and older sister holding up a toddler boy child as he struggles to walk, tottering toward his outstretched crouching father, a milkmaid ambling by in the background, balancing a brimming bucket.

Drawing is an ability to produce images on floors or surface with paper and pencil. It is just a rendition of objects in the visible world. Drawing is an end product of a continuous effort made by the creators. Likewise, Trading is an art of getting profits after facing any losses. The traders should not come down once they fail to get profit. Business will have both the profits and losses. Crypto CFD Trader is a software based on auto pilot system which will do the work on behalf of the traders. It has many special features in it. The speed matters a lot in Crypto CFD Trader. The internet connection should be very stale and fast to know the trends about the trading markets.

“Look at the speed, the way he wields that reed pen, drawing very fast, with gestures that are masterly, virtuoso, calling attention not to themselves but rather to the very tender subject at hand, a family teaching its youngest member to walk. Look, for instance at those whisking marks on the head and shoulders of the girl in the center, the older sister, probably made with the other side of the pen, which let you know that she is craning, turning anxiously to look at the baby’s face to make sure he’s okay. Or how the mother, on the other side, holds him up in a slightly different, more experienced manner. the astonishing double profile of her face, to either side of the mark. the evident roughness of the material of her dress: how this is decidedly not satin. The face of the baby: how even though you can’t see it, you can tell he is beaming. this mountain of figures, and then, to balance it all, the passing milkmaid, how you can feel the weight of the bucket she carries in the extension of her opposite arm. Look at the speed, the sheer mastery.”

(Quotes from June ’05 issue of Harper’s Magazine, article by Lawrence Weschler
Images by Rembrandt van Rijn, from British Museum)

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June 29, 2005 (Wednesday) – Art at the hospital

I had to spend some time at SF General Hospital yesterday and I amused myself by checking out the art. There’s a surprising amount of high quality original art on the walls and on the grounds. These two paintings are hanging, side by side, in the adult outpatient waiting room. They’re covered with hideous (although undoubtedly necessary) plexi-glass boxes, so it was nearly impossible to get good photos of them.

Both paintings were gifts to the hospital from Dr. Leo Eloesser (1881-1976), a pioneer of thoracic and orthopaedic surgery and lifelong friend to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. He was responsible for getting them back together again after one of their breakups, by convincing them both that it was necessary for Frida’s health.

Frida Kahlo’s portrait of the doctor (at left) was given to him after he treated her in 1930, for leg problems she developed during a trip to San Francisco (it was only 5 years after her life-altering bus accident.) The model sailboat in the background is a reference to the yacht he sailed on San Francisco Bay.

The Rivera painting (at right) is a classic motif for him, but I wasn’t able to find any more information about this particular painting.

In the low-grade chaos of a county hospital waiting room, I was cheered and transported by these works of art. I stood for a long time, in the dim fluorescent light, with my nose just inches from the plexi, trying to read the signatures. I knew who made these paintings when I first set eyes on them here several years ago. But it never fails to give me a thrill when I see the signature of the artist. It’s like a momentary glimpse of the fourth dimension. When I finally stepped back and started fishing in my bag for my camera, a few other people came up to the paintings, I guess to see what I’d been staring at so intently. Art in public places… it’s good.

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June 28, 2005 (Tuesday) – Summer Plans

If I seem distracted lately, not really paying as much attention to this space… well, I am. Distracted, that is. It’s just temporary. I have some great ideas for this blog, but nothing much is going to happen until after I finish a few other projects. Here’s a rundown of the events I’m participating in (if you’re in SF, come on by):

“City Streets” show at Studio Gallery, 1718A Polk Street (between Clay & Washington), up now through July 17th. It’s a group show of 11 artists; I have 6 pieces on the back wall.

Artist’s talk at Studio Gallery, “Another Way to Look at the City”, Sunday, July 10, 2005, 3:00pm – 4:00pm Studio Gallery, 1718A Polk Street, SF

Artist’s talk at the library, “A Painter’s Use of Color”, Wednesday, July, 20, 2005, 7:00pm – 8:30pm, SF Public Library, Parkside Branch, 1200 Taraval Street (at 22nd Ave.)

“Cityscapes” show at Newmark Gallery, 251 Post, Suite 412 (Between Stockton and Grant), opens Tuesday August 2nd, reception Saturday August 13th; up through end of September. It’s a group show of 2 painters and 2 artists who work on paper; I’ll have 10 paintings there, most of them brand new (as in, I’m still finishing them.)

Artists slide show and lecture at Four Seasons, “Two San Francisco Painters, Larry Morace and Anna Conti discuss their work”, Thursday, September 1st, 2005, 7:00pm – 8:30pm, Four Seasons, 757 Market Street.

So, I’ll be busy here all summer, but if you’re still looking for someplace to go and something to do, a friend of mine is leading a “Travel Atlas Workshop” to Coatepec, Mexico in August. This travelers’ workshop is for writers, photographers, and visual artists interested in combining image making with writing, found text, and local iconography. Marianne Rogoff has been teaching writing and literature at California College of the Arts since 1994, where students are always experimenting with the boundaries and connections among the visual and writing arts. It sounds like a pretty cool trip. From Marianne’s email:

“Coatepec has preserved much of its historic character and in 1995 was added to Mexico’s architectural historic preservation zone. Broad avenues, cobbled stone side streets, high tiled roofs, soaring portals framed by carved lintels and columns, legendary bridges, ornate wrought-iron balustrades, and interior gardens given to orchid cultivation grace this quiet town in the lush highlands of Veracruz State. Doña Marisa Moolick Gutierrez has invited the group to visit her home, the Hacienda de Pacho. Pacho is one of the oldest agricultural estates in the region, having begun as a sugar plantation in the 1590s and shifting to coffee production in the 19th century. The Gutierrez family has owned and run the estate since the 1840s. Marisa will lead us to an abandoned hacienda, Hacienda Almolonga, which figured prominently in the region’s lively social life in the late 19th century. Other local sites of interest include the village of Xico, a quiet town renowned for its mole xiqueño, a slightly sweeter version of mole poblano, and the nearby pristine waterfalls at Texolo. ”

Email Marianne for more info.

Speaking of traveling artists… these two artist-bloggers have taken off for the summer and it’s been great fun to follow their day-by-day stories:

Carolyn Zick at DangerousChunkyNotebook has left Seattle for Cullowhee, North Carolina to teach art to MFAs, but she’s keeping up on all of us, too. Scroll down to read about her adventures in wig stores, southern cooking, and drive-through liquor stores.

Alanna Spence at AngryPirate left San Francisco to make and see art in England and France. Today she’s visted Jim Morrison’s grave and the Musee d’Orsay.

(Image is an older painting of mine, “Shadow” – it’s the old de Young Museum, with earthquake buttress.)

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June 27, 2005 (Monday) -down the line of influence

“The blank concrete walls and steel constructions of modern industry, midsummer streets with the acid green of close-cut lawns, the dusty Fords and gilded movies – all the sweltering, tawdry life of the American small town, and behind all, the sad desolation of our suburban landscape. He derives daily stimulus from these, that others flee from or pass with indifference.”

Edward Hopper wrote the preceding words about Charles Burchfield, but he might just as well have been writing about himself…

by Mark Strand, From “Poets on Painters”, ISBN 0-520-06971-4

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June 24, 2005 (Friday) -Radio interview with sculptor, Bruce Beasley
Bruce BeasleyYesterday I heard a great interview with sculptor Bruce Beasley on our local independent radio station, KALW. Beasley has a retrospective show at the Oakland Museum of California now, through July 31st. Alan Farley conducted the interview. Here are a few excerpts:

BB: I went to high school in Los Angeles and I took metal shop and wood shop and all that. I took those classes, but also took college (prep) classes, which kind of confused the college counselors, so I got tunneled off to college with the idea of going into rocket engineering. I quickly realized that engineers sat in cubicles with slide rules and made things on paper, but I wanted to make things with my hands. I took one drawing class and… I don’t know what possessed me but I asked the professor if I could make three dimensional models instead of drawings for the final exam. He let me do it and I discovered that I could make things with my hands from my imagination, that were new shapes, that somehow said something emotionally, and it was just exhilarating to me. I said, “This is it,” and I’ve never looked back.

AF: So what did you do then?

BB: Well, I looked around the country and in 1959 there were only two degree-giving colleges that had more than one sculptor on the faculty. A degree-giving institution was a requirement for continued family support. One of those was UC Berkeley and I very happily transferred there in 1960.

Beasley graduated with a BFA, but declined to pursue further academics because he wanted to dive right into making art. His first show was successful enough to keep him going until the next one, and he says, “It’s continued that way for 45 years.”

BB: Every year supported the next year, but I’ve always been prepared to support myself in other ways. I never looked at sculpting as a good business opportunity. It’s a wonderful spiritual opportunity, it’s a wonderful life… I love being a sculptor, and I’m grateful it’s supported me, but I never expected it to.

Allen Farley asked Beasley about his studio in West Oakland, and Beasley described his first impression of the abandoned two-story brick building as “the perfect building in the most run-down part of town.” He decided that was preferable to a less desirable building in the “right” part of town, so he bought the building and worked to improve the neighborhood.

AF: Well, what were those first pieces that you made?

BB: They were welded sewer pipes. I was in a junkyard in West Oakland, looking for a piece of steel to build a table. I saw this pile of broken iron shapes. I didn’t realize that there was any iron that would break. The contrast of the broken edges, in dialog with the cast forms, I found fascinating. They were just a pile of shapes. I bought a pickup truck full of those for a penny a pound, and it was like discovering a vocabulary. And then the issue became, could I tell a story with that vocabulary.

Beasley continued to describe his search for a “richer” vocabulary in various materials…

AF: I was most fascinated by your work in acrylic – you’re a pioneer in that medium.

BB: I actually invented the process for the massive casting of acrylic. At one point, I was literally having dreams about transparent sculptures. I was fascinated by what would happen if the eye didn’t stop at the surface, but was drawn into and through the sculpture, so that the eye was actually teased a bit about where it would stop. I quickly found out that glass wasn’t practical at that scale. And people kept telling me that the only material that was that transparent was acrylic, but you couldn’t cast acrylic more than 3 inches thick. I started making some models on the 3 inches thick size. The state had a competition for a big piece of sculpture for Sacramento… I entered and won with one of the smaller models I’d made, telling them of course, that there was no problem with enlarging it. When I got the contract, I went back to the manufacturers of acrylic, explained to them that I now had a contract and needed some help with making it 15 feet high, 13,000 lbs, and 4 feet thick. They said, “You can’t do it.” I said, well I’ll just have to figure out a way, so I convinced them to give me a generous supply of the materials to experiment with, and I just started doing basic research. I finally put a view-port in the autoclave (where the acrylic is cured) not knowing what I would learn, but knowing that I learn visually. With a lot of observation, I was finally able to see the exact moment when the cracks and bubbles appeared… once I observed it, I immediately understood a completely new way to cast it.

Beasley’s technology breakthrough made possible the creation of an all-transparent bathysphere in 1976 for underwater exploration and the large clear walls in today’s aquariums (there’s good info about these on Beasley’s web site.) He continued to work in acrylic for another ten years and then returned to metal. He said sculpture is the “language of shape” and the job of the sculptor is to make “poems of shape.”

(Image above, a photo of Bruce Beasley, is from his web site.)

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June 23, 2005 (Thursday) -Becoming a Painter
I’ve been working with a new student lately and it made me think about what it takes to become a painter. Leaving aside the issue of talent (which may, or may not exist) it boils down to three essential skills:

1. Learn to see like a painter. The average contemporary person, walking down the sidewalk of any major city can identify 20 to 50 colors in their environment. a visually oriented person (someone interested in fashion or design, for example) might be able pick out (and name) 200 to 300 colors. An experienced painter can recognize (and recreate) thousands of colors. Value, tone, line, form… each one has an infinite catalog of variants. Painters become intimately familiar with these variants. They see more. If you can’t see it, you can’t paint it.

2. Learn to use a painter’s tools and materials. Pigments, mediums, binders, grounds, surfaces, brushes, sticks… different tools have different purposes, different gifts and liabilities. Knowing which combination of tools and materials can produce the desired effect, will help you create what you see in your mind’s eye. If you don’t know your tools well enough, that image will stay locked in your head. Worse yet, if your tools are limited, your vision may become limited (you’ve heard of the guy with a hammer, who saw everything as a nail?)

3. Build muscle memory. Learn how to hold a brush so that minute movements of your fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder create the different visual effects you’re attempting. Then do it over and over and over again, until it’s automatic. Until you just think of the image and it appears on the canvas.

Most people who come to me for instruction want to know all about #2. They think the only thing that’s keeping them from success is some magic trick that I’m hiding from them, and if they keep at me long enough, I’ll finally reveal it. I think the most important thing is learning to see. I tell that to everyone, up front. For free. Hardly anyone listens.
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June 22, 2005 (Wednesday) -Bird of Truth

Just a picture today… I finished this little painting last night (started it last week, but I’ve just been working on it in the cracks of time between other projects.)
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June 21, 2005 (Tuesday) -Painting in the studio
Today is a painting day… as soon as I finish here, I’m turing off the computer and going over to the easel for the rest of the day. Just a few thoughts before I do:

The SF Chronicle started a culture blog yesterday.

Tyler Green curated a show.

Mark Barry wrote an interesting review of Baltimore’s Artscape Festival:

“The theme has great potential and this exhibit makes a fair, however uneven attempt. Where do we fit into this world? What is my place on this planet and how does that shape my individuality? It’s a simple premise which asks for very complex responses. It’s the luck of the draw: where you are born, where you live, and what culture you identify with will have everything to do with your perceptions.”

What would you do if your studio burned and all of your work was a sodden mess?

Happy mid-summer… praise the light!

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June 20, 2005 (Monday) -High school art teachers
Flipping through Robert Crumb’s new book, “The R. Crumb Handbook,” (image at left is detail from back cover) brought back an avalanche of memories from the bad old days in high school. I’d heard before, but forgotten, that Crumb attended Dover High School, in Dover Delaware, a few years ahead of me. We both had Kunkle and Ferranto as art teachers. I had a somewhat higher opinion of them than Crumb did.

Mrs. Kunkle was the Junior High art teacher (her husband taught at Milford High, a few miles south of Dover.) Mrs. Kunkle’s persona was impressive, and I’m sure it’s the reason for my vivid memories of her. First of all, up to that point, I’d never seen or heard of a woman who lived and worked as an artist. Secondly, she looked like Barbara Stanwyck and drove a red Corvette convertible. Believe me, in a backwater like Dover in the early 60s, this was a revelation. But it was her teaching style that was the real shock to my system. She had a fanatical devotion to perfect mathematical proportions. Every time I drew a figure, she’d whip out the calipers, measure the head and then mark off the rest of the body to see if I’d gotten it right. Never mind the fact that I was surrounded by human specimens who were far, far removed from Greek statues. They weren’t worthy of her acknowledgment. I wanted to be worthy, so I applied myself.

By the time I came under Mr. Joseph Ferranto’s tutelage, I was too obsessed with classical perfection. It took him most of the first year to crack that obsession. His mantra was, “Loosen up, Anna, you’ve got to loosen up.” Imagine Michelangelo’s Moses with less hair (and no horns), in a suit and tie. That’s what Mr. Ferranto looked like. He spent the next two years getting me to explore different mediums, encouraging me to see real art in Philadelphia and Washington, and trying to convince me to attend his alma mater, Philadelphia College of Art. He got me into the summer programs for high school students at PCA (and I did get a scholarship to PCA, but didn’t attend art school. That’s another story, for another day.)

Mr. Ferranto’s art class was my refuge from the insanity of my so-called real life at that time. I even talked the administration into assigning me to the art department for home room and study halls. I practically lived there. The worst thing about Dover High School is that it was in Dover, Delaware. Before moving to Delaware, I had lived in both rural and urban areas of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Texas, California, and Hawaii (before it was a state.) Living in so many different cultures taught me one true thing: there is no one true thing. Also, the more ugly and backward a place is, the more the residents are convinced that their way is the best way. We moved to Delaware in the summer, and the moist, mosquito-choked heat was more oppressive than anything I’d ever experienced at lower latitudes. They still had a whipping post on the Town Green. The guy next door to us had a hobby of trapping rabbits, then torturing them to hear them scream. Public bathrooms were marked, “Men”, “Women”, and “Colored.” Women who wore pants in public were considered “loose.” One Monday morning, when I asked one of the participants of a weekend cross-burning why he did that, he started laughing hysterically and told me that it was a “harmless joke.” As Robert Crumb said about Delaware, it was “socially backward, extremely racist and mean… The locals seemed willfully and aggressively ignorant.”

I kept on moving after I left Delaware, trying out even more versions of the “best way to live,” before settling on San Francisco in 1987. Maybe the best thing about San Francisco (besides the weather, and the light, and the food) is the room for multiple points of view. Sometimes the different communities and juntas in the art world remind me of the many places I’ve lived. Even in the worst of them, you can usually find someone with a higher vision. For me, in 1965, in Dover, Delaware, that person was Joe Ferranto.

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June 17, 2005 (Friday) -calendar triage

OK, I got the new canvas. Now it’s time for calendar triage. For the next four weeks, do not even think about inviting me to any events. I’m talking major, dawn-to-dusk studio time here. I have a few more paintings to finish for an upcoming show (“San Francisco Cityscapes,” August 2nd to Sept 30th, Newmark Gallery.) The reason I’m doing this last minute paint-a-thon is that I’m also in another show (“City Streets,” now through July 17th, Studio Gallery) and everybody seems to want urban scenes right now.

As far as this blogspace is concerned, I’ll be writing more inwardly focused, studio based things for a while. No artist interviews and no exhibit reviews (well, maybe one or two.) It’s a happy coincidence that Tyler Green just visited San Francisco – he checked out some galleries when he was here and has some news about the de Young (next week.)

If any of you working artists out there would like to write about the SF art scene, or pretty much any other art related topic, send me an email. As long as you’re willing to use your real name and contact info, I’ll publish it.

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June 16, 2005 (Thursday) -painting as a life

I just discovered the interview with Marja-Leena Rathje, that was posted on ChandraSutra last month! It’s a great interview, with a photo of MLJ, too. Where have I been, you may ask? In my own little world, as usual. There are so many interesting art & culture blogs out there now that if I tried to read them all, on my dial-up connection, I’d be stuck here at the computer for 2 or 3 hours a day. Can’t have that – there’s too much painting to do. Blogging is just a hobby. Painting is life.

I was thinking about that yesterday while talking to an old friend. He’s wanted to be a chef for as long as I’ve known him (30+ years) and a few years ago he finally quit his corporate job and went to culinary school. Now he’s working as head chef at a place in the Philippines. He works in the kitchen from 9am to 10pm everyday (7 days a week) with “a couple of days off at the end of each month.” Frankly, it sounded like a living hell to me, but you should have seen him when he described sending a dish out to the dining room and peeking through a window from the kitchen to watch the diner’s face when they took the first bite. He loves it.

And today is Plein Aire Day for me…. heading out to the park shortly, to paint some trees and water, and then to the art supply store to get some more canvas. It’s my life, and I love it.

(image is “Couple” – an older painting of mine that sold last year to another chef)

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June 15, 2005 (Wednesday) -Truth

I needed to start another painting. I like to have at least two going at any given time, and the only canvas I had on hand was a few of these little pre-stretched 8″x10″ pieces. I’m getting more canvas on Thursday, but after a whole day of working on a painting of concrete and rain, I needed to switch to something else for few hours, so I dug around in my curiosity cabinet to see if I could find something to illustrate “Truth.” I found some old glass marbles and sparrow-shaped salt dish, made of desert glass. On a white sheet of paper in the morning sun, they throw one of those wonderful, variegated shadows, full of bursts of light. The salt bird represents indestructible spirit, carrying the jewels of insight… everything is transparent.

Thinking about yesterday’s post, where Gombrich pointed out that most people will not understand the artist’s intent (not a surprise to most artists) I wonder again if viewers need to know the artist’s intent… and I still think not.

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June 14, 2005 (Tuesday) -more on intent in painting

This is from “The Essential Gombrich” – a book on my shelves I hadn’t looked at in a while. I was inspired to browse it again after seeing a mention of another Gombrich book on DC Art News.

Many readers will know the painting by Van Gogh of his humble bedroom painted in Aries in 1889 (at left – upper image:”Bedroom at Arles” by Vincent van Gogh, lower image: “The Night Cafe” by Vincent van Gogh.) It happens to be one of the very few works of art where we know the expressive significance the work held for the artist. In Van Gogh’s wonderful correspondence there are three letters dealing with this work that firmly establish the meaning it held for him. Writing to Gauguin in October 1888 he says:

“Still for the decoration [of my house] I have done … my bedroom with its furniture of whitewood which vou know. WelI, it amused me enormously to do that interior with nothing in it, with a simplicity ‘a la Seurat: with flat paint but coarsely put on, the neat pigment, the walls a pale violet … I wanted to express an absolute calm with these very different tones, you see, where there is no white except in the mirror with its black frame”.

A letter to his brother Thea confirms his intention and explains it further:

“My eyes are still strained, but at last I have a new idea in my head. .. This time it is quite simply my bedroom, colour alone must carry it off, by imparting through simplification a grander style to things, it should be suggestive of rest and sleep in general. In other words, the sight of the picture should rest the head, or rather the imagination. .. The walls are pale violet, the floor tiles red. .. the doors are green, that is all. There is nothing in the room with the shutters closed. The squareness of the furniture should also express the undisturbed rest. .. The shadows and modelling are suppressed, it is coloured with flat tints like the Japanese prints. This will contrast, for instance, with the diligence of Tarascon and the Night Cafe.”

Here we have an important clue. Van Gogh had written of The Night Cafe that he wanted to show that it was a place where one could go mad. To him, in other words, his little room was a haven after the strain of work, and it was this contrast that made him stress its tranquillity. The manner of simplification he adopted from Seurat and from the Japanese print stood for him in clear opposition to the expressive graphological brushwork that had become so characteristic of his style. This is what he stresses in still another letter to his brother. ‘No stippling, no hatching, nothing, flat areas, but in harmony’. It is this modification of the code that Van Gogh experiences as being expressive of calm and restfulness. Does the painting of the bedroom communicate this feeling? None of the naive subjects I have asked hit on this meaning; although they knew the caption (Van Gogh’s bedroom), they lacked the context and the code. Not that this failure of getting the message speaks against the artist or his work. It only speaks against the equation of art with communication.”

Images and text from The Essential Gombrich (Part II, the Visual Image: its Place in Communication.), published in 1996 by Phaidon, ISBN 0 7148 3009 7

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June 13, 2005 (Monday) -intent in painting

More Photography vs Painting thoughts from reader (and artist), Kris Shanks:

“I appreciate your blog a lot. Thanks for putting it out there. I’m a painter working plein air mostly cause I don’t have a studio space separate from my house and I like working in oils. I took a trip up to the Shasta area this last week and did a lot of painting, and this question about why painting and photography are different kept running around my head. I think the difference for me is that everything in a painting is intentional, or at least is there by the specific intent of the artist. A photograph, even one as staged as Marilyn Minter’s, has as its starting material the physical objects which must be mechanically captured. She is limited by the physical objects in her environment. But in a painting, the artist starts with nothing except a blank flat surface, and the illusion, in a representational painting, is created by the process of making one choice after another about where to put pigment. Of course as a painter, it’s the process of communing with the landscapes I paint that makes painting so much more interesting than photography to me.”

More on this topic from reader Aaron M. Brown (May 30th), and my original post (on May 25th.)

Image is © Kris Shanks, “Rainy Day Near Two Rock”, 8″ x 10″, oil on board

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June 10, 2005 (Friday) -That’s the Art of it

Earlier this week I was working overtime on an art-for-hire project, which I just managed to finish about an hour before the client came to pick it up. Good thing I work in acrylic. So the next morning I got up early and dived right into a couple of paintings that I’m doing for myself. (Images above: the two paintings currently on the easel. The one on the left is almost done, the one on the right has a long way to go.) I feel a certain amount of urgency about finishing them because a curator is coming by the studio in few weeks to pick out work for a fall show. And of course, as usual, the only paintings that seem worthy are the ones that I’m still working on, or haven’t started yet.

The painting itself is going very easily. I think I’ve been putting in enough daily hours, over enough years, that it’s finally paying off. I don’t think too much about the painting while I’m doing it. Whatever I can imagine painting, I can paint. And yet, there’s still visible improvement every few months. But that’s just the “craft” part of the equation.

What about the “art?” Not only is that harder to define, it’s harder to evaluate. But I know this much – the “art” doesn’t happen while I’m painting. It can happen when I’m watering the back yard and start thinking about the life cycle and travel itinerary of a single water molecule. It might happen at the bus stop, when I notice that the kid with the baggy jeans looks like he just stepped down from a Mayan stele. It sometimes happens at 3am, when I’m staring at the moon glow coming through the window blinds. “IT” is a sudden revelation that connects the dots between disparate incidents like those, and one of the zillions of images in my head.

Will anyone else get it? Who the hell knows. I’ve given up trying to influence anyone else’s thinking. It happens anyway, and more often than I’d expect. I work in series and maybe it’s easier to catch the drift when you see a bunch of these paintings together. Take this group, for instance:

See any common thread? Need a hint? Think of Plato, or Jose Saramago. This is one of those open-ended series, or themes that I keep working over and over, looking for the perfect image that says it all. To me, each one of these could stand alone, and they all say the same thing.

Sometimes though, I get an idea for a series that really needs to hang together. Like the “Trickster” series that I did 2003. I have two more of the hang-together projects planned. One of them is 10 paintings, and the other is 49 paintings. They’re all researched and sketched out… I even have little gouache color studies for the series of 49. There are more ideas like these floating around in my head and waiting in sketchbooks. That’s the art.

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June 8, 2005 (Wednesday) -Is It Art or Craft?
I’m totally swamped today, with a painting project that needs to be finished in a few hours, so to give you something to reflect on, here’s a quote from David Bayles & Ted Orland, on Art vs Craft:

“Yes, there is a difference between art and craft – it’s just that both terms are so overgrown with fuzzy definitions that drawing a clear distinction between them is close to impossible. We’ll settle here for a fuzzy distinction.

Think of craft and you think of furniture shaped by Sam Maloof, of handmade clothing flaunted at Renaissance Faires, of everything made before the Industrial Revolution. Think of art and you think of War and Peace, a Beethoven concerto, the Mona Lisa. Both disciplines obviously yield good things, valuable things, sometimes tangibly useful things, and at first pass the distinction between them seems perfectly clear.

But is the Mona Lisa really art? Well then, what about an undetectably perfect copy of the Mona Lisa? That comparison (however sneaky) points up the fact that it’s surprisingly difficult, maybe even impossible, to view any single work in isolation and rule definitively, “This is art” or “This is craft.” Striking that difference means comparing successive pieces made by the same person.

In essence, art lies embedded in the conceptual leap between pieces, not in the pieces themselves. And simply put, there’s a greater conceptual jump from one work of art to the next than from one work of craft to the next. The net result is that art is less polished -but
more innovative-than craft. The differences between five Steinway grand Pianos – demonstrably works of consummate craftsmanship – are small compared to the differences between the five Beethoven Piano concerti you might perform on those instruments.

A work of craft is typically made to fit a specific template, sometimes a painstakingly difficult template requiring years of hands-on apprenticeship to master. It’s staggering to realize that nearly all the truly great violins ever produced were made in the course of a few years by a few artisans living within a few blocks of each other. All this in a remote Italian village, three centuries ago. The accomplishments of Antonio Stradivari and his fellow craftsmen point up one real difference between art and craft: with craft, perfection is possible. In that sense the Western definition of craft closely matches the Eastern definition of art. In Eastern cultures, art that faithfully carries forward the tradition of an elder master is honored; in the West it is
put down as derivative.

Yet curiously, the progression of most artists’ work over time is a progression from art toward craft. In the same manner that imagination gives way to execution as any single work builds toward completion, an artist’s major discoveries usually come early on, and a lifetime is then allotted to fill out and refine those discoveries. As the Zen proverb suggests, for the beginner there are many paths, for the advanced, few.

At any point along that path, your job as an artist is to push craft to its limits – without being trapped by it. The trap is Perfection: unless your work continually generates new and unresolved issues, There’s no reason for your next work to be any different from the last. The difference between art and craft lies not in the tools you hold in your hands, but in the mental set that guides them. For the artisan, craft isan end in itself. For you, the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing your vision. Craft is the visible edge of art.

from “Art & Fear – An Artists Survival Guide”, by David Bayles & Ted Orland; ISBN 0-88496-379-9
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June 7, 2005 (Tuesday) -de Young update
They’ve started landscaping around the de Young, and building walkways. The stretch along JFK Drive is really looking nice. The photo at left shows a walkway from JFK up a slight hill to the “back porch” of the museum (cafe area and Osher Sculpture Garden.) The reddish thing at the end of the walkway is the James Turrell “Skyspace” installation.

From the de Young press release:

This “skyspace,” titled Three Gems, is the first work by Turrell to enter the museum’s collections. It is a subterranean installation that will feature a view of the sky altered by L.E.D. lighting effects, and that highlights changing light and weather conditions outside. Viewers will walk through a short tunnel cut into the hill, and then enter into a cylindrical space carved out of the hill. The retaining walls of this cylindrical space will be white concrete and the floor will be red stone. At the center of this cylindrical space will be a rough-hewn, black basalt stupa form. Entering the round stupa through a door, viewers will sit on a stone bench that runs around the circumference of the skyspace and view the sky through an oculus cut in the roof of the chamber. Viewers’ perceptions of the sky color will be subtly altered by an L.E.D. lighting system inside the chamber, and by changing light and weather conditions outside the chamber.

(Smaller image at upper right is the Turrell installation in progress – click on image for a larger view.)
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June 6, 2005 (Monday) -Hall of Flowers show

I dropped by the Hall of Flowers this weekend to see the Sunset Artists Annual “Art in the Avenues” show. (David Neri’s paintings above.) It’s an non-juried show, and a mixed bag of hobbyists and more serious artists. Some of them, like Ann Eby had gallery representation, and others are still working on it.

I think Leigh Radtke should be in a gallery. Actually she’s in a museum, but hasn’t tried to crack the gallery barrier yet. Her body of work is hard to describe, in terms of medium (everything, including painting, printmaking, collage, assemblage, sculpture) but whatever she does it’s witty, pointed, original, and well made. That’s her image above, called “Ballons.” And her “Spawn of Satan” is at right. No web page yet (still working on that, too.) Email her for info on her next show.

There were fewer exhibitors this year, but the show looked a little more professional to me. For instance, I noticed that Voula Sideris had a great-looking booth set up (standing in front of her watercolors, above.) She didn’t try to bring hang everything she’d ever done – she just focused on her new work, a few large, same-sized pieces. They really looked sharp.

Adele Shaw had some more of her signature bathtub series – large encaustics (Adele in her booth, above.) She has a fascinating bio, and Adele is another person I think is overdue for good gallery representation.

All-in-all it was a good show, and should be even better next year, as the group is learning how to put these shows together.

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June 3, 2005 (Friday) -Budgeting time

This morning the Sunset Artists are coming to pick up the show panels from my garage. They’re trucking them over to the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, for the annual “Art in the Avenues” show this weekend. (10am to 5pm, Sat. & Sun. It’s at the corner of 9th of Lincoln, next to Strybing Arboretum. Free. Good artists. Go see it.) I had planned on showing with them, but changed my mind. These do-it-yourself shows are an unbelievable amount of work, and it was really cutting into my painting time. Sometimes it seems like the universe is conspiring to keep me away from my painting time. But as my good friends have pointed out, it”s my own fault for saying “yes” too often, when I should be saying “no.”

… more later – I think they’re here with the truck…


… and they’re off. Anyway, as I was saying, about budgeting time. It’s a struggle to balance how much time to spend on my own projects and how much time to spend on helping other people. To be a greedy selfish bastard or a whimpering selfless martyr? Maybe something in between, eh?
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June 2, 2005 (Thursday) –
Eyes and hands driving the car

I’ve been deeply, deeply into painting lately. I mean, even more than usual. I think it’s partly due to the increased light (longer days.) Each morning, as I pick up the brush, there’s a sense of joy and of being on the right path. And the whole world pretty much drops away. I have very little interest in the “news.” A friend loaned me some CDs of Dylan Thomas reading his work, and I’ve been listening to them off and on, but mostly I just listen to the birds and neighborhood sounds that come in the studio window. There’s very little conscious thought. It’s all eyes and hands working together… I’m just along for the ride, sitting in the back seat, looking out the window, watching the changing scenery.

(image is nasturtiums in my backyard)

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June 1, 2005 (Wednesday) – Calendar’s Up!

OK, I just added a few more things to the June calendar. It’s a surprisingly lively month around here, considering that this is when things usually start to get sleepy, arts-wise. For whatever it’s worth, my picks for this month’s must-see shows are:

Meridian Gallery:
“Works in Ink and Light” June 3rd to July 2nd
Miniature Etchings by David Avery and Video Installation by Ruth Eckland with sound design by Matt DiFonzo. Opening Reception Friday, June 3rd, 6-9pm
I’ve been to David Avery’s open studio shows, and his work is the most amazing etching I’ve seen by a living artist. Bring a magnifying glass.

Hackett-Freedman Gallery:
June 2nd – July 30th
“Still Lifes & Narratives”, new paintings (symbolic, representational) by Richard Ryan. This is my favorite kind of painting: deep, rich colors, thoughtful compositions and use of symbolism.

Asian Art Museum:
June 12th through July 31st
“Tibetan Painting Demonstrations” – Watch artist Jamyong Singye create Tibetan-style sacred paintings (thangka.) Gouache is a seductive medium that often tempts me away from acrylic. Tibetan and Persian paintings are the reason why.

Studio Gallery:
“City Streets” – June 15th to July 17th
Group show of San Francisco cityscapes, includes paintings by Brandon Smith, Anna Conti, Brian Behnke and Nobuhito Tanaka . Reception June 18th, 4-8pm
(How could I not include this one?)