Kay (rhymes with eye) Weber’s Open Studio was last weekend.He was born in Hamburg which is in Germany. He finished his graduation in Fine Arts where he got Master’s Degree from the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg. He also got a Master Degree in Education from University of Hamburg. In his career as an artist for about 10 years he came up with a dialog drawings which was cooperative type of art which he did live. In Bitcoin Trader you can trade live as well. I didn’t get a chance to interview him before his weekend, but I was so impressed with his work, I wanted to include him in this series. I first saw his work at a “Selections” show a few years ago, and I’d seen a few more pieces here and there over the years. He works with paper and thin sheets of metal, cutting out the negative spaces in original and symbolic narrative scenes. Sometimes he layers different colored papers with sheets of plexi between, to highlight the layers of meaning in the story. His studio is in the Tenderloin, where he lives and works as Art Director for the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club.
A: When did you first come here to San Francisco?
K: About ten years ago, from Germany.
A: Were you doing the same kind of work then?
K: No, very different. I did more experimental drawing and performance. My drawing was much more academic and intellectual. Now my work is more narrative and figurative, more personal. It combines mythology and storytelling with my interest in travel and different cultures. I try to visualize old stories.
A: Are your stories associated with Germany?
K: Some of them, others are not. They are basically from all over the world, or what we find here in the Bay Area. Living here brings the outside world to me. I don’t have to do so many travels. There are so many aspects of different societies here, and the museums and galleries are excellent. It’s really a great resource to be exposed to so many cultures – I love that part. Plus I go once in a while to South America and to Europe, and I see other things as well.
A: When did you start working with the cut paper and cut metal designs?
K: It was about 1992… I traveled a lot at that time, and I didn’t want to carry all my art stuff with me. So one day, I took the little papers that were bookmarks in my travel books, started to make sketches on it, and used the cuticle scissors in my travel set to make little cuts in it. Over time, I got folded papers, and they became larger and larger until some are now very large.
A: Where did you first learn about this technique?
K: It’s a very ancient technique, and has been around in many cultures for centuries. That’s what makes it so fascinating. and it’s not very popular nowadays. As a kid, my musical books were full of little silhouettes. At the end of the nineteenth century, people would sit around in the evening, cutting silhouettes of nature studies – it was a popular form of entertainment in the German and French culture. So, I did see a lot of it when I was growing up. But also in Mexico, Japan, China – they all have it.
A: Are you familiar with Kara Walker’s work?
K: Yeah, yeah, I love her work, it’s wonderful. It’s amazing. She had, just a year or two ago, a great show in Munich. It’s very powerful imagery.
A: Do you sketch your images in pencil first, before cutting?
K: The little ones I don’t sketch, I just cut. But the larger pieces, with the intricate compositions, I sketch it out, because you have to know exactly where the positive and negative space will be. That’s very important. So I do the concept as a drawing and then the detail evolves with the process of cutting. I may change the little things, the smaller details while I’m doing it. It’s drawing with scissors.
A: This red and white one, the largest one here, what do you call it?
K: That is “Hel, Goddess of Death,” and she is basically a figure from the Scandinavian or Norwegian mythology. Many names come from her, like Helsinki, Helsingborg… she takes care of the souls of the dead. She takes them under the ocean in overturned cauldrons and when they are ready to be reincarnated she turns the cauldrons and the souls rise to the surface. It’s the dark aspect of the Mother Goddess. Kali Ma is in there, with the necklace, and Freya, Pele… all over the world we have the same pattern of goddesses, and so I took parts of different ones, like the border from the Day of the Dead and put them in the whole, but the original idea came from the Vikings.
A: This kind of symbolism is important to you… (K: yes) Is it important for the viewer, in understanding this piece?
K: Not necessarily, but it plays a big role in reading it, if you want to understand the background. You see the four elements (fire, water, earth and air) and you get a feel of the pre-christian background, but it’s not necessary to know that to enjoy it as a beautiful hand-made object. I think people should enjoy art as it is, and if they have questions, it’s great to be approached and asked. Then it becomes interesting for me, as well.
A: Do people see things in your work that you didn’t realize was there?
K: Yeah, sometimes. It’s always a nice exchange. That’s what’s good about the shows and the Open Studios.
A: Are these works, especially the bigger ones, cut from a single sheet of paper?
K: Yes, all the pieces are single pieces of paper. They are not collages. Sometimes they are layered, but each layer is a single sheet of paper.
A: What makes a successful work of art for you?
K: It’s hard to say, but… if it really engages people, and they are looking longer… if it can stand on its own, reaching out without my explanation, that’s a successful piece for me.
A: Is this your primary focus, or do you do some other work?
S: Afternoons, I am the Fine Art Director at the Boys and Girls Club, and I teach art to youth.
A: Are these art “jobs” on a continuum with making your own work, or are they very separate things for you?
S: It’s different aspects of the same thing. We educate youth about art and self expression, and I try to work on the next generation, to basically teach them not to be intimidated by art, to look at it, feel it. If you bring the kids into museums and galleries and give them confidence that everything they perceive and feel about it is true. And then I try to incorporate the kind of spontaneity and movement that kids have into my own work. And the kids all know my work – they live in the neighborhood here and they come by and see the stuff. So it goes hand-in-hand. On the one hand it’s nice as an artist to do your work by yourself, but you can get too isolated. The social interaction brings elements into my work, and the children sometimes help me with little sketches. So I think I have a pretty good balance.
A: How long does it take you do of one of these medium sized pieces? What is your process?
K: It depends of course, on the day and how I feel, but an average piece could take a week or so. On the other hand, one like this (“Hel”) took three months, but I didn’t have to do much with my job then, so I was working on it full time. I had to research it at the library – the research part is very important and it takes about half of the time. Then I have a short period where I do sketches and things, then I begin the cutting process. Also, I like to do the finishing, with the Plexiglas layers.
A: Do you ever take commissions?
K: Yes, I do commissions sometimes. (He shows me a portfolio of photos of his work, with preparatory sketches for the complex works.) for instance my last one was a “Creation” theme, where the client wanted me to combine different creation theories, like the big bang, Greek mythology of Kronos and Gaia, and the Genesis story. So each story was in a different layer (and different color paper.) Once I did one of the solar system, which I would not choose as a theme, but this is very challenging, and it expands my boundaries. People usually come to me because they like my style and they trust me, so it works out pretty well.
A: What’s your next project?
K: I’m really drawn to the metal cuts now, and it’s something I’d like to explore a little more. It’s an interesting material in terms of aging and sculptural aspects. There are so many options… I don’t know… anything can happen.
Kay Weber’s Open Studio was last weekend, but you can contact him about a private studio visit. His studio is at 111 Jones Street #408 (at Golden Gate), SF, CA 94102
Email Kay or call him for an appointment: phone 415-563-5905
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October 7, 2004 (Thursday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Sandra Yagi
69 Belcher Street (at 14th St.) San Francisco
I first saw Sandra Yagi’s work at an Open Studio several years ago. It was the image of the Sisyphus in the apiary that drew me to her studio, but it was the rest of her work that kept me coming back year after year. She paints in a renaissance style but subverts the images to address contemporary issues. Sandra ‘s studio is down at the end of the main hall, at the artist’s collective, Belcher Street Studios. I met her there one night this week, as she was cleaning up for this weekend.
S: Unfortunately I don’t have that much new work here for this weekend because I just sold some and just shipped six paintings to Los Angeles. (Sandra’s gallery is Bert Green Fine Art.)
A: You’ve been with him a while now, you must be pretty happy there.
S: Yes, I think his vision of what he wants to show is right in line with the kind of stuff I do.
A: You still have quite a few nice pieces here… I was just noticing these small paintings (example at right) of dancing skeletons… didn’t you use this same conjoined skeleton in another painting last year?
S: Yes, I used one of them in “Madonna.” (below, left) These are all deformities. One of them is at the Mutter Museum. But with these little dancing skeletons, they get a sense of grace, whereas in real life, they could probably hardly walk.
A: How about your real life – how did you become an artist?
S: When I was about five, or maybe younger, I was always drawing. I was one of those kids who wouldn’t color in the coloring books (except on the inside front cover.) I wanted a plain white page. I didn’t want to do what somebody else had done. I kept it up all the way through high school. I really enjoyed doing art in high school because it gives you an identity. Since I wasn’t cool enough to be a jock or a cheerleader, but I could be an artist. But then I went through this cycle with my dad where he would not help me with college unless I did something practical. I started out with one semester in Fine Arts, but then it just got too difficult trying to work and go to school. So I decided to major in business, but take a lot of art electives. I went ahead and got my MBA. The problem was, in doing that degree, I didn’t touch a sketch book for five, ten years. I really knew something was missing – I was at this semi-depressed level. Then I met a woman who told me that she had wanted to be a sculptor, but she became a chiropractor and then by the time she came back to sculpting it was too difficult (physically challenging) to do. That made me realize that if you have something that you really want to do, you gotta do it. At this point I had moved from Denver to L.A., where I was working in banking. The good thing is, L.A.’s got a very vibrant art community and I went to Otis Parsons and took some continuing ed classes. At the time I thought, “Oh, I can’t deal with color.” But I found a wonderful teacher, started with watercolors and graduated to oils. I was about 30 or 35 years old when I came back to art, and it was the best thing I ever did. I work a day job, about 32 hours a week, and spend about 24 hours on my art. It makes for a pretty full week. The kind of thing that suffers is social life. It’s a good thing I’m not a social butterfly. It’s a solitary profession. You know, creativity takes place when there’s no one around, usually.
A: What about the kind of socializing you have to do, to promote your art?
S: That’s really hard. The one good thing about the day job is that it has allowed me to not worry about whether someone likes a painting or not. I pick subjects where I think, “I’m going to do this, but I know there’s not a broad market for it.” It is nice when someone comes in and says they like a painting. Even that they’re disturbed by it, is OK. (at right, “Cerebus”)
A: I remember an earlier Open Studios, you had a portrait of yourself wearing a jester’s hat, holding a skull…
S: Yeah, I won’t sell that painting. You know, my father was the one who kept telling me I had to do something practical. He was real glad when I got my graduate degree (MBA.) But I think, over time, he saw that I was really an artist. It’s hard for someone who’s an engineer, but he started to accept it. One day, we were just talking about life and death in general, because some of my paintings have death as a topic. I was telling him about that painting I was working on (the self-portrait, looking at a skull.) I guess he was very happy with his life at this point in time… he said he was really glad I was doing art. And then he said, “Maybe you should cut back your hours at your job and start really doing this.” Then he died the next day. That was my last conversation with him. After years of fighting over this…
A: How important is it to you, that people understand the meaning you intended for a painting?
S: Well, it’s interesting, some of the scenarios that I happen to overhear viewers coming up with, do make a lot sense. It’s generally not way, way off the mark. A lot of times people will just ask me. But if they just like it on a color level, or just like the way I draw, or whatever, that’s OK too. I think art can work on all kinds of levels. I know this sounds weird, but when I first come up with a painting, it’s kind of hard to say what it’s about. Hard to say concisely – that’s why it’s a painting, I guess. But, the more people ask me, the better I get at explaining it. That’s why Open Studios is good – I get better at explaining things as the weekend goes on. I’m happy when people come in and start talking to each other about what it means. It’s pretty gratifying when the painting elicits discussion and causes people to think.
A: The first pieces of yours that I remember seeing were of the beehives… (above left)
S: That was fairly early, it was about my third Open Studios here. Interestingly, I was working full time then. In one of them, I showed Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill, and people in their little cubicles. You know bees have a life of 45 days – they work work, work, until they die, for the good of the hive.
A: Was it that job that brought you to San Francisco from L.A. and Denver?
S: Yes, I moved here in ’91. There’s just something about the atmosphere here that’s very, very good for me. I grew up in Denver, which is a very suburban, sports town. Every Sunday you watch the Broncos. I don’t think it’s the most conducive atmosphere for art. I’m wondering how the people are going to take to Clyfford Still, when the Denver Art Museum has a whole floor devoted to Western Art. Living here in San Francisco has had a profound effect on me. You can walk anywhere and there are arty little posters for events and happenings; you can look down at the sidewalk and there’s those little stencils… I love them! The fact that a city the size of San Francisco (population 750,000) can support an event like Open Studios, with over 900 artists, says a lot about the people that support it by making an effort to go out and look. There’s a support for the arts here, that you don’t get in a lot of other places. There’s a more open attitude toward the kinds of subjects you can approach here. It allows the artist to think more freely. I think Los Angeles has a degree of that, but it tends to be a little more conservative.
A: In Los Angeles, when you first got back into painting, what was your subject matter?
S: I started out with more standard things such as landscapes and still life. The shift toward more unusual subjects began about the time I got a studio here, about ’95. Some of it was the ability to do oil painting. I had been doing watercolor, and working at home. I look at renaissance art… I could probably never get get to that level of ability, but I like the whole idea of taking what they did and using it to explore current issues. Like this one on the easel, “St. Jerome”, is about the Catholic church and its attitude toward sex. (photo of Sandra in front of easel holding “St. Jerome” is on right, two up)
A: Well, speaking of this one on the easel, let’s talk about technique. You’ve got it all laid out so nicely here… a color study for the background, pencil sketches of the composition, as well as individual figures. Did you use a model for the figure of Jerome?
S: Usually I do, but in this particular instance, I saw this really great sculpture at the L.A. County Museum of Art. I sketched it, (at left) but it’s an older guy, so I changed him to make it a younger, more virile man. I have a full scale skeleton at home, and so I can make some educated guesses about the figures. Now these people in “Eden” (above left) they’re all models. It was inspired by a Durer etching. Eden is always portrayed as perfect, but in real life things are not black and white. There’s death, there’s the whole range of things that nature presents. The backgrounds are usually landscapes I’ve actually seen (Eden is from Golden Gate Park.)
A: Have you ever considered painting abstract or non-representational work?
S: I know that a lot of people will look at an abstract painting and think, “Oh, I could do that.” I look at an abstract painting and go, “How did they do that?” I don’t know if I could just start attacking a canvas like that. It looks more fun than hell. I think to be an abstract painter, you have to be really fearless. Maybe I’m a little bit more risk-averse than they are.
A: Have you experimented with other mediums besides oils and watercolors?
S: I’ve used pastels, and I’ve often thought about going back and playing around with them. It’s a great medium, but pretty messy. Acrylic – it just dries too fast. All of these oil paintings have a little bit of acrylic underneath. The first layer, because I’m impatient, is usually acrylic. I block things in, using the acrylic almost like watercolor. Once I see where I’m going with it, I start building up the layers in oils.
A: What kind of surface do you prefer?
S: Panel, except for the larger pieces, which I do on canvas because it’s easier to transport. Since I use weird sizes, I get my panels custom-made by a guy in L.A., although he’s going out of business soon, so I don’t know what I’m going to do then.
A: What’s your routine? How does a painting progress?
S: I have a couple of idea books. The ideas always start out in different books, so I cut them out and keep them all in one place (she shows me a scrap book of sketches.) Some of these ideas take literally years… like the Icarus paintings (below left.) First, I had a dream about being a bird and flying over an industrial wasteland. Then it dawned on me that the myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun was like human ingenuity taking us too far. Like for instance, the U.S. Army experimenting with anti-matter weapons. The ideas take a long time to percolate. Then there’s the gathering of the materials and finding the right person to model. In the case of Icarus it had to be a cocky young guy, who I finally found… then doing the preliminary thumbnails, working on finished sketches, and then bringing it all down to the studio. Sometimes I do a color study, but often, like with “St. Jerome”, I just start without one. I transfer the sketch to the canvas. I used to do a neutral underpainting, but now I just start blocking in the basic values and colors. Once I start painting… this “St. Jerome” painting is going to take me, probably two and a half months. They can take 2 to 6 months, depending on how many figures there are , how complex it is.
A: What do you consider a successful piece?
S: One that I like looking at afterwards.
A: Do you ever work on them after they’ve been photographed and you thought they were done?
S: I’m pretty good about that… by the time I photograph it it’s in a pretty close state and I very rarely do any corrections. It’s funny – I kind of know when they’re done. Sometimes I know, just as I’m putting the last stroke of paint, “that’s it.”
A: What’s your favorite piece?
S: It’s always the last one I did. Right now, I really like this “St. Jerome” painting. I also really like this “Eden” painting. I’m probably going to do some more of these with different scenarios.
A: What’s next for you, after you finish “St. Jerome?”
S: I’m working on a commission right now. I’ve got a drawing at home that I’m almost done with – it’s Joan of Arc, burning at the stake.
Sandra Yagi’s studio will be open this coming weekend, October 9 & 10, from 11am to 6pm each day. She’s at 69 Belcher Street (near 14th) Call 415-861-3698 for more info. Her work can also be see at the Bert Green Fine Art gallery in Los Angeles.
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October 6, 2004 (Wednesday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Saundra McPherson
22 Castro Street (across from Davies Hospital, between Duboce & 14th)
Saundra McPherson’s place is a big dusty-pink house, rising high above the sidewalk, its back against the base of Buena Vista hill. The entryway (the kind of space that usually collects bicycles, baby carriages and recycling bins) is a small art gallery. Saundra’s large abstract (oil, drip) canvases dominate the room and announce, “artist living here.” Her painting studio is two floors up, a small room facing the street, a redwood tree just visible above the translucent papers taped across the window. There were about 18 paintings in various stages, more than half of them on the floor, the rest leaning against the walls. A stone fireplace on one wall was piled with sticks, stones, moss, leaves, dried insects, and photos. I started by asking Saundra about her workspace – what did she like about this space in her house?
S: I would love a bigger space, because you know there’s stretching the canvas, building and working the stuff… but having a studio here gives me flexibility. It gives me the ability to just go in and look at the work, which I do about four times a day… walk in and see what’s going on, see where the drips have gone. Once they’ve dripped as much as I want them to drip, I put them to rest until they’re dry. I have a severely sloping floor here, so unpredictable things can happen. But that adds to the character of the work. It has its own ideas about where it wants to go. I give up control at a certain point.
A: Can you talk a little more about your process?
S: I do a lot of sanding, all along… I work with the tooth of the gesso on the canvas. I try for an uneven, asymmetrical quality. It gives it this nice look, which I love and try to preserve, but it’s hard to create what I call the architecture of the work. So, I have to follow what the drips and the canvas give me. I’m using oils with a lot of Galkyd and a lot of thinner. The Galkyd suspends the pigments, so you can see through each layer to the layers beneath. The Galkyd is a resin product so it’s really flexible and it doesn’t crack – I just love this stuff. It’s got the color of honey, but it doesn’t color the paint much. (below right: in front of her palette)
A: I notice your paintings are all warm hues.
S: Yes, I’m using the colors that I love. I don’t use a whole lot of blues. You’re seeing some blues here, but those are just really to balance the other section of the canvas. I’m using a lot of Gamblin’s Transparent Earth Red and Transparent Earth Yellow. Oh, speaking of earth tones, let me show you this… I’m kind of a science geek. I go to the Academy of Sciences lectures whenever I can. I was in Wyoming this summer at a dinosaur dig, and I collected forty pounds of pigments. (She starts pulling out bags of colored dirt and opens them to show me.) I was there with my seven year old son, and we were participating in the dig, but you literally just look around at the hills and there are all these gorgeous colors… I mean, look at this! Aren’t they great? I’ll have to put them in a kiln and grind them. And, this will eventually turn into a painting. (below: showing the earth pigments)
A: How long do you work on a piece?
S: About six to eight weeks, a really long time, that’s why I have so many going.
A: Do you paint full time, or do something else to pay the bills?
S: Painting helps pay the bills. I paint about 20 hours a week, and then there’s about eight hours a week of marketing, taking stuff to the photographer, buying supplies, etc. The rest of the time I take care of my son, volunteer at his school…
A: How long have you been working as an artist?
S: About seven or eight years. As a kid I painted and drew, but mostly I just painted. Then I stopped for probably 20 years. I have a million interests… I studied social sciences and I wanted to make some money. I got my feet wet in the business world and got a sense of how the business world works. For years I did fundraising for non-profits. Eventually I realized I was so close to the arts, but I wasn’t doing my own.
A: How long have you been in the Bay Area? And has living here affected your art?
S: I’ve lived here all but five years of my life. It’s had a tremendous influence on my work. I mean, even though I’m a city person, I see nature everywhere. I really see color and movement. Sometimes I think my brain is a hawk’s brain because I tend to see movement. Yet, I look out here and I see these incredible greens, in the redwood and the other street trees. I’m also a gardner, so I tend to see texture… (the fireplace in Saundra’s studio, at right)
A: Are there any painters who’ve influenced or inspired you?
S: It’s really hard to say. I didn’t go to art school, so I just pick up art history here and there. I love contemporary painters. Darren Waterston is not necessarily an influence, well maybe a little bit, but I love his work. He just does wonderful, fantastical things. He’s very influenced by nature, and that’s my biggest influence. This series (of mine) is about emotional landscapes. In the past, my paintings had more images in them and they were images drawn from nature, like leaves, and trees, and tree roots. Suddenly about a year and a half ago. I just pared it down… to two fields of color.
A: Do you think it’s important for the viewer to know your intent?
S: I think about that a lot, and we’ve discussed it in my critique group. I think it’s important. If the viewer wants to know, they should read the artist’s statement, look at the web site, and get to know the artist. I love it when clients come here. It means so much more than selling it through a stranger. So it’s important if the viewer wants it, but it’s not important to me. What’s important to me is the process. It’s all about the process. And once it’s done and out in that entry foyer, it has its own life, you know? It’s very much a relationship. Each one of these (paintings) – there’s a relationship with it. When I’m done painting it, it’s kind of like an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time and don’t really engage with anymore.
A: Do you ever go back into a painting that was finished?
S: Oh yeah. Sometimes even after it’s been photographed. Not very often, but there was a piece, the first one in this series – it never sold, I was never really that happy with it, and I realized that it wasn’t as developed as some of the ones that came after it. So finally I brought it back and reworked it, and it was wonderful. (left: detail of work in progress.)
A: How do you respond when viewers come here and say, “What is this about? I think I see a tree or a face?”
S: I usually just listen. If I intended it to be an image I’ll concur, but I usually just let people think what they want. If they ask me, it depends on how well I know the person. If it’s another artist, I’ll tell them what my intent was. But if it’s a client, I’ll usually just listen.
A: Has anyone ever wanted to hang a painting of yours in a different orientation than you intended?
S: I have no objection to it… I have no attachment to that. Again, it’s about the process for me.
A: How do you feel about framing?
S: I actually advise against it. I just feel like they don’t need it. I paint the edges. This way the painting goes off into the space it’s occupying. It’s like signing the piece – I would never sign a piece on the front. I see the painting as a natural creation and signing it would be like putting some kind of weird stamp on it that contains it and makes it a product.
A: I’ve noticed while we’ve been standing here talking, that every now and then you grab a rag and dab at these paintings on the floor… is that part of your process?
S: Picking at them… yeah, yeah, mostly I’ll come in and I’ll turn it and it’ll drip in another direction. Sometimes I forget, like leaving something on the stove, and there’ll be happy accidents? But other times… like, I had to completely repaint this gorgeous section on this one (above left.) I had let some of it drip down and dry. I tried sanding it, but it wasn’t working, so I to completely start over down there.
A: What do you consider a successful work of art?
S: Just that it’s balanced and it’s resolved, to my eye. It’s an intuitive thing with me. Very intuitive. Sometimes, say with this light green piece (at left)… you can see it has very little paint on it. Just pigment and thinner – no Galkyd yet, I don’t do that until half way through. I just started it and… I got this far, and… it’s been sitting around here for six months. I just don’t want to take it too far. So I want to let it live, like that… and go back to it when I’m ready.
A: What’s next for you?
S: I really want to keep going with this work. The small pieces have been kind of exciting, because they go a lot quicker. I just started to play around with these again. You can different things with this small area.
A: What do you like about doing Open Studios?
S: I’ve been doing it for four years, and I like the contact with people. I never have any expectations about selling work, it’s not about that. It’s just about seeing the work, talking about it. About 20% of the visitors are other artists and we end up having great conversations and sharing resources. Everyone should get out and see as many studios as they can – there’s so much to be learned from the artist directly.
Saundra McPherson’s home gallery will be open this coming weekend, October 9 & 10, from 10am to 6pm each day. She’s at 22 Castro Street (across from Davies Hospital, between Duboce & 14th) Call 415-487-9827 for more info. Her work can also be see at Andrea Schwartz Gallery and the Gardener Store in Berkeley.
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October 5, 2004 (Tuesday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Teresa Newson
15 Dorland Street looks like an old-fashioned boarding house on a beautiful alley between Dolores and Guerrero. Teresa Newson lives and works in a small front room facing the street. I first met Teresa several years ago when we both worked at an art supply store, but have only occasionally bumped into her at art shows since then.
We started out talking about the display of small egg tempera paintings hanging above her fireplace. The frames on the cherry and pomegranate paintings were especially well made and well suited to the paintings. I mentioned the importance of frames to very small works.
T: I got them done at the Painter’s Place on Hayes Street. Their frames are expensive but just gorgeous.
A: Are these paintings on wood?
T: Yes. Just the cheapest artist panel. I gesso both sides to seal it off, so theoretically it’ll even out the tension on the surface…
A: Is this a recent piece? (skull, feather, blue cloth shown below.)
T: Fairly recent – it’s this year. The blue cloth I made up. I couldn’t figure out how to get anything to drape the way I wanted. You know, you get an idea and start working on it… it seemed like a wonderful idea… I was going to use a black cloth, but that didn’t work out and you know, I had started on this thing, and so I had to finish it. And the back ground? I was going to have one solid color, but I could not, for the life of me, get the pigment to lay down that way. So I just started making things up.
A: What do you say to people when they ask you what this means?
T: (Laughs) People used to ask me that when I was kid, and I don’t have any better answers now, than I did then. I don’t know what it means.
A: I notice a few older, bigger abstract paintings (oils) over there. What influenced your move to realism?
T: It’s necessitated by the medium (egg tempera.) When I was painting in oils, I could just slap the paint on and go with the flow, but you can’t do that with egg tempera.
A: Tell me about egg tempera.
T: It’s very time consuming and I feel like I’m just insane to keep working with it, but since I’m working at home and I have room mates who don’t like the smell of turpentine, I can’t use oils. And I just can’t work with acrylics. I’ve never been able to get a feel for acrylics. With egg tempera, it’s just water, dry pigment and egg yolk. I feel like I have to have a dialog with the pigments. The pigments have different characteristics and personalities. It’s like having a conversation… some conversations work better than others.
A: How long have you been working with egg tempera?
T: Since I lost my studio, about four and a half years ago. I belong to the Society of Egg Tempera Painters – it’s been very helpful.
A: Do you mix the colors yourself? What kind of problems have you encountered?
T: Yes, I mix it myself. The only thing I’ve had trouble with has been algae forming in here (shows me a small jar of mixed egg tempera). And on occasion I’ve had some weird little bug come in and…. at first I thought I’d scraped it accidently, but there’s this tiny white scratch where the paint has been eaten off the surface of the painting. But that’s only happened a couple of times. I don’t get mold problems because I work so slowly, in thin layers, with at least a week to dry between layers.
A: How long does it take you do a piece like this, on average?
T: Over a year. But I work on several at a time, because sometimes I have to put one aside for awhile. Like this one – I put it aside because I wasn’t happy with it, and I’m still not happy with it, but I still have the delusion that I’ll be able to fix it this week (Open Studios is next weekend.)
A: How many do you work on at a time? What’s your routine?
T: Sometimes as many as five, but usually three are about all I can handle. Sometimes I get so physically tired that I have to make myself stop working. I paint on weekends, but I also try to paint during the week. When I get home, I do something like organize papers for a little bit, then about 9pm I’ll start painting, and I sometimes paint until midnight, but usually I quit about 11pm.
A: What do you consider a successful work of art? What’s the importance of intent?
T: After I put it aside for a while, and then I pull it out and take a look… if I think “gee, that doesn’t look too bad, ” then it’s a success. I’m looking for some balance, and clarity, and I really like it when it has the quality of popping out of the surface, but I don’t often achieve that. I’ve tried having intentions when I start working on a piece, but for whatever reason, I never feel like I’m able to pull it off. If I try too hard to go with my intention, then I wind up with a stiff, stilted piece.
A: Do you paint from life, or your imagination?
T: The backgrounds are from my imagination but the actual objects are from observation. It’s little stuff that I have sitting around, and for whatever reason it looks interesting to my eye. It’s got to be some kind of visual thing that catches the attention of my subconscious.
A: What about these self portraits?
T: I did these a few years ago. They’re egg tempera on on little walnut panels. One is “by night” and one is “by day.” It was when I was living in the place I was in before this, and the room was half this size (which would make it the size of a closet.) The same week I moved in there I found out I was losing my studio, so I had to move my room and my studio into this teeny little place. The window faced a walkway between the buildings, so it didn’t get much light. So, this is how I felt then… you can see the edge of my lamp and the wall behind me.
A: Are these silverpoint? (Looking at a several life sized hand studies on mauve toned & prepared paper.)
T: Yes, those are older, but I’ve done quite a few new silverpoint drawings for this open studios – they’re at my photographer’s now. Dana Davis does my slides and he’s really good, if you want to put in a plug for him. The toned background is a weird paint I mixed from a recipe from Kurt Wehlte’s book, “Materials and Techniques of Painting.” Here’s a sample of the tone I used for this year’s silverpoints (shows me a gold toned & prepared paper.)
A: So where is Mr. Chicken Skull?
T: The skull that was on my card?
A: The skull that’s everywhere, in your paintings, drawings… does he exist?
T: Oh, yeah, Chicken Skull has been a good friend – I got him at the Bone Room. Here he is… do you want to take a picture of him?
A: How did you become an artist?
T: I was born in Landstuhl, Germany. My father was a medical entomologist for the U.S. Army. He was a specialist in mosquitoes. When I was three we moved to Maryland, just outside Washington DC. I’ve identified myself as an artist ever since kindergarden when a boy came up to me and said, “You are a great artist – you’ll be rich and famous when you grow up.” I really bless that boy for saying that to me, because I feel that girls didn’t get to identify themselves with something as serious and specific as that, at least during the time that I was growing up. So, even though I was ill-at-ease in many other ways, I knew I was an artist and had that one part of my life to focus on. It was something that was not based on being of service to a man. So it granted me an independence I don’t think I would have had. I think without that I could have been dead by now. I believe that there is a deep need to be expressive that some people are born with, and for so many women that gets thwarted. I felt so much pressure and I saw so many women around me not following up on their own talents, so that they could cook and clean up after other people… I could never live like that. I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have kids. I would rather live in this one little room and be able to paint.
A: So, you’re happy with the choices you’ve made?
T: Yes, when I consider the alternatives. I do wish I’d completed college and gotten that piece of paper… not having it limits my ability to make money. I went back to school to get my degree, but I was working two jobs, and then I got laid off. Times weren’t great economically, I didn’t have a car, and my options were limited. I applied for an art store job because I thought even if it’s a dead-end job, at least it’s art related. And I did learn a lot there. In some ways it was a fabulous place to work because there were so many talented people there. I feel like I didn’t meet any serious artists until I started working at there.
A: Were there any other benefits to working at the art supply store, besides meeting other artists?
T: Not much else. I lasted a year and a month. Then I got an opportunity to work at the place where I am now
A: The work you do now – is it art related?
T: Not at all. It’s been eye-opening for me to work there. It’s full of “hip” young people who are a lot more conventional than they seem to realize. They’re into brand names and acquiring stuff. I feel like I’m working to generate money for people who are already filthy rich. Some days are exasperating and exhausting and I come home and I don’t have the physical energy or coordination to do my work. But it pays my rent, and I’m able to save money so that I can go on journeys and take pictures…
A: How long have you been living in California?
T: Since 1978, and I’ve been living in San Francisco since 1981.
A: Has living here had any effect on your art?
T: I’m sure it has, but I’m not sure how. I don’t have the necessary perspective to be able to say how I’ve been influenced by California.
A: Are there any local artists you’ve been impressed by?
T: Robert Schwartz – I haven’t seen the retrospective in San jose, but I saw his work at the Hackett Freedman gallery. And also (I think at Hackett Freedman) an artist named Costa V…(?) He does very realistic paintings and drawings, with exquisite detail but subtle… amazing work. His palette is limited to maybe five colors, like cerulean blue, an earth red, white, maybe an ocher, burnt umber and raw umber… and he got this amazing range of beautiful greys. And he got these beautiful flesh tones… he got everything he needed.
A: What’s your favorite piece in this show?
T: I’m actually very pleased with how the cherries look. It’s the red of it, but I also like all the subtle variations in the background.
A: Do you think it’s important for the art viewer to understand the artist’s intent when viewing the piece?
T: I think the art viewer has another whole universe of knowlege and experience to bring… it would be too limiting if the viewer just saw what I see in the work. I learn so much from viewers. A big part of why I decided to do Open Studios is so I could see other people’s responses to my work and I could learn from those responses what my work actually was.
A: What’s next for you, after Open Studios?
T: I’d like to work more with toned paper. Both silverpoint and egg tempera. I can do a painting on paper much more quickly than the paintings on panel. It’s nice to have the intensity of working on a painting for a long time, but it’s good to have a balance and these pieces on paper can be finished in a few days.
Teresa Newson’s Open Studio is this coming weekend, Oct. 9th and 10th, at 15 Dorland Street (near 18th, between Dolores and Guerrero)
Permanent Link to this entry.
October 4, 2004 (Monday)
Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya
4 September 2004 —2 January 2005
at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
I finally got a chance to get a good look at this show, and took my sketchbook with me (no cameras allowed.) It was unbelievably dark in the galleries, so it was like doing blind contour drawings. Later, out in the cafeteria, I was able to touch ’em up a bit. The painting at left (jade carving of the Jester God) was completed back in the studio, mostly from memory, so it may be less accurate than the pencil sketches.
This show was organized jointly by the SF Fine Art Museums and the National Gallery in D.C., where it showed earlier this year. My biggest surprise and strongest impression on seeing this selection of Mayan art was how lively, fun, and accessible it is. Before this, my main impression of Mayan art was heavy, complex stone carvings of indecipherable glyphs and ornate symbolism. I vaguely remembered seeing some clay figurines, but that was about it. Surprise: not all the stonework is stiff, the figurines are fantastic, and best of all – there’s a lot of excellent painting! The other thing that struck me about this art is how many echos of other cultures are present.
For instance, this volcanic stone sculpture of the Maize God, Yum Kaax, (at left) has the soft, beneficent pose of a Hindu or Buddhist divinity. Nearby is another portrait of Yum Kaax painted on a plate in loose, flowing brushstokes. The figure resembles a Minoan bull dancer.
A limestone sculpture of the Storm God Chac (two views, below) is a horrific, frightening personification of one of the most powerful gods in Mayan culture. In this example, he’s wearing a headdress of a bird with a monkey(?) in its beak. Next to the sculpture is a rough capstone painting (approx 16″ x 24″) of the same god. Executed in brown pigment with the equivalent of size 6 brush, the painting looks like it was dashed off in one quick sitting.
The cylinders are the most impressive paintings in the show. They’re rendered in sketchy black and white cartoons, sometimes with red, brown and yellow colors. The figures are unique individuals, depicted in natural poses with expressive faces. The drawing above right is an example – it shows a young captive, being unbound by the God “L” (on his throne, with bird headdress) while his rabbit scribe records the proceedings.
The show is small, but there’s plenty to look at – each cylinder is painted with many figures. I was there for two hours the second time I went, and I’m planning to go back again.
– 7 images on Legion web site, but all sculpture – none of the paintings
– more images on DC site, including some paintings, and a lot of explanatory text
– bigger, and clearest photos at Newsday.com (click on art of ancient maya photo gallery)
– SFGate review by Kenneth Baker (3 photos)
– BEST site for Mayan paintings is by Stevan Davies
– A good reference is the book, “Maya Script” by Maria Longhena, Abbeville Press 1999, ISBN 0-7892-0653-6
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October 2, 2004 (Weekend)
There’s an interesting discussion taking place over at J.T. Kirkland’s Thinking About Art blog. Is it necessary for the viewer to know and understand the artist’s intent to to really appreciate a work of art? Check it out, and add your opinion.
Take the Art Blog Survey – only 6 days left! Rate this blog (and others like it) and let us know what kind of content you’d like to see here.
Congratulations to Tyler Green, my favorite art blogger, who has been designated as the art critic for Bloomberg News.
More Open Studios artist interviews to come – I have several interviews lined up, and I’m working on more. I’ll be posting them, 2 or 3 per week, in the coming 4 weeks.
Thinking of linking? I’ve added the “Permanent Link” feature to my blog entries, and the archives (starting with September) are now linked by entry instead of by month.
Photo at right: Observed yesterday on the N-Judah. This guy got on the MUNI train at one of the underground stations downtown. His sign says “Art for Sale.”
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October 1, 2004 (Friday)
Interview with San Francisco Open Studios artist Eric Joyner
Weekend 1 (Oct. 2-3, 11am – 6pm), 111 New Montgomery St. #402
Eric Joyner’s studio is a small room on the fourth floor of a building near the Academy of Art building at Mission & New Montgomery. It’s jammed with canvases, toys, a computer station and one easel. I’d never met Eric before today, but I’ve seen his Robot paintings here and there. He was kind enough to agree to this interview on extremely short notice.
A: I read on some web site that it all began in grade school when another kid asked you to draw a picture for him.
E: That’s a true story, and then one thing after another kept my interest in art.
A: So, you’ve always drawn & painted?
E: Yeah, pretty much.
A: Have you always lived in the Bay Area?
E: Yes, I grew up in San Mateo.
A: How do you think living in California most of your life has affected your work?
E: I guess maybe since I’m a bit closer to Japan, that might be why I’m interested in Japanese toys. I only started painting them recently, but I started buying them in the ’80s at these big events at the San Mateo County Fair Grounds. (He points to toys tucked here and there around the studio.)
A: So you’ve always made your living as an artist?
E: Yes, a commercial artist – illustration, animation and games.
A: Do those kinds of work feel the same, creatively, as doing your fine art?
E: Well, there’s definitely a division. I’ve noticed now, since I’ve been working on the Robots for myself, that it’s harder to work on the commercial stuff. After you get in the groove of doing your own stuff, commercial work seems so…. it doesn’t pay enough.
A: Since you’re a freelancer, do you keep a regular schedule?
E: Yes, I usually don’t get here until around 10am, but sometimes I stay until midnight, although I might go out in the day, for lunch or something. The only problem with working for yourself is you work all the time. When you’re not painting, you’re doing samples or looking for work, or doing promotional work. You have to keep promoting yourself because art directors come and go.
A: So, tell me about some of the things you paint… I see some dinosaurs, robots in fantasy scenes, doughnuts …
E: I think I’m working out some childhood issues (joking.) I like doughnuts, I’d eat them every day if I could. I’m just trying to bring some life into these robots. Sometimes I get ideas from looking at images, other times I could be talking to a friend about some silly thing…
A: Do you just grab a canvas and start painting?
E: No – there’s a lot of preparation. I have to gather my models (I call my robots my models), try to compose them and light them just right, then I take photographs of them. For this (at left, upper) I took a photo of Rome in the springtime, all grassy and green, and changed it to snow. For this (at right, lower), I did a Frank Frazetta kind of scene – it’s actually kind of random.
A: What can you tell me about your use of color?
E: It’s no big deal, just regular colors. I use yellow ocher a lot. I don’t want any one painting to be just hot or just cool; I try to keep a balance. Sometimes I make a painting darker to give it a dark feeling. I’ve been trying keep the shadows darker and not have so much reflective lighting.
A: What do you mean by reflective lighting?
E: You know, the light that bounces off an object and reflects in the shadow of another object.
A: Why do you want to avoid that?
E: Because I want to keep more mystery in the painting. I don’t want to see every detail. I like the effect that leads your imagination to fill in the blanks. I’m trying to simplify the values, with more shadow. It not only speeds up the painting but it has a certain mood to it, like the way I feel… dark, I guess.
A: What’s your most recent robot painting?
E: This big one here (image at left.) Everyone has a different idea of what it means…
A: That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you – how often do you get the question, “What does it mean?”
E: Too often. People want answers and I don’t have ’em.
A: Do you think there should be an answer?
E: I think everybody has their own interpretation. My goal is just to make people think, a little bit, and maybe they can come up with their own story.
A: How do you handle it when people come up to you and ask you “What does this mean?”
E: I tell them a story. Sometimes my stories change. You just get bored, and so you just start coming up with different scenarios. It’s just a painting, you know? I don’t think any artist should have to explain if they don’t want to. That’s the attraction to abstract painting – you don’t have to explain anything.
A: Have you done much abstract painting?
E: Not much, no. I like looking at it. I especially like Diebenkorn’s work. It’s amazing, the whole series… there’s noting there but lines, shapes, colors… and I like the fact that you can see all the mistakes underneath, the struggle, you know?
A: So, why did you start painting realism?
E: I try to make a living from my painting.
A: How about your cityscapes?
E: They’re just a different thing I like to do. It’s more like a skill, working on drawing and composition, and also I just appreciate good painting of streets and buildings. Sometimes I try to change the mood of the things I see. I’ve kind of slowed down on the street scenes, but I intend to start up again, but before that I want to do some figurative work. And also, I’m thinking about doing some floral paintings.
A: Do you ever do political themes?
E: No. I’m just not interested in politics. I have to put it out of my mind or else I’d never get anything else done. I can’t be getting intently focused on things I can’t control.
A: Let’s talk about technique a little bit. Do you use oils, acrylic or both?
E: I start with a piece of wood (door skin, birch, or maple) or a canvas. I gesso it and then draw with a pencil, sometime freehand, sometimes projecting. Then I start painting with acrylics, in washes, mostly browns or grey tones. Then I finish the painting in oils and alkyds. Oils are a lot nicer to paint with than acrylics because they dry slower, the colors are better… they’re thicker, just better feeling.
A: How long have you been doing Open Studios?
E: This is the first time, officially.
A: Is there anything you want potential Open Studios visitors to know ?
E: I’ll have some wine, maybe crackers, and I’m selling prints of my images… all archival, limited editions, for the special Open Studios price of $65.